Monday, March 09, 2009

ARIS Survey: Declines and Gains in America's Spiritual Greenhouse



A new American Religious Identification Survey was released today which includes some interesting statistics on the decline of many religious groups. USA Today introduced the report's findings with the following:

"When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers.

"The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely."

The article then proceeds to a discussion of some of the key findings, three of which are of most interest to my research are reproduced below.

1. So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

2. Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

3. Wicca, a contemporary form of paganism that includes goddess worship and reverence for nature, has even made its way to Arlington National Cemetery, where the Pentagon now allows Wiccans' five-pointed-star symbol to be used on veterans' gravestones.

As the newspaper's discussion continues it makes some interesting observations about how people speak about their spiritual expression, and at one point the article refers to "Religion as a Hobby and the environment of the USA is seen as "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts." As thought is developed the article states that "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."

The current edition of Religion Link also reported on this survey today. Their excerpt from the ARIS Survey findings include:

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion (called “nones”) continues to rise, going from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001 and now 15 percent. But the big news may be that New England, sanctuary to the Puritans who helped birth the United States and bequeathed its religious legacy, has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religiously affiliated section of the country.

Atheists may have lots of best sellers in the bookstores, but the number of true nonbelievers remains relatively small: About 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. On the other hand, the overall number of avowed atheists has grown sharply from 900,000 to 1.6 million since 2001.

The percentage of Americans who are Christian is edging downward, to 76 percent of the population. (The decline from 1990 to the 2001 survey was far steeper, 86.2 percent to 76.7 percent.) But a look behind the numbers shows that most of the decline is due to the ongoing erosion in mainline Protestantism and that evangelical or nondenominational Protestantism is filling the vacuum.

The East Coast Catholicism that was once the lodestar of the church in the United States is continuing to lose demographic heft to the Southwest, to the extent that California now has a higher proportion of Catholics than does New England.

The Jewish community remains relatively stable when identified by ethnicity alone, but the number identifying as religiously Jewish declined somewhat. Meanwhile, the Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .6 percent in 2008.

Religion Link also goes on to suggest stories for writers based on related data that include:

Mormons’ stability: The ARIS report shows that the number of Mormons increased enough to maintain their slice of the religious population, at 1.4 percent. See RL’s 2008 edition on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, updated during the campaign of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who continues to be an influential leader in the Republican Party.

Growth of Islam: The Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .6 percent in 2008.

Eastern peak?: ARIS 2008 shows that the number of adherents of Eastern religions, which more than doubled in the 1990s, has declined slightly. The study’s authors also note that “Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.” See RL’s source guide to Asian-Americans and religion. RL has an edition on Buddhism that tracked its rapid growth in previous decades, and a guide to Hindu experts and organizations.

New Religious Movements: The report finds that adherents of New Religious Movements, such as Wiccans and self-described pagans, are growing faster than in the ’90s. See an RL edition on the mainstreaming of Wicca and paganism.

2 comments:

Matt Stone said...

Some interesting findings there

Morning Angel said...

As the newspaper's discussion continues it makes some interesting observations about how people speak about their spiritual expression, and at one point the article refers to "Religion as a Hobby and the environment of the USA is seen as "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts." As thought is developed the article states that "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."I'm having deja vu as I respond, so if you've read this before, just ignore the following...! O^O

The quotes above tend to trivialize this growing phenomenon of religious pluralism by comparing it to a "hobby" and to "fashion." I don't think it is trivial at all, but healthy. If one compares it to the religious milieu of the Roman empire, we might have found something similar. A brief walk through the Roman Forum illustrates the point. As we, the American Empire, are still only a blip compared to that great organizational state, The Romans, I'm not ashamed to emulate the religious freedom found within it.