The lived experience of atheist and irreligious youth living within religious households
Hansen, Anthony Wayne
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In the U.S., the population of people who identify as atheist or irreligious is growing (Brewster et al., 2014; Zuckerman, 2010, 2011; Kosmin & Keysar, 2008; Zuckerman, 2007). Recent studies show that atheism and irreligious people are viewed in a negative light with many persons in the US; as antipathy toward atheists is greater when compared to other religious groups, racial and ethnic groups, or (LGBTQ) people (Cragun et al., 2012). Hunsberger and Altemeyer (2006) found that conflict within family structures over a family member’s lack of belief caused feelings of ostracism and discrimination from other religious family members. Moreover, adolescents report poorer parental relationships when parents are more religious than the youth (Kim-Spoon, Longo, & McCullogough, 2012). Research on atheism remains poor within social science scholarship, psychology, and within counseling psychology specifically. Yet it is apparent that non-belief is quickly becoming a valid issue of diversity within psychology and counseling psychology as a profession (Brewster et al., 2014; D’Andrea & Sprenger, 2007). Counseling psychology has traditionally been at the forefront of social justice issues and cultural competencies within APA, yet the lack of attention to atheism as a diversity issue is problematic (Brewster et al., 2014). The current study sought to explore and understand the experiences of self-identified atheist/irreligious youth who live with their religious parents or are dependent on parents for financial support. A qualitative methodology known as psychological phenomenology, centered in social constructivist theory (Gergen, 1985; Creswell, 2012) and guided by the minority stress model (Meyer, 2003), served as the theoretical foundation into the exploration of the lived experiences of atheist and irreligious youth living within religious households. Results of this study included the identification of three major themes (minority stress, outcomes, support) that represent the varied experiences of atheist/irreligious identifying youth in this study. Additionally, each theme contains one or more subthemes, and a total of seven subthemes were identified. The themes identified through this study have implications for clinical practice, for advocacy, and for continued research centered on the under measured population of atheists in the U.S.