Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Sociology, Under the Supervision of Professor Philip Schwadel. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Christopher R.H. Garneau


Prior work demonstrates that atheists and other secular individuals experience especially low trust among the American public. This line of research suggests that those with no religious belief encounter societal stigma related to their non-belief. Yet it is unknown how non-believers perceive and manage stigma. I explore perceived stigma and stigma management strategies employed by atheists, agnostics, and other secular individuals in the Midwest using a mixed methods approach. Results from survey data from more than 2,200 secular individuals as well as 24 in-depth interviews with seculars living in the Midwest show that prejudice and discrimination are common experiences for these individuals. Furthermore, perceived stigma is positively correlated with utilization of secretive and especially proactive stigma management strategies. Additionally, I examine how perceived stigmatization of secular individuals in the Midwest relates to their psychological distress. Results from mixed methods analyses show that perceived secular stigma is associated with distress related to having a secular status. This research is important because it provides a context for the consequences of having a secular status in a predominantly religious society.