Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 72–86 | Cite as

Psychological Distress Among Religious Nonbelievers: A Systematic Review

  • Samuel R. Weber
  • Kenneth I. Pargament
  • Mark E. Kunik
  • James W. LomaxII
  • Melinda A. Stanley
Original Paper


Studies of religious belief and psychological health are on the rise, but most overlook atheists and agnostics. We review 14 articles that examine differences between nonbelievers and believers in levels of psychological distress, and potential sources of distress among nonbelievers. Various forms of psychological distress are experienced by nonbelievers, and greater certainty in one’s belief system is associated with greater psychological health. We found one well-documented source of distress for nonbelievers: negative perceptions by others. We provide recommendations for improving research on nonbelievers and suggest a model analogous to Pargament’s tripartite spiritual struggle to understand the stresses of nonbelief.


Religion Atheism Agnosticism Mental health Psychological distress 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel R. Weber
    • 1
  • Kenneth I. Pargament
    • 2
  • Mark E. Kunik
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • James W. LomaxII
    • 5
  • Melinda A. Stanley
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Bowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  3. 3.VA HSR&D Houston Center of ExcellenceHoustonUSA
  4. 4.Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical CenterHoustonUSA
  5. 5.Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  6. 6.VA South Central Mental Illness, Research, Education and Clinical CenterHoustonUSA

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