The University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, just completed a research project on unbelievers. As one of the first of its kind that exhaustively breaks down the different types of people that make up the non-believing demographic, the results are, in a word, average.
According to a report filed by The Raw Story, the project was conducted by a doctoral student named Christopher Silver, along with Thomas Coleman, the project manager, and found that the variations among atheists are pretty much the same as those within the believing communities.
In an interview with The Raw Story, Coleman stated,
“Congratulations, non-believers. You’re essentially normal.”
According to the research, the personalities of atheists are in line with those the rest of society. In fact, he stated that the stereotype of the angry, aggressive and confrontational atheist represents a small fraction of the larger unbelieving demographic.
The report states,
“Previous research and studies focusing on the diverse landscape of belief in America have continually placed those who profess no belief in a God or gods into one unified category infamously known as the ‘religious nones. This catch-all category presented anyone who identified as having “no religion” as a homogenous group in America today, lumping people who may believe in God with the many who don’t.”
The researchers have broken down unbelievers into six types, as follows:
- Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics (IAA)
- Activist Atheist/Agnostics (AAA)
- Seeker Agnostics (SA)
- Ritual Atheist/Agnostics (RAA)
The project is the result of two study phases, one being qualitative and involving 59 personal interviews taken with unbelievers from a varying range of backgrounds. The other study was quantitative, including over a thousand unbelievers from around the United States who participated in a survey.
Silver stated that these categories represent a 'first stab,' and can represent as many s 32 different types.
He further implied that the designation 'Anti-Theist' might be misunderstood, stating,
“The definitions are what matters here. The descriptions are the important part. We don’t want people to say, ‘Hey, anyone who says they’re an Anti-Theist is this.’
He says that the group 'Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics' are the largest because they,
“…proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief.”
Coleman said that education plays a prominent role, stating,
“College was certainly a huge theme that popped out in this. 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.’”
The story continues on by citing that while the Anti-Theist to be the most 'empirically visible,' holding to the reasoning that religion is a destructive force in society, they are the least common. He stated that Ant-Theists exhibit the highest levels of anger and dogmatism.
The Raw Story spoke to Dave Muscato, from American Atheists about the study. Muscato stated,
“I think it’s pretty clear that the bloc of people who call themselves ‘non-religious’ is not a monolith. American Atheists [can be seen as] focused on the Anti-Theist crowd and that type of activism, people who are against religion specifically and want to fight it.”
Muscato said American Atheists is expanding to other types of representative activism, and said he welcomed the findings of the study, stating,
“It’s useful to understand that atheists are not all the same, in the same way that religious people aren’t all the same. There are atheists that are totally against religion and think that these rituals are just superstitious and there’s no purpose to them and that we have better things to do and that religion is dangerous, which is kind of the position that American Atheists takes.”
Silver maintains that most non-believers are 'majorly socially engaged groups' and stated,
“They really want to create and promote social change for everyone, not just atheists and agnostics. Most of the non-believers we researched. They’re looking to affect the world, to make the world better. They do care, and they care about everyone.”