Organized Atheism Creating Community

Jess Landgraf


Comprising less than ten percent of the United States’ population, atheists are a minority, although their presence on the national sociopolitical stage has recently increased through the efforts of organized atheism. This increased visibility has attracted the attention of sociological research, but no published studies focus on a single group of organized atheists. On the campus of Luther College, a small, private liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, atheist students are again the minority. Not only are the majority of students affiliated with some religious tradition, but most campus-wide events, traditions, and organizations incorporate elements of a Christian tradition. One of the few exceptions to this religious foundation is the Secular Student Society (SSS), an organization founded for and by atheist students.

These students define themselves by negating religious beliefs and traditions. While many students bond over commonly shared identities affirming religious traditions, a small number of students that participate in the SSS’s weekly meetings seemingly have in common only an identity that negates traditions. On what basis do these students build community? What motivates these students to build this community? What does the SSS do for those students? I hope to answer these questions by analyzing recorded meetings from October 2013 through February 2014 and in-depth interviews with each participant.

Based on preliminary results, the students of SSS build their community around a shared experience of religious ostracism from the rest of society, an exclusion made more intense by the Christian symbolism present in many Luther campus activities. For these students, participation in the SSS offers moral support as well as a place to express themselves freely through humor and frustration pointed at theists on campus and more broadly.


Atheism; Community; Values;

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