Religious Views: Atheism, Agnosticism & Theism

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  • 0:08 Religious Views
  • 0:59 Theism
  • 2:32 Atheism
  • 3:44 Agnosticism
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Sociology of religion is a large branch of sociology. The different views on deities are studied as part of this topic. In this lesson, we compare and contrast the views of theism, atheism, and agnosticism.

Religious Views

What effect does media have on religious belief? How does religion affect non-religious aspects of society? How many religions believe in the same God? These are all questions that are asked in sociology of religion, a popular branch of sociology. Sociologists study how religions and systems of belief affect society as a whole. At the center of most religions is the belief or disbelief of one or more deities.

In other lessons, we'll discuss the concept of religion in more depth and also discuss ideologies of some of the largest religions in the world. In this lesson, the focus is on understanding the difference between theistic, atheist, and agnostic views on deities.


Theism, in its most basic form, is belief that one or more deities exist. The term theism derives from the Greek word 'theos,' which means 'god.' Theists include all individuals who believe in one god or multiple gods. The majority of the world's population are theists.

Theism is the core of most religions; the beliefs of Christianity, Judaism, and hundreds more are theistic. Of course, the deity or deities they believe in and how each group of people practice their beliefs are different. It's important to note that someone who is theistic isn't necessarily a member of a certain religion.

For example, Emma, Tommy, and Warren are all theists. Emma is a devout Christian who regularly attends church. Tommy believes there is one God but does not identify with any particular religion. Warren believes in multiple gods whose stories have been passed down through his family.

Although there are many different types of theism, the two that are frequently compared are monotheism and polytheism. Monotheism is belief in a single god and includes religions like Christianity and Judaism. Polytheism is belief in multiple gods and includes religions like Hinduism and Wicca.


Often contrasted with theism is atheism, which is disbelief of the existence of any deity. The term derives from the Greek word 'atheos,' which means 'without god(s).' Atheism is on the rise all over the world. According to a 2012 global poll, approximately 13% of the world's population are self-reported atheists.

Like theists, individual belief (or disbelief) systems of atheists can vary. Although many people think of atheists as anti-religion, that is not always the case. Many atheists believe that there are no forces or entities which exist outside of physical nature. At the same time, atheism is actually part of some nontheistic religions like Buddhism, which believe in mystic forces, just not god(s). For example, Holly identifies herself as a Hindu. She believes deities do not exist, but she does believe in karma and reincarnation. Therefore, Holly is a member of a religion and an atheist at the same time.


The last concept we'll discuss in this lesson is agnosticism, which is the view that the existence of any deity is unknown and unknowable. Where theism and atheism deal with belief, agnosticism deals with knowledge. The term comes from the Greek words 'a' (without) and 'gnosis' (knowledge). Agnosticism, then, literally means 'without knowledge' of the existence of gods.

Agnostics include all individuals who claim it's not possible to say with certainty that deities exist. That is, they do not attempt to claim if gods exist or do not exist because it cannot be proven either way. For example, Jude is known to her friends as a very rational thinker. She thinks that it's possible there is a God but has no belief that one exists or does not exist. She has no belief system and thinks that it's not possible to determine if a god exists or not. Therefore, she is agnostic.

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