Distrust of Atheists: The Impact of Religion and the Social Environment

Date
2014-05
Authors
Bange, Emily
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University of Delaware
Abstract
Who is like me? Who is different? What makes someone similar or different? These are questions that humans ask themselves on a daily basis, albeit usually unconsciously. We use symbols like race, religion, ethnicity, social class, education,and political issues to draw boundaries between others and ourselves. At a time when tolerance of religious minorities is on the rise in America, the current intolerance of atheists sticks out as an anomaly and points to a symbolic distinction between the religious and the nonreligious. In this project I seek to examine the effects of the social environment and religion on how these symbolic boundaries are drawn. Using data from a nationally representative telephone survey (N=2081), I test for correlations between a diverse social environment and the perceived trustworthiness of and shared sense of identity with atheists, who have been identified as an untrustworthy group in America’s diverse religious landscape. My results indicate that the social environment has a greater impact on the whether or not someone shares a sense of cultural membership with atheists than whether someone considers atheists trustworthy on a private level. Additionally, I found that religious beliefs and practices influence both perceived private trustworthiness and a sense of shared identity, but that they have a far greater impact on trustworthiness.
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