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Marginalization, Mental Health, and Empowerment Lab
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Ongoing Projects > Atheism and Irreligiosity

Ongoing Projects

Atheism and Irreligiosity

The mediating role of religious coping in the minority stress to psychological well-being link:

Religiosity and spirituality have been linked to mental health (e.g. Hackney & Sanders, 2003). However, religious and spiritual beliefs have also been linked to psychological distress in samples of lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) people (e.g., Schuck & Liddle, 2001). Minority stress theory (Meyer, 2003) posits coping styles may intervene in the relation of minority stressors such as discrimination with mental health among LGB people. Indeed, with a sample of African American individuals, Szymanski and Obiri (2012) found negative religious coping (but not positive religious coping) partially mediated the links of racist discrimination and internalized racism with psychological distress. The present study builds upon minority stress theory and Szymanski and Obiri’s (2012) study by testing the ability of religious coping styles to mediate the links of minority stressors with mental health among LGB people.

Data from 147 LGB religious or spiritual identified individuals were included in the analyses. Respondents are 51% men, 36% women, and 13% other (e.g., androgynous or genderqueer), aged M=39 years SD=14, and 72% White.  Forty-seven percent of participants identified as exclusively gay/lesbian, the remainder identified as mostly gay/lesbian or bisexual. Participants were sampled via online recruitment methods (e.g., Facebook, YahooGroups) and completed an electronic survey on Qualtrics.         

The following measures, all with strong reliability and validity, were included in the study:
1. Positive and Negative Religious Coping - The Religious Coping Inventory (Paragament et al, 1998)
2. Heterosexist Discrimination - The Heterosexist Harassment, Rejection, and Discrimination Scale (Syzmanski, 2006)
3. Internalized Heterosexism - The Internalized Homophobia Scale (Herek et al., 1997)
4. Psychological Distress - the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-21 (Green et al., 1988)
5. Outness Inventory (Mohr & Fassinger, 2000)

Footprints in the sand: Demographic and psychological profiles of religious, spiritual and atheist LGB individuals

This study offers an exploratory comparison of the demographic features and lived experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals with religious, spiritual, or atheist (R/S/A) belief systems. In this sample, the relationship of participants’ R/S/A beliefs to personal variables (e.g., age, gender, socioeconomic status, race), mental health variables (e.g., life satisfaction, psychological distress, internalized heterosexism), and relational variables (e.g., outness, connection to LGBTQ communities) is being assessed.

Atheist: identity development and self-esteem

Individuals who identify as atheist often face stigma and discrimination in day-to- day interactions (Harper, 2007). Experiencing frequent discrimination experiences can have significant consequences. Myers, Schwartz, & Frost (2008) suggest that the stressors faced by those with marginalized social identities lead to greater health disparities, including a higher prevalence of morbidity and mortality. This finding is consistent with socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and it is likely that atheists would also experience similar experiences of minority stress.

The concept of collective self-esteem was developed out of a need to examine how individuals evaluate their personal identity as part of a larger group, as previous measures of self-esteem were limited to one’s personal assessment. Research on the role of collective self-esteem suggests that one’s feelings of membership, private evaluation, public evaluation, and importance to identity of collective groups all contribute to feelings of personal self-esteem (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992).

One method of maintaining self-esteem and psychological well being for marginalized groups is to identify with the collective group identity to a stronger degree (Hammer et al., 2012). Specifically, previous studies have found a moderate to strong correlation of collective self-esteem for Black and Asian individuals compared to Whites. However, research up to this point has not examined the role of collective self-esteem of atheists. This study will examine the degree to which atheists perceive stigma as a result of their atheist group membership, and to what extent they maintain collective and individual self-esteem by identifying with a larger atheist community.

Information to come...

Using Minority Stress Theory for Atheists/The Schedule of Anti-Atheist Measurement Development