Irreligious (Dictionary.com 1st definition):

not religious; not practicing a religion and feeling no religious impulses or emotions.

Non-religious (Google definition):

not relating to or believing in a religion.

I've looked at definitions and synonyms for both, but I can't seem to find the difference between the two.

It appears "irreligious" has some kind of negative connotation directed at religion in general, while "non-religious" skews more to the "indifferent" definition.

However, I can't find any reliable sources that differentiates the two.

  • 4
    I would say that "irreligious" carries the connotation of, if not being actively anti-religious (of one or more religions), then behaving in a way that is somehow disrespectful of some religious practices. Eg, eating your lunch of a pork rib sandwich in front of a Jewish deli.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 20:05

5 Answers 5


I suspect that few people would describe themselves as "irreligious," while many more would describe themselves as "non-religious," the latter including those who believe in "God or a Higher Power" but are unaffiliated with a specific religion or denomination. For a very thorough discussion, which unfortunately makes little or no distinction betweens the terms, see this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion


Has anyone look at irreligious as "indifference" and thus the rejection of religion?

Basically, the idea is that "I don't care that a God exist or not", and thus I reject the idea of religion and religious activities.

The hosility bit comes from the idea of "if you're not with us, you're against us" sort of deal that a lot of religions preach.

You can be irreligious and not atheist.


Non-religious has a meaning of "not relating to religion", it can be both person or topic that have nothing to do with the religion.

But whereas "non-religious" is a negation of a positive attribute, "irreligious" is an affirmation of the negative attribute, which is a bit more forceful, in my opinion (it's a bit of alternative linguistics but I have such an impression upon hearing those words).


I am aware of no actual sources, regretfully, but I have my own strong feelings. This whole thing seems to be getting more complicated with time. I used to be an atheist but cannot simply go by that definition anymore. Dictionary.com defines irreligious thusly:


  1. not religious; not practicing a religion and feeling no religious impulses or emotions.
  2. showing or characterized by a lack of religion.
  3. showing indifference or hostility to religion:
    irreligious statements.

I thought ANTI-THEIST covered especially number 3. ATHEISM really means (as far as I've heard) not believing in any gods. That's it. From that follows all else. The whole thing is just getting too complicated. I know I am not agnostic. I have the knowledge I want (feel confident in my beliefs). I am not going to be surprised at the time of my death. I am ATHEIST and that is good enough. Synonyms be damned.


Irreligious is not a word, whereas non-religous implies not belonging or believing in a religion.


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