I'm doing a research study for school that will explore who atheists are within the constructs of positive psychology. I'm only at the topic selection phase of the process, so please forgive me for not being able to provide too much information yet on the specifics of the study. There seems to be quite a bit of ambiguity in the definitions of the terminology related to atheism (and theism too for that matter). I'm thinking of using a term other than "atheist" throughout my research. One that comes to mind initially is "non-theist." One of the primary reasons I'm thinking of using something other than "atheist" is because of the negative connotations associated with the word. I don't know exactly who my audience will be, and this is for a grade (doctoral dissertation, and the committee doesn't get selected until well into the process). What are your thoughts on terminology? What might be a good synonym for atheist that doesn't "offend" the possible theists/religionists who may sit on my degree conferral panel (I'd really like to graduate!)? Or would you just stick with the term "atheist?" Any feedback would be welcome, thanks!
Are you going to be discussing the terminology in your study? It sounds like you should use the term atheist and describe why there is a negative connotation associated with this term. Considering why the negative psychology exists would be appropriate if you're looking to find the positive as well. Also, if there are theists on your review panel, they may appreciate the logical reasoning behind the terminology and its modern connotations amongst different groups (and they may be less likely to judge negatively if they are thinking about how shallow that negative thinking is).
I suggest using the term atheist at least a little bit. Many of us also use the terms secular humanist, non-theist, and rational thinker. I don't personally like the term irreligious, but to each their own.
i don't think there's any ambiguity at all. what there is is a lot of misunderstanding about the meaning of the word. as for offense on the part of theists to the word atheist, generally speaking, i abhor attempts to change what we identify ourselves instead of simply educating people as to the actual meaning of the word. but, in this specific instance you describe, i can see how the ignorance of your audience would both be problematic and difficult to address under the circumstances. i think the term "non-theist" is too broad as it includes more than just atheists. a better choice, i think, is the one suggested by Radu above me- irreligious.
Thanks for all the feedback, I'm loving it. There is no one to bounce around questions like this in my world, and I so appreciate it! I will probably be tossing it around for a while, since it will be a while before I have a committee... I have a while to finalize the terminology. I'm going to start out with "atheist" and see how that plays out. Maybe I'll get lucky: Psychology is a lot like the hard sciences in that there are proportionately more atheists (and other similar terms!) in this field than in the general population.
Thanks andy, my research will be about people who don't believe in a deity.
I sometimes define myself as agnostic, only because I'm open to any forthcoming evidence (which could change my mind, but I'm not holding my breath). I also define myself as atheist, because right now I don't believe (no evidence to support belief). Am I confusing the definition of agnosticism? I imagine this question is answered somewhere on this site, but would appreciate feedback here nonetheless :-) (I guess what I'm really wondering is should I include self-described agnostics in this study)
agnosticism is about knowledge while atheism is about belief. agnosticism, according to the strict definition, means that the person professing agnosticism believes that we lack the knowledge to say whether or not a deity exists and may indeed always lack that knowledge. according to the colloquial definition agnosticism means simply "i don't know". therein lies the confusion. people of course believe that atheists are making a outright claim to knowledge of the nonexistence of a deity and so can't understand how a person can claim to be both an atheist and an agnostic.
since agnosticism and atheism deal with different things, knowledge and belief, you can be both an agnostic and an atheist. indeed, most people who describe themselves as atheists would, when pressed to describe their stance more in depth, describe their atheism just as you do- as a result of a lack of evidence while still being open to any knew evidence in the future.
That's exactly right Nelson. They are separate things, so you don't need to be either an atheist or an agnostic. You can be any one of the following: gnostic theist, agnostic theist, gnostic atheist and agnostic atheist. Personally, I think that both gnostic theists and gnostic atheists are a little deranged, if you know what I mean. Of course that you can say you know that gods don't exists, but in the colloquial meaning of the term, not in the philosophical one. I can't see how you could absolutely know, without the slightest uncertainty, anything at all. There's always the possibility, even if it's extremely improbable that you might be wrong.
I think that, from this absolute point of view, every sane atheist would call himself/herself an agnostic atheist.