Masters Thesis

Becoming an atheist minister: identity formation and impression management

This study explores the dynamics of the social construction of the conflicting identities of “evangelical Christian” ministers who have embraced atheistic beliefs, but contrary to normal conventions and expectations, have chosen to remain in their religious roles as pastors, and in so doing keep their beliefs private. Drawing on data gathered from individual interviews with eight active ministers, an evolving process of identity re-interpretation is revealed -- a process occasioned both by the ministers‟ private encounter with dissonant beliefs and the necessity of constant public identity management. The study takes the ideas of Cognitive Dissonance and Structural Symbolic Interactionism‟s Identity Salience a step further by highlighting an identity re-interpretation process in which contradictory social and cognitive elements are negotiated within the ministers‟ particular social contexts. The result can be described as a modified identity which is cognizant of both strengths and weaknesses of the previous contradictory identities. Erving Goffman‟s Dramaturgical approach is subsequently used to analyze the pastor‟s public identity and impression management strategies, specifically in the context of the public performance of their duties.

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