Rescuing Nones From the Reference Category: Civic Engagement Among the Nonreligious in America

Jacqui Frost, Penny Edgell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Religious individuals are repeatedly found to be more civically engaged than nonreligious individuals. However, most studies of civic engagement relegate the nonreligious to the reference group; the “Nones” are treated as homogeneous and assumed to have few avenues for civic engagement. We bring the nonreligious out of the reference group and explore how variations in nonreligious identification, belief, and behavior affect civic engagement. We find important variations among the nonreligious in terms of their propensity to be civically engaged that are lost when their heterogeneity is ignored. Those who identify as “nothing in particular” (NIP) are much less likely to show interest or engagement in civic life than are atheists, agnostics, and the “spiritual but not religious,” and we show that the image of the nonreligious as uninvolved in civic life is inaccurate and most likely driven by forms of analysis that disproportionately weight the experiences of the “NIPs.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-438
Number of pages22
JournalNonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The authors appreciate the generous support for data collection and research assistance given by the National Science Foundation (Grants 1258926 and 1258933) and the Edelstein Family Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • civic engagement
  • nonreligion
  • quantitative research
  • volunteering


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