While research on religion generally focuses on the attitudes, practices, and demographics of different faith groups, a new study on “religious nones” has identified six distinctive categories of atheists.
In other words, there are many ways to disbelieve.
"Congratulations, non-believers, you're essentially normal," University of Tennessee at Chattanooga project manager Thomas J. Coleman III said in a RawStory interview.
Researchers at university found that agnostics and atheists range from the aggressively “Anti-Theist,” who mostly believe that religion is a negative and destructive influence in society, to the “Ritual Atheists,” who do not believe in a higher power but may still find utility and a sense of cultural identity in practicing certain religious traditions.
“Seeker-Agnostics” were found to be actively engaged in pursuing the meaning of life and examining empirical and experiential evidence of forces larger than humanity, while the humanistic-minded “Activist” atheists are concerned with exploring issues like feminism and LGBTQ rights.
“Intellectual Atheists,” who may be the most commonly depicted and discussed of the non-believers, actively pursue intellectual debate and discourse on the subject of atheism. “Non-Theists” were the least common, and also the least likely to engage in discussions about religion, as they tend to place little to no importance on the topic in their lives.
Previous research on this topic has generally combined all non-believers into one generalized group. Doctoral student Christopher F. Silver, whose dissertation project prompted this research, told RawStory, “These categories are a first stab at this. In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”
Atheism is on the rise globally, with 13 percent of the world’s population now considering itself atheist, according to a 2012 WIN-Gallup survey. This makes atheism the third largest ‘faith’ in the world, behind Christianity and Islam.
Coleman referenced the influence of higher education on changing religious attitudes, saying that, “College was certainly a huge theme that popped out in this,” he said. “Quite dramatically, people would say, ‘Hey, I was a Christian going in the first year, after the second I was agnostic, and by the time I graduated, I said I was done with all this.’
A 2010 Pew Forum study found that globally, Millenials were not only less religious than older generations, but they also considered religion a less important part of their lives than Generation X did at the same age.