Thursday, February 15, 2007

Religious Identity in the American Free Market

The latest edition of "Religion News" from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has an interesting article titled "For Many Americans, Religious Identity is No Longer a Given." Here's an excerpt:

When Aurora Turk was growing up in Mexico City, being Catholic was a given. "It was taught to me by the nuns at school and my mother at home," she recalled. "My whole world was Catholic."
But Turk's adult life has been marked by religious exploration.

Married to a Brooklyn-born Jew, the 38-year-old mother now follows the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian spiritual teacher; she and her husband plan to raise their infant son in the Self-Realization Fellowship, a group founded by Yogananda, at their home in Springfield, Va.

While Turk's story seems unique, her experience of switching religious identities is a common one for many Americans. According to experts who study the phenomenon, believers are exercising their freedom of choice more than ever before.

Sixteen percent of Americans have switched their religious identities at some point in their lives, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, one of the largest studies of its kind.

"People are making more choices in everything, from lifestyle to sexual identity. It's not surprising if they are making more choices in religion," said Peter Berger, professor of sociology and theology at Boston University.

In other words, Berger says, the era when religion was determined solely by accident of birth is over.

Barry Kosmin, co-author of the 2006 book "Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans," which is based on the 2001 survey data, said "more switching is to be expected."

"Family and ethnic loyalties -- the old glue that maintained inter-generational religious identification -- has weakened," he said.

In addition to moving more frequently, Americans are also more likely to be "searching" for religious truth, often outside their own traditions, wrote Kosmin, who directs the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

While the article goes on to state that the 2001 ARIS study indicates that evangelical Christianity has thus far achieved a net gain in this religious competition, nevertheless, American evangelicals should take notice of the religious environment in which they find themselves, and the issues related to shifting religious identities and religious consumerism have serious implications for living in a religiously plural environment, as well as for how we "do church."


Matt Stone said...

Interesting stats John. I've linked you at http://mattstone.blogs.comykfqidr

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks, Matt. I hope others find these stats helpful.