Nonreligious individuals are often defined by their absence of a religious worldview rather than the worldview that might take its place. This study examines data from a unique survey that asked a representative sample of first-year college students to identify important influences on their worldview at the beginning and end of the year. Cross-sectional analyses show that nonreligious students are less likely than religious students to identify family background or cultural traditions as important worldview influences, but are more likely to say that sexual orientation is an important influence on their worldview. Longitudinal analyses show that individuals who were nonreligious at a previous time are less likely to identify family as an important influence at a later time regardless of whether they are still nonreligious. Individuals who become nonreligious over time shift their perceived worldview influences away from religious beliefs and cultural traditions to philosophical traditions. These findings help contribute to our understanding of the content and dynamics of secular worldviews.
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Specifically, Stata’s complex survey commands (svy) are used to denote institutions as the primary sampling unit and to apply the weights.
The analysis does not examine this last option given the lack of certainty in its meaning.
Unitarian Universalism is a nontraditional religious affiliation (Steensland et al. 2000). While some individuals who identify as non-religious (e.g., atheist, agnostic, and so on), may participate in Unitarian Universalist groups (Cimino and Smith 2007; Manning 2013a), the latter is still a religious affiliation and thus, those who identify as Unitarian Universalists are coded as religious.
It is worth noting that other research has grouped atheists and secular humanists as well, sometimes as falling under a larger category of “freethinkers” (e.g., Cimino and Smith 2007).
Note that cases can be missing on multiple variables, so these percentages may overlap some. Note also that there is no missing data on the worldview influence measures, as the variable is coded to assess selection or non-selection. This makes it difficult to distinguish non-selection of a particular influence due to, say, refusal, from non-selection due to a student not viewing that influence as important. As noted in the text, however, the analysis does control for the total number of influences selected to help account for the impact of students who did not select the requested three influences.
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This research was made possible through the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Interfaith Youth Core, Dr. Matthew Mayhew, and Dr. Alyssa Rockenbach. The author also thanks Buster Smith for his feedback on earlier versions of this paper.
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Scheitle, C.P., Corcoran, K.E. More than Nothing: Examining the Worldview Influences of Nonreligious College Students. Rev Relig Res 62, 249–271 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-019-00391-0