Department of Educational Psychology


Document Type


Date of this Version



Journal of Counseling Psychology 69:1 (2022), pp. 37–50.

doi: 10.1037/cou0000562


Copyright © 2021 American Psychological Association. Used by permission.


The current study sought to qualitatively examine the role of social class in the development of atheist identity, the experience of atheism-related minority stress, and relationships between atheists. Using a critical phenomenological design, we captured the experiences of 15 working-class and the low-income U.S. American atheists and identified five themes: Early Doubts and Establishment of Atheist Values; Diverse Experiences of Antiatheist and Class-Based Stigma; Expecting Indifference, Exercising Caution; Strategies of Concealment and Disclosure; and Atheism as an Individual, Rather Than Collective, Experience. Results suggested working-class and low-income atheists engaged in strategic outness to manage risk, and their atheist identities developed similarly to studies including primarily class-privileged atheists. However, working-class and low-income atheists diverged from extant atheism scholarship in their relatively low atheist identity centrality and limited engagement with and perceived connection to other atheists. We conclude with implications for our findings and directions for future research.