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Religion, Secular Humanism, and Atheism: Multi-Institutional Politics and the USAFA Cadets' Freethinkers Group

journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-23, 00:00 authored by Mary Ellen Konieczny, Megan C. Rogers
The recent emergence of atheist movements despite marginalization and distrust by a majority of Americans has been explained as a successful deployment of identity politics, but scholars have less often considered the importance of how identity and power intersect with political opportunity occurring within organizational and religious fields. Analyzing the case of the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) Cadet Freethinkers Group, we demonstrate that although it encountered opportunity in the organizational shock of the 2004 USAFA proselytism controversy, this opportunity was not a blank check, but instead afforded some possibilities for action and not others. Freethinkers’ actions to secure official recognition were limited by (1) their low placement in the chain of command and (2) a collective identity inclusive of secular humanism and atheism, which did not produce enough unity to take collective actions risking punishment, and created ambiguity vis-à-vis religion that allowed USAFA administrators to accept or deny their institutional membership claims through appeal, respectively, to functional or substantive definitions of religion.


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