Secular but not Superficial: An Overlooked Nonreligious/Nonspiritual Identity

Dissertation, University of Louisville (2016)
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Abstract
Since Durkheim’s characterization of the sacred and profane as “antagonistic rivals,” the strict dichotomy has been framed in such a way that “being religious” evokes images of a life filled with profound meaning and value, while “being secular” evokes images of a meaningless, self-centered, superficial life, often characterized by materialistic consumerism and the cold, heartless environment of corporate greed. Consequently, to identify as “neither religious nor spiritual” runs the risk of being stigmatized as superficial, untrustworthy, and immoral. Conflicts and confusions encountered in the process of negotiating a nonreligious/nonspiritual identity, caused by the ambiguous nature of religious language, were explored through qualitative interviews with 14 ex-ministers and 1 atheist minister—individuals for whom supernaturalist religion had formed the central core of identity, but who have deconverted and no longer hold supernatural beliefs. The cognitive linguistics approach of Frame Semantics was applied to the process of “oppositional identity work” to examine why certain identity labels are avoided or embraced due to considerations of the cognitive frames evoked by those labels. Through the constant comparative method of grounded theory, a host of useful theoretical concepts emerged from the data. Several impediments to the construction of a “secular but not superficial” identity were identified, and a framework of new theoretical concepts developed to make sense of them: sense disparity, frame disparity, identity misfire, foiled identity, sense conflation, and conflated frames. Several consequences arising from these impediments were explored: (1) consequences of sense conflation and conflated frames for the study of religion; (2) consequences of conflated frames for religious terminology; and (3) consequences of the negation of conflated frames for those who identify as not religious, not spiritual, or not Christian. Additionally, four types of oppositional identity work were identified and analyzed: (1) avoidance identity work, (2) dissonant identity work, (3) adaptive identity work, and (4) alternative identity work. Finally, the concept of conflated frames was applied to suggest a new interpretation of the classic Weberian disenchantment narrative.
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Metaphors We Live By.Lakoff, George & Johnson, Mark

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