Hey friends, Mike Clawson here again. Once more I feel like I should apologize for being such an infrequent contributor here. Graduate school keeps getting in the way of doing any extra writing. Speaking of that, however, I would like to ask for your assistance on a research paper I’m doing for a class called “The Outsiders: Alternative Religious Traditions in America.” The class has been about non-mainstream religious (e.g. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups, etc.) and their experiences as “outsiders” to America’s dominant civil society and religious culture. For the final paper I’ve convinced my professor that, while not strictly a “religious” group, atheists are still an “outsider” group that is often discriminated against in our society, and thus would be a worthwhile topic for study in this regards. I’m hoping that if I do a good enough job, he will include more substantial focus on the marginalization of atheists when he teaches the course in the future, thereby helping my fellow seminarians become more sensitive to these sorts of problems.
That’s where you guys come in. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask y’all some questions in hopes of using your responses as some of my primary research material. First off, here is the assignment:
Pick one particular “outsider” group – Christian, non-Christian or indeterminate. Pick, with it, one particular expression of the tensions between outsiders and insiders. It could be for Muslims, the issue of wearing head scarves in school, or for Sikhs, carrying the necessary dagger, or for Jews, observing holidays. It could be the issue of language – when does a Syrian church decide that sermons must be done in English rather than in Arabic. It may be the issue of Christian Science healing. (You will notice, I am sure, how many of these issues become issues of law.) Introduce the group and the issue, discuss various aspects of the issue and how the group has adjusted, and how the larger society has adjusted.
So, with that in mind, here are my questions. BTW, please note that these are for research, not debate purposes, so I’m really looking for serious, thoughtful responses here, not snarky or combative ones. I mean, feel free to be snarky or combative if you like, it just won’t be all that useful to me. Thanks. 🙂
1. How would you define and especially describe contemporary atheism in America? Are there different types of atheists (e.g. freethinkers, skeptics, humanists, non-theists, anti-theists, etc.), and if so, how would you delineate between them. (Please keep in mind that I’m looking for something a little more nuanced here than just the bare-bones definition of “lack of belief in God.” I’m looking at the atheist community more through a sociological lens than a strictly philosophical one.)
2. Have you yourself ever felt like an “outsider” (in whatever context) because of your atheist views? Have you ever been the target of discrimination because of your atheism? Please describe your experiences.
3. What would you say are some of the key issues that lead to atheists being marginalized or discriminated against in our society? Are there particular practices (or lack thereof) that frequently lead to tensions between atheists and the broader society?
4. What are things that religious people do (whether deliberately or inadvertently) that contributes to your feelings of being an “outsider”?
5. Is discrimination against atheists a regional phenomenon in your experiences? For instance, are there certain parts of the country where it would be more normal or accepted to be an atheist (New York City? Boston? San Francisco?) than others (the Bible Belt?), or where you might even feel like the mainstream majority?
6. For those who live in places where discrimination against atheists is more common, what have you done to adapt or adjust? For instance, have you ever tried to hide your atheism? What happens when you “come out” (or are “outed”) in these settings? If you don’t hide your atheism, how do you navigate relationships or situations where tensions might arise over it?
Please answer any of the questions above that you are able/interested in, though I am most especially in need of responses to questions 2, 3, and 6. And thanks again for your help. Hopefully this won’t just be beneficial for me, but will spark a stimulating conversation here as well.