Researchers identify 31 types of anti-atheist microaggressions

  • A team of researchers has created a "Microaggressions Against Non-Religious Individuals Scale" to help therapists understand the 31 unique types of microaggressions faced by atheist individuals.
  • According to the researchers, atheists can suffer mental "harm" if others assume that they are religious, act surprised that they do not believe in God, or assume that they have no morals.

Three researchers recently created a psychological survey to help therapists gauge how often atheist clients may suffer from microaggressions.

The Microaggressions Against Non-Religious Individuals Scale (MANIRS) was created by researchers Louis Pagano, Azim Shariff, and Zhen Cheng, and published for the first time last week in a journal run by the American Psychological Association. 

"Because our study is not experimental, we cannot directly claim that microaggressions directly caused harm."   

According to the MANIRS scale, there are 31 microaggressions that are unique to atheists, many of which involve incidents during which an atheist is accidently assumed to be religious, or when an atheist overhears stereotypes. 

[RELATED: Librarians warn ‘Christian fragility’ causes microaggressions]

Examples of microaggressions the MANIRS assesses include: “Others have assumed that I am religious,” “Others have acted surprised that I do not believe in God,” and “Others have included a blessing or prayer in a public social gathering.” 

Microaggressions are also said to occur if “Others have teased me because of my non-religious identity,” “Others have assumed I have no morals,” or “Others have suggested I am too sensitive about discrimination to against non-religious people.” 

“Having this microaggression scale can empower non-religious individuals to talk about their experience with prejudice,” the researchers assert, suggesting that it could help clinicians to “better understand the types of prejudices that their non-religious client experience in their everyday lives” while also making clients feel more comfortable “discussing these subtle experiences of bias with their therapists.”

For therapists, the benefit is twofold. Not only can the microaggression scale help them learn more about the bias that atheists confront, but it may also improve their ability to counsel atheist patients, the researchers explain.

The article adds that “despite its limitations, one of the important benefits of microaggressions theory is that it raises people’s awareness of their often unknowingly hurtful or othering behaviors,” and can therefore “offer people the opportunity to avoid unintentional harm.”

[RELATED: Board tells students to check ‘cis,’ ‘Christian’ privilege]

The study was led by Zhen Cheng, who recently received her Ph.D from the University of Oregon. 

During an interview with Campus Reform, Cheng acknowledged that “because our study is not experimental, we cannot directly claim that microaggressions directly caused harm,” but asserted that while the research on microaggressions is still emerging, early evidence suggests that microaggressions can negatively impact mental health. 

“Because of this potential for harm, that is why people are taking this seriously. The theory behind how microaggressions cause harm is ‘death by a thousand cuts,'” Cheng asserted. 

“It’s not about any one comment, remark, or behavior,” Cheng added. “It’s about a feeling of judgment and/or exclusion that accrues from a pattern of microaggressions…there are constant cues that in aggregate make people feel excluded or othered.” 

MANIRS was co-developed by Louis Pagano, who teaches at the University of North Dakota, and Azim F. Shariff, a psychology researcher at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to publication, its ability to assess non-religious discrimination was validated by 765 online survey takers.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

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Toni Airaksinen
Toni Airaksinen | Columnist at PJ Media

Toni Airaksinen is Columnist at PJ Media and a Consultant at Youth Radio. She was previously a New Jersey Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform with a focus on Title IX, the OCR, and the First Amendment. During college, she also was a columnist for Quillette and The Columbia Spectator. Her exclusives have been featured on FOX News and The Drudge Report. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018.

20 Articles by Toni Airaksinen