About the Principal Researcher

Christopher F Silver served as board member of the Chattanooga Free Thought Association for 2 years. He currently served as the public relations co-chair for the Chattanooga Free Thought Association. He has assisted in organizing and scheduling speakers for Skeptics in the Pub, a lecture and debate series in Chattanooga. Mr. Silver also serves as the faculty advisor to the UTC Secular Student Alliance. Mr. Silver’s research has focused on a variety of topics including religious deconversion, spirituality, new religious movements, and research theory. He has co-authored a variety of academic publications and has served as a speaker for different types of groups. He is currently completing his doctoral degree in learning and leadership from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he teaches psychology courses in research methods and tests and measurements.

Studying Non-Belief

Note we will be updating the page soon.

We will also post a series of articles resulting from this research.


A Quick Thank You

Due to overwhelming popularity in the media and beyond, we would like to say thank you to everyone who has shared our research. Particularly we would like to say thank you to the Rawstory.com, the Christian Post, CNN, and others who have shared small snippets of our overall study.  

We would also like to say thank you to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Psychology and Learning and Leadership Doctorate for their support of our project. Without the support of our colleagues and faculty, this research would have never been made manifest.

Mr. Coleman and I are working diligently to publish the total results in a book. If your interest is immediate, the majority of the findings will be made available via Proquest by searching for my dissertation named:


While this work will include detail related to both studies including the analysis process for interviews in developing the types of nonbelief and the survey measures used to further delineate their structure, all the results will be reported in an upcoming book. Please check this page often for updates on development and publishing of the book.

A Couple of Quick Notes

There has been a considerable conversation among various readers and we hoped to clarify a couple of misconceptions or confusion.

The project was funded entirely out of the pockets of the researchers and through the volunteer time of student assistants. No tax dollars were exploited to fund this project.

The typology of nonbelief is fluid. Based on our interviews, we suspect people transverse the various types over the course of their lives. Since we did not conduct a longitudinal design (a study conducted over time tracking the same people) we are unable to validate this assumption. For those of you who found yourselves agreeing with multiple positions in fact, you may find characteristics that you identify with in all types but there is likely one type which is your preference.

One of the main purposes of this study is to start a conversation and raise awareness of the diversity of the nonbelief community. Tommy and I both accept that there are other academic researchers out there with far more psychometric and methodological sophistication. Certainly these researchers may be able to explore the community in greater detail shedding light on aspects of the community not detected in this study. We welcome others to explore the diversity of nonbelief and share their data and conclusions.

Yes, we welcome questions and communication. Please contact Tommy Coleman our research project manager at tommycoleman3@yahoo.com.

Again, we are humbled by the massive response to our research. We welcome everyone to visit our Facebook page for updates on this and other issues related to nonbelief.

The address is:

Warm Regards
Christopher F Silver



On June 6th of this year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) Departments of Psychology and Learning and Leadership, completed research focused on nonbelief within the United States. This project was designed and implemented by Christopher F. Silver doctoral candidate and Thomas J. Coleman III an undergraduate student at UTC. The research sought to explore the complexities of nonbelief identity in the United States. This review would first like to thank our research team, provide some overview information about the study, and conclude with a call for further studies on nonbelief.


The Efforts of Many
An able team of researchers from a variety of backgrounds conducted this research. Many of the team members contributed from the beginning to the end of the project providing valuable insights and interview skills in completing quality interviews.
This project would have never been complete if it was not for our team of UTC researchers namely Charlotte Beene, David “Matt” Carey, Karen Curry, Matthew Durham, Derek Giaumundo, Erica Hicks, Joshua Hill, Joshua Lang, Stephanie Pyke, Evan Smith, Christopher A. Vance, and Beth Webb. Although our research on “non-belief” has been a personal accomplishment in the academic careers of Chris Silver, his Project Manager Thomas J. Coleman III, and their team of researchers, it has also been a public triumph for the ever-increasing number of Americans that do not believe in “God”.
We make this assertion, as more research should be done on this community. Our goal was to be as thorough as possible in the design of our study. Moreover we wanted to give a much-needed voice to this community by allowing their narratives (N=59) and experience to inform the scientific portion of our research. With over 1,153 participants nationwide contributing to the current analyzed dataset, it was truly a collaborative effort brought to fruition thanks to the vastly diverse community of non-believers in America. We owe many thanks to each and everyone of you who shared the link to our survey and to the dedicated atheist media community like our friends Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist blog, Gordon Maples The King Heathen himself, and our friend John “Aethyst” Gleason of Godlessengineer and the many many other friends of atheismresearch.com who helped by participating in and sharing our survey.  Thank you to all who made this a reality.


A Research Overview
Previous research and studies focusing on the diverse landscape of Belief in America have continually placed those who profess no belief in a God or gods into one unified category infamously known as the “religious nones”. This catch-all category presented anyone who identified as having “no religion” as a homogeneous group in America today, lumping people who may believe in God with the many who don’t. Moreover, it also assumed that all Non-believers were the same. Based on their personal experiences and involvement in the atheist community, Principal Investigator Chris Silver and Thomas J. Coleman III knew that not only did this “religious none” category fail to accurately capture and reflect the diversity of beliefs (or un-belief) but that even the terms of atheism and agnosticism suffered from a similar lack of description. Each term was pregnant with meaning and interpretation from a variety of different types of people. Moreover, beyond the psychology of nonbelief, atheism and agnosticism proved sociologically complex as well. Many non-believers were concerned with stigmatization from their local community. Some voiced these concerns in their interviews. Others provided quantitative indications of varied outsider perception. Much of this concern related to issues of equal rights, personal or familial security, and the perceptions of loved ones and friends.

Another theme, which emerged from this data, was related to definitions and themes of nonbelief. Many of the participants spoke of definitions of nonbelief used by outsiders or others within the nonbelief community. For some participants there was agreement within these definitions, for other participants they were unsure how others viewed the complexity of the nonbelief community. Simply the main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community with a variety of descriptive terms employed in self-identity. For many there is vast disagreement about what forms the community and those who should be included within certain common self-identities such as atheists or agnostic and those should be excluded. This complexity led our team to look for common definitions of nonbelief. This way if patterns emerged, we could then provide some structure of type in which to classify the variety and complexity.

Non-Belief Research in America was a two part study consisting first of a qualitative portion of 59 personal interviews that allowed participants to freely self identify, explain commonly used terms for non-belief, and to provide answers in a semi-structured interview that sought to document your life experience. Silver and Coleman then reviewed and coded each interview identifying common themes that arose in the participants’ responses. These responses were used to design a typology of Non-belief that could be used (and built upon) in future research on Non-belief in the social sciences as a legitimate field of research in its own right, distinct from the social scientific study of “religion”.

In what we hope will become at least a modest crack in the monolithic “religious none” category, we proudly present a very brief overview of our findings based on the diverse “types” of non-belief that make up an important and growing sub-population of America today. A typology of six characteristics emerged within the data and is presented as follows.

Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic (IAA)

The first and most frequently discussed type is what could be termed The Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic or IAA. IAA typology includes individuals who proactively seek to educate themselves through intellectual association, and proactively acquire knowledge on various topics relating to ontology (the search for Truth) and non-belief.  They enjoy dialectic enterprises such as healthy democratic debate and discussions, and are intrinsically motivated to do so.  These individuals are typically versed in a variety of writings on belief and non-belief and are prone to cite these authors in discussions.
IAAs associate with fellow intellectuals regardless of the other’s ontological position as long as the IAA associate is versed and educated on various issues of science, philosophy, “rational” theology, and common socio-political religious dialog. They may enjoy discussing the epistemological positions related to the existence or non-existence of a deity. Besides using textual sources such as intellectual books, IAAs may utilize technology such as the Internet to read popular blogs, view YouTube videos, and listen to podcasts that fall in line with their particular interests. Facebook and other online social networking sites can be considered a medium for learning or discussion. However, not only is the IAA typically engaged in electronic forms of intellectualism but they oftentimes belong to groups that meet face to face offline such as various skeptic, rationalist and freethinking groups for similar mentally stimulating discussions and interaction. The modus operandi for the Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic is the externalization of epistemologically oriented social stimulation.

Activist (AAA)

The next typology relates to being socially active. These individuals are termed the Activist Atheist/Agnostic. Individuals in the AAA typology are not content with the placidity of simply holding a non-belief position; they seek to be both vocal and proactive regarding current issues in the atheist and/or agnostic socio-political sphere. This sphere can include such egalitarian issues, but is not limited to: concerns of humanism, feminism, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) issues, social or political concerns, human rights themes, environmental concerns, animal rights, and controversies such as the separation of church and state. Their activism can be as minimal as the education of friends or others, to much larger manifestations of social activities such as boycotting products, promoting legal action, or marching public demonstration to raise awareness. Activist Atheists/Agnostics are commonly naturalistic or humanistic minded individuals, but are not limited to these types of ethical concerns. It is not uncommon for AAA individuals to ally themselves with other movements in support of social awareness. The Activist Atheist/Agnostic’s are not idle; they effectuate their interests and beliefs.

Seeker-Agnostic (SA)

The third typological characteristic is the Seeker-Agnostic. Seeker-Agnostic typology consists of individuals attuned to the metaphysical possibilities precluding metaphysical existence, or at least recognizes the philosophical difficulties and complexities in making personal affirmations regarding ideological beliefs. They may call themselves agnostic or agnostic-atheist, as the SA simply cannot be sure of the existence of God or the divine. They keep an open mind in relation to the debate between the religious, spiritual, and antitheist elements within society.
Seeker-Agnostics recognize the limitation of human knowledge and experience. They actively search for and respond to knowledge and evidence, either supporting or disconfirming truth claims. They also understand, or at least recognize, the qualitative complexities of experiences in the formation of personal meaning. Seeker- Agnostics do not hold a firm ideological position but always search for the scientifically wondrous, and experientially profound confirmation of life’s meaning. They may be intrinsically motivated to explore and seek understanding in the world around them. The diversity of others is accepted for the SA and co-existence with the “others” is not only possible, but also welcomed. Their worldly outlook may be mediated by science; however, they recognize current scientific limitations and embrace scientific uncertainty. They are comfortable with this uncertainty and even enjoy discussing it. Some Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics or Anti-Theists may accuse the Seeker-Agnostic of avoiding responsibility or commitment to a more solid affirmation of atheism. In other cases, outsiders may see it as an ontological transitional state from religion or spirituality to atheism.
In some cases, Seeker-Agnostics may generally miss being a believer either from the social benefits or the emotional connection they have with others such as friends or family. At times, their intellectual disagreement with their former theology causes some cognitive dissonance and it is possible they may continue to identity as a religious or spiritual individual. However, taking those exceptions into account, the majority of Seeker-Agnostics should in no way be considered “confused.” For the Seeker-Agnostic, uncertainty is embraced. 


The fourth typology, and one of the more assertive in their view, we termed the Anti-Theist. While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labeled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology. In other words, antitheists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental. The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.  They view the logical fallacies of religion as an outdated worldview that is not only detrimental to social cohesion and peace, but also to technological advancement and civilized evolution as a whole.  They are compelled to share their view and want to educate others into their ideological position and attempt to do so when and where the opportunity arises.  Some Anti-Theist individuals feel compelled to work against the institution of religion in its various forms including social, political, and ideological, while others may assert their view with religious persons on an individual basis. The Anti-Theist believes that the obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another. Based on personalities, some Anti-Theists may be more assertive than others; but outsiders and friends know very clearly where they stand in relation to an Anti-theist. Their worldview is typically not a mystery. The Anti-Theist’s reaction to a religious devotee is often based on social and psychological maturity.


The fifth typology is termed the Non-Theist. While not many individuals identified themselves as this type, they did have experiences with others who self-classified as being non-theists. For the Non-Theists, the alignment of oneself with religion, or conversely an epistemological position against religion, can appear quite unconventional from their perspective. However, a few terms may best capture the sentiments of the Non-Theist. One is apathetic, while another may be disinterested. The Non-Theist is non-active in terms of involving themselves in social or intellectual pursuits having to do with religion or anti-religion.  A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion. Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement. No part of their life addresses or considers transcendent ontology.  They are not interested in any type of secularist agenda and simply do not care. Simply put, Non-Theist’s are apathetic non-believers. They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.

Ritual Atheist/Agnostic (RAA)

The sixth and final type was one of the most interesting and unexpected. This exploration termed this type The Ritual Atheist/Agnostic or RAA. The RAA holds no belief in God or the divine, or they tend to believe it is unlikely that there is an afterlife with God or the divine. They are open about their lack of belief and may educate themselves on the various aspects of belief by others. One of the defining characteristics regarding Ritual Atheists/Agnostics is that they may find utility in the teachings of some religious traditions. They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation.  Ritual Atheist/Agnostics find utility in tradition and ritual. For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions. Such participation may be related to an ethnic identity (e.g. Jewish) or the perceived utility of such practices in making the individual a better person.
Many times the Ritual Atheist/Agnostic may be misidentified as spiritual but not religious, but they are quick to point out that they are atheist or agnostic in relation to their own ontological view. For other Ritual Atheist/Agnostics, it may be simply that they hold respect for profound symbolism inherent within religious rituals, beliefs, and ceremonies. The Ritual Atheist/Agnostic individual perceives ceremonies and rituals as producing personal meaning within life. This meaning can be an artistic or cultural appreciation of human systems of meaning while knowing there is no higher reality other than the observable reality of the mundane world. In some cases, these individuals may identify strongly with religious traditions as a matter of cultural identity and even take an active participation in religious rituals. While RAA may celebrate their association with ritualistic organizations or call themselves cultural practitioners of a faith-based practice, they are open and honest about their ontological position and do not hide their lack of belief in the metaphysical or divine. Ritual Atheist /Agnostics may identify ritualistically or symbolically with Judaism, Paganism, Buddhism, or Laveyan Satanism to name some examples.

The Frequencies of these typologies are also presented. Here the Intellectual identity (academic) was the largest of the participant pool. This has led our team to propose that there may in fact be further groups within this large participant pool. Perhaps Intellectual Atheists / Agnostics are divided by their epistemological interests ranging from the philosophical to the scientific. Further research should explore if this is the case.


Percentage of Participants who identified with the typologies.
Table One


Percentage Comparison Nonbelief Typology as Related to Geographic Differences
Our sample was mostly observed within the southeast. We did have additional participants from other portions of the United States. As is seen in the table below, some types were observed more frequently in some regions than others.


Percent of the Different Types by Region.

As discrimination and prejudice against non-believers is rampant the world over (IHEU, 2012) and throughout America in particular (Cragun, Kosmin, Keysar, Hammer, & Nielsen, 2012), it is no doubt that many atheists reading our results this very moment have experienced prejudice and discrimination on a very personal level. They may have had to dispel with stereotypical assumptions from friends, family and acquaintances ranging from “all atheists are angry and argumentative” to “all you heathens are just as dogmatic as religious people”. Fortunately, one of the many questions our empirical research was able to address was, “are all atheists angry, argumentative and dogmatic”? Our results lead us to answer that question with a resounding “absolutely not”! If any subset of our non-belief sample fit the “angry, argumentative, dogmatic” stereotype, it is the Anti-Theists. This group scored the highest amongst our other typologies on empirical psychometric measures of anger, autonomy, agreeableness, narcissism, and dogmatism while scoring lowest on measures of positive relations with others.

 Nominal Comparison of Scales by Nonbelief Type


Lowest Score

Highest Score

RYFF Autonomy



RYFF Positive Relations with Others


Ritual Atheists




Rokeach Dogmatism Scale

Ritual Atheists


Multidimensional Anger Inventory



NEO Neuroticism Subdomain



NEO Openness to Experience Subdomain



NEO Agreeableness Subdomain



If prejudice continues to exist towards atheists in general, one source may stem from the perceived negative experiences by religious people interacting with a very small sub-segment of the overall population of non-believers, mainly the Anti-Theists. In other words, our research showed over 85% of the non-believers sampled to be more or less your “average Joe” when it came to being “angry, argumentative and dogmatic”, they fall right in line with current societal norms, nothing strange here - sorry non-believers, you’re pretty normal when it comes to being psychologically well-adjusted.

It is also important to recognize that the “angry, argumentative and dogmatic” vignette,as used here, does not mean that these Anti-Theists don’t have a right to be any of these things or that they are not even proper psychological responses when recontextualized in light of the Anti-Theists’ life experiences to date. For example, many of the Antitheist typology had responded as recently deconverted from religious belief or socially displeased with the status quo, especially in high social tension-based geographies such as the Southeastern United States. If we engage in a small thought experiment by taking on the perspective of a recent deconvert from a religious tradition (many times a very conservative one) to atheism, it may be easy to see how this small sub segment is, and perhaps deserves to be, angry and argumentative after having previously accepted a worldview at odds with their current beliefs, or lack there-of, especially in areas of the country where high social tension exists between believers and non-believers in general.

It is very important to recognize that these comparisons are being made only within “non-belief”. In other words, these results are not juxtaposed alongside “believers” or any subset of population that identifies as “religious” and therefore no conclusions or empirical inferences can be currently draw as to how the two groups, or rather sub segments of the two groups might stack up against each other. Certainly additional research should explore these typologies in relation to believers to see if such conclusions can hold true for outside perceptions.


Atheismresearch.com: future directions and opportunities

Chris Silver and Thomas J. Coleman III have wide ranging shared interests in the social sciences in general and study of non-belief, religion, and spirituality in particular. Together the two researchers are also currently in the process constructing and testing three unique new scales addressing culturally relevant secular / non-belief phenomena such as “Humanism”, “the belief in the Separation of Church and State”, and a measure of an experiential domain of “special things” unique to humans in general and non-believers in particular. Silver and Coleman are also currently finishing up a theoretical paper which looks at experiences which fall beyond the classification of religion but provide meaning for a variety of different types of people including those who identify within nonbelief. Further information will be posted here as progress is made.

Collaboration of research in the vast and diverse area of atheism and non-belief will continue into the future with projects further investigating the non-belief typologies, the meaningful experiences of atheists, and a book with our mentor Dr. Ralph W. Hood Jr. extensively detailing and displaying the data from Atheism, Agnosticism, and Nonbelief: A Qualitative and Quantitative Study of Type and Narrative; most extensive study of non-belief to date – “thanks to our participants!” 

A Statement of Continued Reflexivity

As we finish writing this brief synopsis, Coleman is actually sitting across the table from a good friend (who we will call Bob which is not his real name but allows a reference point for this conversation) who self identifies as an “Anti-Theist” however, he says he does not consider what he, labels himself as, to be a reflection of our very specific research description of a typology we call “Antitheist”. To the readers’ credit, no doubt many of “you” might also share our friend’s sentiments as they speak directly to any social scientific construction of every typology.

As social scientists we are forced to label, yet at the same time, we recognize qualitatively the limits inherent in any label. Certainly this was a research challenge for the project, one that almost derailed our process. Many of the participants disagreed about common use of terms of nonbelief but there was common agreement related to definitions of nonbelief. With this said Bob is not alone. Many of the participants were concerned with issues of social agendas and the separation of church and state.  Furthermore, individuals like Bob were in many respects critical of the religious institutions and their agendas. The differences here in typology relate to the mode and value each participant places on how they engage issues of ontology. In other words, what is their preference for debating and considering the place religion and secularity play in our society? For many participants they question such social structures and are critical (antitheist) but their mode of behavior and belief may be different from the group we label antitheist. These labels were chosen by the research team to be reflective of the emotional, personality, and cognitive structures of value these people place on their worldviews (types).


Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing,” it would say; I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.” –William James

We only include this as a chance to recognize the limitations inherent in any positivist empirical approach that seeks to quantify the identificational acts and beliefs of any group of people. Moreover, beholding to these ideals we will always, in a very real sense, be unable to fully capture ones experience in general, and in this case the non-belief experience in particular. We recognize that this study was not perfect in any sense. Certainly there were spelling errors and grammatical mistakes in some aspects of our study. We also recognize that some participants found the items of the scale problematic in one section or another. For some parts of this study, those issues could not be helped, as they were quantitatively accepted scales. To change their wording, syntax, or spelling would pose empirical problems later. We appreciate our participants being patient with us and still continuing their participation.

We hope our modest attempt at an honest reflection here will show that no research is perfect and certainly, researchers are growing and learning much like the general population. We humbly hope that your data and this study will lead to a continued exploration of nonbelief. We welcome ideas, suggestions, and critiques. We also hope others will research non-belief and we tip our hat to the small but growing number of scholars who currently do. The team at Atheismresearch.com would like to thank the vast and diverse non-belief community for sharing with us their particular time and moment in today’s society as we hope to have provided an honest reflection of the varieties of non-belief.

Thank you,
Christopher F. Silver
Thomas J. Coleman III

For Additional Information, questions or concerns regarding the project please email Tommy at tommycoleman3@yahoo.com


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in this website, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga or any academic department.


Works cited for this Announcement

Cragun, R. T., Kosmin, B., Keysar, A., Hammer, J. H., & Nielsen, M. (2012). On the
Receiving End: Discrimination toward the Non-Religious in the United States. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27(1), 105-127.

International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). (2012). Freedom of thought 2012: A global report on discrimination against humanists, atheists and the non-religious. Retrieved from http://iheu.org/story/new-global-report-discrimination-against-non-religious

The Institutional Review Board of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (FWA00004149) has approved this research project #12-176.