Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science


Political Science

First Advisor

Alice H. Cooper

Second Advisor

Robert Albritton

Third Advisor

Eric T. Weber

Relational Format



Though the term "atheism" encompasses all persons without belief in god(s), more people claim unbelief in god(s) than describe themselves as "convinced atheists" in every society on earth. While the extant social science research on religion and secularism rigorously explores the nuances of the religion/nonreligion divide, the scholarship largely ignores the complexity of irreligion, or the rejection of all religious truth claims involving supernatural phenomena. In this dissertation, I argue that a cross-national, comparative analysis of nonbelievers and avoatheists provides an ideal opportunity to gain leverage into the poorly understood political dynamics of irreligion, particularly in the context of Western secularization. By modeling atheism as both a worldview and a social identity, this inquiry seeks a balanced understanding of the characteristics and mechanisms of atheism's interaction with politics. Politics and atheism are theorized to influence one another in a variety of ways, enumerated in a series of thirty-three formal hypotheses derived from the relevant literature. Following an introduction, Chapter 1 introduces atheism and lays a foundation for its sociopolitical investigation. The second chapter explores atheism as an outcome of various social, political, and economic factors. Two leading theories on religious change in society are contrasted and used to formulate falsifiable hypotheses, which are then formalized in a series of Bayesian hierarchical models and operationalized using data from thirty countries across nine waves of the combined World Values Survey and European Values Survey (1981-2009). Estimates are obtained using a Markov chain Monte Carlo simulation and are discussed in detail, including a comparison of Bayesian estimates with those derived from a corresponding frequentist model. Chapter 3 investigates the political behavior of various nonreligious groups in attempt to identify irreligion's political impacts. A close examination of political differences between avoatheists, nonbelievers, and the nonreligious sheds light on the relative magnitudes of the political effects of various irreligion components. Methods comprise a series of Bayesian models mirroring those of the prior chapter which are operationalized using the same principle data series. A brief summary of the findings and closing thoughts about their place in the literature comprise the concluding fourth chapter.



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