Skip to main content Accessibility help

Deprivatization of Disbelief?: Non-Religiosity and Anti-Religiosity in 14 Western European Countries

  • Egbert Ribberink (a1), Peter Achterberg (a1) and Dick Houtman (a1)


This article aims to move beyond media discourse about “new atheism” by mapping and explaining anti-religious zeal among the public at large in 14 Western European countries. We analyze data from the International Social Survey Program, Religion III, 2008, to test two theories about how country-level religiousness affects anti-religiosity and its social bases: a theory of rationalization and a theory of deprivatization of disbelief. Hypotheses derived from the former are contradicted, whereas those derived from the latter are largely confirmed. Anti-religiosity is strongest among disbelievers and among the higher educated in the most religious countries and among the older generations in today's most secularized countries.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Egbert Ribberink, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:
Peter Achterberg, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:
Dick Houtman, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:


Hide All
Achterberg, Peter. 2006. Considering Cultural Conflict: Class Politics and Cultural Politics in Western Societies. Maastricht: Shaker Publishers.
Achterberg, Peter, Houtman, Dick, Aupers, Stef, de Koster, Willem, Mascini, Peter, and van der Waal, Jeroen. 2009. “A Christian Cancellation of the Secularist Truce? Waning Christian Religiosity and Waxing Religious Deprivatization in the West.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48:687701.
Amarasingam, Amarnath. ed. 2010. Religion and the New Atheism. A Critical Appraisal. Leiden: Brill.
Bainbridge, William. 2005. “Atheism.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 1:124.
Baker, Joseph, and Smith, Buster. 2009a. “The Nones: Social Characteristics of the Religiously Unaffiliated.” Social Forces 87:12511263.
Baker, Joseph, and Smith, Buster. 2009b. “None Too Simple: Examining Issues of Religious Nonbelief and Nonbelonging in the United States.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48:719733.
Barro, Robert J., and McCleary, Rachel M.. 2005. “Which Countries Have State Religions?” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 120:13311370.
Becker, Jos, and Vink, René. 1994. Secularisatie in Nederland, 1966–1991: de verandering van opvattingen en enkele gedragingen (Secularization in The Netherlands, 1966–91: The Changes in Convictions and some Behaviors). Den Haag: Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau.
Berger, Peter. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Berger, Peter. ed. 1999. The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Bruce, Steve. 2002. God is dead: Secularization in the West. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bruce, Steve. 2011. Secularization. In Defence of an Unfashionable Theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Calhoun, Craig, Juergensmeyer, Mark, and VanAntwerpen, Jonathan. eds. 2011. Rethinking Secularism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Campbell, Colin. 1971. Toward a Sociology of Irreligion. London: Macmillan.
Campbell, Colin. 2007. The Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural Change in the Modern Era. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.
Casanova, José. 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Cimino, Richard, and Smith, Christopher. 2007. “Secular Humanism and Atheism beyond Progressive Secularism.” Sociology of Religion 68:407424.
Davie, Grace. 2007. The Sociology of Religion. London: Sage.
Durkheim, E. 1969. The Division of Labor in Society. New York, NY: Free Press.
Ecklund, Elaine Howard, and Scheitle, Christopher P.. 2007. “Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics.” Social Problems 54:289307.
Edgell, Penny, Gerteis, Joseph, and Hartmann, Douglas. 2006. “Atheists As ''Other'': Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society.” American Sociological Review 71:211234.
Froese, Paul. 2008. The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Greeley, Andrew. 2003. Religion in Europe at the End of the Second Millennium. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Hout, Michael, and Fischer, Claude S.. 2002. “Why More Americans Have no Religious Preference: Politics and Generations.” American Sociological Review 67:165190.
Houtman, Dick. 2003. Class and Politics in Contemporary Social Science: “Marxism Lite” and Its Blind Spot for Culture. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
Houtman, Dick, and Mascini, Peter. 2002. “Why Do Churches Become Empty, While New Age Grows? Secularization and Religious Change in the Netherlands.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41:455473.
Houtman, Dick, Aupers, Stef, and de Koster, Willem. 2011. Paradoxes of Individualization: Social Control and Social Conflict in Contemporary Modernity. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Hunter, John D. 1991. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kronjee, Gerrit, and Lampert, Martijn. 2006. “Leefstijlen en Zingeving (Lifestyles and Meaning).” In Geloven in het Publieke Domein: Verkenningen van een Dubbele Transformatie (English trnaslation here). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Martin, David. 2005. On Secularization: Towards a Revised General Theory. Ashgate: Aldershot.
McLeod, Hugh. 1997. Religion and the People of Western Europe 17891989. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Miller, Alan S., and Hoffman, John P.. 1995. “Risk and Religion: An Explanation of Gender Differences in Religiosity.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34:6375.
Miller, Alan S., and Stark, Rodney. 2002. “Gender and Religiousness: Can Socialization Explanations Be Saved?” American Journal of Sociology 107:13991423.
Need, Ariana, and De Graaf, Nan Dirk. 1996. “‘Losing My Religion': A Dynamic Analysis of Leaving the Church in the Netherlands.” European Sociological Review 12:8799.
Norris, Pippa, and Inglehart, Ronald. 2004. Sacred and Secular: Reexamining the Secularization Thesis. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Ribberink, Egbert, and Houtman, Dick. 2010. “‘Te ongelovig om atheïst te zijn’: Over de Deprivatisering van Ongeloof (‘Too Much of a Disbeliever to be an Atheist’: On the Deprivatization of Disbelief).” Religie & Samenleving 5:209226.
Roeland, Johan, Aupers, Stef, Houtman, Dick, de Koning, Martijn, and Noomen, Ineke. 2010. “The Quest for Religious Purity in New Age, Evangelicalism and Islam: Religious Renditions of Dutch Youth and the Luckmann Legacy.” Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion 1:289306.
Ruiter, Stijn, and van Tubergen, Frank. 2009. “Religious Attendance in Cross–National Perspective: A Multilevel Analysis of 60 Countries.” The American Journal of Sociology 115:863895.
Sherkat, Darren E. 2008. “Beyond belief: Atheism, Agnosticism, and Theistic Certainty in the United States.” Sociological Spectrum 28:438459.
Smith, Jesse M. 2011. “Becoming an Atheist in America: Constructing Identity and Meaning from the Rejection of Theism.” Sociology of Religion 72:215237.
Stahl, William. 2010. “One-Dimensional Rage: The Social Epistemology of the New Atheism and Fundamentalism.” In Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal. Leiden: Brill.
Stark, Rodney, Iannaccone, Laurence R., and Finke, Roger. 1996. “Religion, Science, and Rationality.” American Economic Review 86:433437.
Stark, Rodney, and Finke, Roger. 1999. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Streib, Heinz, and Klein, Constatin. 2012. “Atheists, Agnostics, and Apostates.” In APA Handbooks in Psychology: APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion and Spirituality. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Taylor, Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Harvard, CA: Harvard University Press.
Te Grotenhuis, Manfred, and Scheepers, Peer. 2001. “Churches in Dutch: Causes of Religious Disaffiliation in the Netherlands, 1937–1995.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40:591606.
Weber, Max. 1991 [1920–1921]. From Max Weber: Essays on the Sociology of Religion. Trans. Gerth, H.H. and Mills, C.W.. Abingdon: Routledge.
Zijderveld, Anton C.. 2000. The Institutional Imperative: The Interface of Institutions and Networks. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed