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An Assessment of the Role of Early Parental Loss in the Adoption of Atheism or Irreligion

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Early parental loss or trauma has been proposed by some as a significant factor in the adoption of atheist, non-theist, or irreligious worldviews. Relevant empirical data, however, have been limited, impressionistic, methodologically questionable, or limited to historically prominent figures. Survey data from the GSS and a study of affirmatively non-theistic and irreligious secular group affiliates in the U.S. do not provide evidence of disproportionately high rates of early parental loss among individuals who describe themselves as “atheist(ic)” or “anti-religious,” reject belief in God, or express strong anger about religion. Loss of a parent or other loved may play a role in turns toward, as well as away from, God and religion for some. There is also evidence of comparatively high rates of parental loss in the lives of historically prominent figures, both religious and non-religious. Present results, however, do not support the hypothesis that early loss is a disproportionately frequent experience in the lives of (“ordinary”) atheistic or irreligious people.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) Trinity College, Hartford, CT USA, Email:


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