…atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers, scientific, rationalists, irreligious, nonreligious, nonbelievers, secularists, secular humanists, humanists, brights, apostates, unchurched, non-churched, nontheists, naturalists, disbelievers, unbelievers, empiricists, monists, objectivists, materialists, infidels, heathens, this-worlders, non-transcendentalists, nontheists, non-spiritual, non-supernatural, anti-religious, religious defectors, religious drop-outs, religious nones, religious nots, religious non-affiliatation, religious doubt, religious disaffiliation, religious switching, deconversion, unconversion…

These are some of the terms people use when talking about nonreligious individuals.  When it comes to research on the nonreligion, social scientists have not yet agreed on what terms and definitions are best. The Atheist Research Collaborative (ARC) seeks to be clear and accurate in its use of terminology. To accomplish this, the ARC will draw upon the most recent guidelines from scholars of nonreligion.  Lee (2012) defines non-religion as “anything which is primarily defined by a relationship of difference to religion” (p. 131).  Cragun et al. (2012) define nonreligiousness and nonspirituality as “the absence of personal religiousness and spirituality,” respectively.  Bullivant (2014) defines atheism as “an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods” and atheist as “one who is without a belief in the existence of a God or gods.”  In the past, the ARC has used terminology such as secularism and secularity. However, recent scholarship has convincingly argued that moving away from this terminology is best.


Bullivant, S. (2013). Defining ‘atheism’. In S. Bullivant & M. Ruse (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of atheism.

Cragun, R. T., & Hammer, J. H., Harder, B. M., Fernandez, C., & Nielsen, M. (2012). The Nonreligious-Nonspiritual scale: Measuring everyone from atheists to Zionists. Unpublished manuscript.

Lee (2012). Research note: Talking about a revolution: Terminology for a new field of non-religion studies. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27(1), 129-139.