First Advisor

Robert Liebman

Date of Publication

Summer 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Atheism -- Oregon -- Portland, Atheists -- Oregon -- Portland, Social movements -- Oregon -- Portland, Irreligion and sociology



Physical Description

1 online resource (iii, 123 p.)


This thesis explores the use of identity politics within the atheist movement at both the national and individual levels. I conducted a content analysis of two national atheist groups and three best-selling atheist authors in order to assess the use of atheist identity politics at the national level. I then conducted 15 in-depth interviews with a sample of atheists in Portland, Oregon about their atheist identity and their reactions to and identification with national atheist movement strategies. Findings suggest that national atheist organizations and atheist authors are using a strategy of identity politics that encourage atheists to "come out" as atheists, complain about church/state violations, and criticize religion's influence in American society. They liken their movement to the gay identity movement and argue that as more atheists "come out", they will see less stigma and more respect towards atheists. However, individual atheists do not always identify with these movement strategies. Most participants said that atheism is not a particularly salient identity for them and thus most did not see themselves participating in atheist activism. Further, they implied that they experience little stigma in their everyday lives and are more concerned with promoting religious tolerance and secular policies. I argue that the lack of social identification with atheism, combined with limits to the gay analogy, are likely inhibitors to the success of an atheist movement.


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