What do you mean, "what does it all mean?" Atheism, nonreligion, and life meaning

David Speed, Thomas Joseph Coleman III, Joseph Langston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
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Nonreligion is often thought to be commensurate with nihilism or fatalism, resulting in the perception that the nonreligious have no source of meaning in life. While views to this effect have been advanced in various arenas, no empirical evaluation of such a view has been conducted. Using data from the 2008 American General Social Survey (N = ~1,200), we investigated whether atheists, the religiously unaffiliated, and persons raised religiously unaffiliated were more likely than theists, the religiously affiliated, and persons raised with a religious affiliation to report greater levels of fatalism, nihilism, and the perception that meaning in life is self-provided. Results suggested that these groups did not differ with regard to fatalism or nihilism. However, atheists and the religiously unaffiliated (but not persons raised in a religiously unaffiliated household) were more likely to indicate that meaning in life was endogenous—that is, self-produced. While atheists and the nonreligious differed from their counterparts on source of meaning in life, this was not associated with any “penalty” for overall existential meaning.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSAGE Open
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2018


  • atheism
  • meaning in life
  • nonreligion
  • nihilism
  • fatalism
  • nonbelief


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