More than Nothing: Examining the Worldview Influences of Nonreligious College Students

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In practice, worldviews are not always integrated (Wellman 2008). Since individual worldviews are influenced by the social positions and groups one is a part of (Wellman 2008; Luker 1984), the resulting worldview may not be as ordered as Berger proposed, but may be fragmented (Wellman 2008).

  2. 2.

    Specifically, Stata’s complex survey commands (svy) are used to denote institutions as the primary sampling unit and to apply the weights.

  3. 3.

    The analysis does not examine this last option given the lack of certainty in its meaning.

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    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).

  6. 6.

    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.

References

  1. Baker, Joseph O., and Buster G. Smith. 2009a. The Nones: Social Characteristics of the Religiously Unaffiliated. Social Forces 87(3): 1251–1263.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Baker, Joseph O., and Buster Smith. 2009b. None Too Simple: Examining Issues of Religious Nonbelief and Nonbelonging in the United States. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48(4): 719–733.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Baker, Joseph O., and Buster Smith. 2015. American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Berger, Peter L. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Cimino, Richard, and Christopher Smith. 2007. Secular Humanism and Atheism Beyond Progressive Secularism. Sociology of Religion 68(4): 407–424.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Coleman III, Thomas J., Ralph W. Hood Jr., and Heinz Streib. 2018. An Introduction to Atheism, Agnosticism, and Nonreligious Worldviews. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 10(3): 203–206.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cragun, Ryan T. 2017. The Declining Significance of Religion: Secularization in Ireland. In Values and Identities in Europe: Evidence from the European Social Survey, ed. Michael J. Breen, 17–35. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Crandall, Rebecca E., Benjamin P. Correia-Harker, Matthew J. Mayhew, and Alyssa N. Rockenbach. 2017. Leveraging Student Interfaith Cooperation Through Evidence-Based Change. New Directions for Student Services 159: 71–81.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Edgell, Penny. 2006. Religion and Family in a Changing Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Eggebeen, David, and Jeffrey Dew. 2009. The Role of Religion in Adolescence for Family Formation in Young Adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family 71(1): 108–121.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Emerson, Michael O. 1996. Through Tinted Glasses: Religion, Worldviews, and Abortion Attitudes. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 35(1): 41–55.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Finkel, Steven E. 1995. Causal Analysis with Panel Data. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fuller, Robert. 2001. Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hadaway, C.Kirk, and Wade Clark Roof. 1979. Those Who Stay Religious ‘Nones’ and Those Who Don’t: A Research Note. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18(2): 194–200.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hout, Michael, and Claude S. Fischer. 2002. Why More Religious Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations. American Sociological Review 67(2): 165–190.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Hout, Michael, and Claude S. Fischer. 2014. Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987-2012. Sociological Science 1(1): 423–447.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Hunsberger, Bruce, and Bob Altemeyer. 2006. Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Hunter, James. 1991. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hwang, Karen, Joseph H. Hammer, and Ryan T. Cragun. 2011. Extending Religion-Health Research to Secular Minorities: Issues and Concerns. Journal of Religion and Health 50(3): 608–622.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Jeung, Russell, Brett Esaki, and Alice Liu. 2015. Redefining Religious Nones: Lessons from Chinese and Japanese American Young Adults. Religions 6(3): 891–911.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Kanamori, Yasuko, Teresa K. Pegors, Joseph F. Hulgus, and Jeffrey H.D. Cornelius-White. 2017. A Comparison between Self-Identified Evangelical Christians’ and Nonreligious Persons’ Attitudes Toward Transgender Persons. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity 4(1): 75–86.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kosmin, Barry A., Ariela Keysar, Ryan Cragun, and Juhem Navarro-Rivera. 2009. American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population, A Report Based on the American Religious Identification Survey 2008. http://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/facpub. Accessed 6 June 2017.

  23. Krok, Dariusz. 2016. Examining the Role of Religion in a Family Setting: Religious Attitudes and Quality of Life Among Parents and Their Adolescent Children. Journal of Family Studies Advanced Online Publication accessed at. https://doi.org/10.1080/13229400.2016.1176589.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. LeDrew, Stephen. 2013. Reply: Toward a Critical Sociology of Atheism: Identity, Politics, Ideology. Sociology of Religion 74(4): 464–470.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lipka, Michael. 2015 (May 13th). A Closer Look at America’s Rapidly Growing Religious ‘Nones’. Pew Research Center. www.pewresearch.org. Accessed 6 June 2017.

  26. Lim, Chaeyoon, Carol Ann MacGregor, and Robert D. Putnam. 2010. Secular and Liminal: Discovering Heterogeneity among Religious Nones. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 49(4): 596–618.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Luker, Kristin. 1984. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Manning, Christel J. 2013a. Unaffiliated Parents and the Religious Training of Their Children. Sociology of Religion 74(2): 149–175.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Manning, Christel J. 2013b. Atheism, Secularity, the Family, and Children. In Atheism and Secularity, ed. Phil Zuckerman, 19–41. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Manning, Christel J. 2015. Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents are Raising Their Children. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Menard, Scott. 2010. Logistic Regression: From Introductory to Advanced Concepts and Applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Merton, Robert K. 1948. The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. The Antioch Review 8(2): 193–210.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Myers, Scott M. 1996. An Interactive Model of Religiosity Inheritance: The Importance of Family Context. American Sociological Review 61(5): 858–866.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Olson, Laura R., Wendy Cadge, and James T. Harrison. 2006. Religion and Public Opinion about Same-Sex Marriage. Social Science Quarterly 87(2): 340–360.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Rockenbach, Alyssa N. 2017. Building Inclusive Community by Bridging Worldview Differences: A Call to Action from the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS). Journal of College and Character 18(3): 145–154.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Rockenbach, Alyssa N., Matthew J. Mayhew, Benjamin P. Correia-Harker, Laura Dahl, and Shauna Morin. 2017. Navigating Pluralism: How Students Approach Religious Difference and Interfaith Engagement in Their First Year of College. Chicago, IL: Interfaith Youth Core.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Schnabel, Landon. 2016. Gender and Homosexuality Attitudes Across Religious Groups from the 1970s to 2014: Similarity, Distinction, and Adaptation. Social Science Research 55(1): 31–47.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Sepulvado, Brandon, David Hachen, Michael Penta, and Omar Lizardo. 2015. Social Affiliation from Religious Disaffiliation: Evidence of Selective Mixing Among Youth with No Religious Preference During the Transition to College. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54(4): 833–841.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Smith, Christian, Michael Emerson, Sally Gallagher, Paul Kennedy, and David Sikkink. 1998. American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Smith, Jesse M. 2011. Becoming an Atheist in America: Constructing Identity and Meaning from the Rejection of Theism. Sociology of Religion 72(2): 215–237.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Smith, Jesse M. 2013. Creating a Godless Community: The Collective Identity Work of Contemporary American Atheists. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 52(1): 80–99.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Smith, Jesse M., and Ryan T. Cragun. 2019. Mapping Religion’s Other: A Review of the Study of Nonreligion and Secularity. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 58: 319–335.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Smith, Tom W., Davern, Michael, Freese, Jeremy, and Hout, Michael. General Social Surveys, 1972–2016. [machine-readable data file]. Principal Investigator, Tom W. Smith; Co-Principal Investigators, Peter V. Marsden and Michael Hout, NORC ed. Chicago: NORC, 2017. 1 data file (62,466 logical records) and 1 codebook (3689 pp).

  44. Speed, David, Thomas J. Coleman III, and Joseph Langston. 2018. What Do You Mean, ‘What Does It All Mean?’ Atheism, Nonreligion, and Life Meaning. SAGE Open 8(1): 1–13.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Steensland, Brian, Jerry Z. Park, Mark D. Regnerus, Lynn D. Robinson, W. Bradford Wilcox, and Robert D. Woodberry. 2000. The Measure of American Religion: Toward Improving the State of the Art. Social Forces 79(1): 291–318.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Sumerau, J.E., and Ryan Cragun. 2016. ‘I Think Some People Need Religion’: The Social Construction of Nonreligious Moral Identities. Sociology of Religion 77(4): 386–407.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Thiessen, Joel. 2016. You Make the Choice: Religious and Secular Socialization among Marginal Affiliated and Nonreligious Individuals. Secularism and Nonreligion 5(6): 1–16.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Thiessen, Joel, and Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme. 2017. Becoming a Religious None: Irreligious Socialization and Disaffiliation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 56(1): 64–82.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Thomas, Darwin L. 1988. The Religion-Family Connection: Social Science Perspectives. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Uecker, Jeremy E., Damon Mayrl, and Samuel Stroope. 2016. Family Formation and Returning to Institutional Religion in Young Adulthood. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 55(2): 384–406.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Vernon, Glenn M. 1969. The Religious ‘Nones’. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 7(2): 219–229.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Wellman Jr., James K. 2008. Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. White, Ian R., Patrick Royston, and Angela M. Wood. 2011. Multiple Imputation Using Chained Equations: Issues and Guidance for Practice. Statistics in Medicine 30(4): 377–399.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Zuckerman, Phil. 2012. Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher P. Scheitle.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation