Atheism and Stigma: The Melee of Social Division

Conference paper

Jones, S. 2017. Atheism and Stigma: The Melee of Social Division. Anthropology in London Day 2017: Anthropology and Global Shifts. London, UK 13 Jun 2017
AuthorsJones, S.
TypeConference paper

This paper draws on anthropological perspectives on identity, stigma, belief, and epistemology to demonstrate how marginalised groups, vying for recognition as valued identities, can themselves become intolerant of others whilst legitimising the self. Looking at the heterogeneous relationships of atheists and religionists as a lens through which processes of exclusion and inclusion can be understood, we see vitriolic ‘othering’ using ephemeral markers of discrimination become inculcated and a melee of stigmatising behaviours materialise.

Atheists have historically suffered stigmatisation that exiles them to an anomalous social category. Stigma is not, however, only imposed upon atheist, they have also become perpetrators of stigma towards religionists and even towards fellow atheists. Within the hostility of prejudicial stigma firing between, and amongst, atheists and religionists, a ‘majority mixed middle’ becomes visible. Those occupying this middle majority reveal the flexibility individuals display in contextually constructing atheistic and/or religious identities. By appropriating elements of religiosity and atheism, individuals erect multifaceted identities whose plasticity facilitates stigma avoidance.

The study discussed here aims to unpack the mechanisms that sustain scrutiny of others, the ensuing stigmatic violence between groups as well as the fluidity with which people understand belonging. Doing so the nuanced means through which people make sense of self, and others, through dynamic identities are revealed. Far from the alleged binary thinking of populism, the complexity of identity and belonging visible in the ‘majority mixed middle’ exposes a valuable lesson about inclusion and the lived realities of global subjects that is critical in this turbulent political time.

ConferenceAnthropology in London Day 2017: Anthropology and Global Shifts
Publication process dates
Deposited09 Nov 2018
Completed13 Jun 2017
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