Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 331–352 | Cite as

“Becoming a Parent Changes Everything”: How Nonbeliever and Pagan Parents Manage Stigma in the U.S. Bible Belt

  • Amy I. McClureEmail author


Despite the increasing visibility of secularism and alternative religions in the United States, few have paid attention to the relationship between family roles and religious identity outside of mainstream Christian denominations. Guided by insights from theories of identity work, I compare stigma management strategies by two religiously marginalized groups. Based on participant-observation, in-depth interviews, and textual analysis, I show how nonbeliever and Pagan parents in the Bible Belt respond to perceived threats to their moral identities as “good parents.” Nonbeliever and Pagan parents manage their spoiled identities by engaging in defensive othering amongst subordinates, a form of stigma management, to distance themselves from discrediting stereotypes—specifically the “militant atheist” and the “hedonistic Pagan.” I demonstrate that access to greater financial and cultural capital (nonbeliever parents) allows for reliance on defensive othering to massage interpersonal relations, whereas access to low levels of financial and cultural capital (Pagan parents), prompts the need to rely on defensive othering as a matter of survival. Becoming a parent changes the dynamic of stigma management for individuals; pushing individual parents away from social justice activism and ultimately undercutting broader social movements for equality.


Stigma Parenting Religion Paganism Nonbeliever Atheist Defensive Othering Bible Belt 



The author would like to thank David Smilde and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback on this manuscript as well as Joseph Blankholm, Amy Armenia, and Matthew Nichter for their consultation. The author would also like to thank Michael Schwalbe for his tireless mentoring efforts throughout the data collection and analysis process.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Cornell Social Sciences BuildingRollins CollegeWinter ParkUSA

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