Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Daughton, Suzanne


The purpose of this dissertation is to analyze stories that don’t often get told or heard. Traditionally, nonreligious people have had to keep their lack of belief to themselves out of fear of persecution. In the literature review of this dissertation, I summarize previous scholarship about leaving religion. In an effort to learn about autobiographies written by nonreligious women, I utilize storytelling as a theoretical framework, located within the rhetorical uses of personal narratives, and ask: What are the types of challenges, experiences, and topics that nonreligious women include in their stories?; How do these autobiographies invite readers to understand personal accounts of religious departure?; and How do these autobiographies invite social change and consciousness raising? To answer these questions, I applied thematic narrative analysis, from a rhetorical perspective, as a way to discover the commonalities amongst the stories, as well as the unique characteristics that each story possesses. While each woman had a unique story, there were five common themes that emerged among the memoirs: family, intellectual, relational, sociocultural, and professional. Inspired by the language of the “women’s sphere,” I labeled each of the themes as a realm in the “sphere of life” with hope that the sphere of life can help explain how religion influences a person’s life. I discovered that, even though some of the women lost some relationships with family and friends, all of the women mentioned that they are happier now that they are being true to themselves. The authors also mentioned that it is important to be at peace with who they are since this is likely their one and only life. With that in mind, it is important to have choice and authenticity in one’s life. Finally, this study demonstrated the power of storytelling and how autobiographies can invite social and attitudinal change.




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