For some nice interactive tools on this story and the breakdown of religion in American, go to http://religions.pewforum.org/.
February 26, 2008
Poll Finds a Fluid Religious Life in U.S., With Switches Common
By NEELA BANERJEE
WASHINGTON — More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or none at all, according to
a survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and
The report, titled "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey," depicts a highly
fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant
denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans
have switched religious affiliations.
For at least a generation, scholars have noted that more Americans are
moving among faiths, as denominational loyalty erodes. But the survey,
based on telephone interviews with more than 35,000 Americans, offers
one of the clearest views yet of that trend, scholars said. The United
States Census does not track religious affiliation.
It shows, for example, that every religion is losing and gaining
members, but that the Roman Catholic Church "has experienced the
greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes." The survey also
indicates that the group that had the greatest net gain was the
unaffiliated. Sixteen percent of American adults say they are not part
of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country's
fourth-largest "religious group."
Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and
Urban Life at Rice University, echoed that view. "Religion is the single
most important factor that drives American belief attitudes and
behaviors," said Mr. Lindsay, who had read the Pew report. "It is a
powerful indicator of where America will end up on politics, culture,
family life. If you want to understand America, you have to understand
religion in America."
In the 1980s, the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research
Center indicated that 5 percent to 8 percent of the population described
itself as unaffiliated with a particular religion.
In the Pew survey, 7 percent of the adult population said they were
unaffiliated with a faith as children. That segment increases to 16
percent of the population in adulthood, the survey found. The
unaffiliated are largely under 50 and male. "Nearly one in five men say
they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13
percent of women," the survey said.
The increase of the unaffiliated does not, however, mean that Americans
are becoming less religious. Contrary to assumptions that most of the
unaffiliated are atheists or agnostics, most described their religion
"as nothing in particular." Pew researchers said later projects would
delve more deeply into their beliefs and practices and would try to
determine if the unaffiliated remained so as they aged.
The other groups that have gained the most people, in net terms, are
nondenominational Protestant churches, which are largely evangelical
and, in many cases, megachurches; Pentecostals; and the Holiness Church, also an evangelical denomination.
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