Pew Survey on U.S. Religion
Recent Pew Survey on US Religion: Something Old, Something New?
By Luke Harlow
According to this article in the New York Times, the American religious landscape is uncertain as ever. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey and it includes some interesting statistics. Among them:
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates the United States is 78 percent Christian and about to lose its status as a majority Protestant nation, at 51 percent and slipping.
More than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all, the survey found. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number rises to 44 percent.
One in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution."
And there's also this data:
"On the Protestant side, changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses.
Many Americans have vague denominational ties at best. People who call themselves ''just a Protestant,'' in fact, account for nearly 10 percent of all Protestants.
Although evangelical churches strive to win new Christian believers from the ''unchurched,'' the survey found most converts to evangelical churches were raised Protestant.
Hindus claimed the highest retention of childhood members, at 84 percent. The group with the worst retention is one of the fastest growing -- Jehovah's Witnesses. Only 37 percent of those raised in the sect known for door-to-door proselytizing said they remain members.
Among other findings involving smaller religious groups, more than half of American Buddhists surveyed were white, and most Buddhists were converts.
More people in the survey pool identified themselves as Buddhist than Muslim, although both populations were small -- less than 1 percent of the total population. By contrast, Jews accounted for 1.7 percent of the overall population.
Much of this data seems to confirm what the scholarship on American religion has suggested for some time: the declining significance of of the denomination, believing Americans' lack of deeply held ties to traditions and institutions, and the tenuous nature of any sorts of claims that the United States is a "Christian nation," are classic themes in the literature.
From another perspective, however, I wonder if we have scholarly answers for all the questions this data raises. In what sense, for example, are religious non-affiliates--a group that seems to be growing, especially among younger Americans--religious? (Of course, that might just be begging a question about how we most effectively assess religiosity.) Put another way, do these statistics force us to reassess our views on American religious life?