Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Give Me That Old Time Religion -- Or Not

Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut recently released the results from its 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), conducted from February through November 2008 of over 54,000 adults in the 48 contiguous states, one of the largest surveys of its kind ever done.

For me, personally, beyond the fact that nearly 15% of the American population now claims no religion at all, the most interesting results of the ARIS 2008 survey show that, among other things:

The percentage of Americans self-identifying as “Christians” has dropped 10 percentage points overall from a high over over 86% (before the 1990s) to about 76% now. Most of that decrease occurred within what the survey calls “the non-Catholic segment of the Christian population” (i.e., Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ). These groups, which represented nearly 19% of the American population in 1990, now account for less than 13% of the population.

While the overall percentage of people claiming to be some form of Christian is in decline, the number who identified as “non-denominational” or “evangelical/born again” has actually increased 40-fold from 200,000 in 1990 to nearly 8 million now. Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program for Trinity College, explains that this survey indicates that, "A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States."

The number of Baptists (my former Religion) increased by about 2 million since 2001, but 7 years later, they account for a smaller proportion of the population overall.

The proportion of the population claiming an affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has held steady at just shy of 1.5% of the population.

The proportion of the population identifying as Muslim has doubled from 1990 to 2008, going from 0.3% of the population to 0.6% now.

Americans of Asian descent tend to be “substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity” than any other sub-set of the 2008 survey.

While those who identify as Jewish by ethnicity alone has “remained stable over the past two decades,” the number of Americans who identify religiously as Jewish has fallen from over 3 million in 1990 to 2.7 million in 2008, which represents about 1.2% of the overall American population.

It’s interesting, too, to note that, while less than 2% of those surveyed actually claimed the label of ”atheist” or “agnostic”, when respondents were asked specifically if they believe there is a God, 12% said "No" or were "Unsure." Another 12% said they believed in a “higher power” but not a “personal God”. In sheer numbers, the population of atheists grew from 900,000 in 2001 to 1.6 million in 2008, an increase of nearly 80%.

Those claiming what the survey calls “New Religious movements, including Wiccans and self-described pagans,” grew at a higher rate in this decade than in the last.

The northern part of the New England is now the “least religious” of the lower 48 states, overtaking the previous leader, the Pacific Northwest.

Where religious affiliation is concerned, the only category that saw an increase between 1990 and 2008 in every one of the 48 states was “None”. Vermont (of course, located in New England) led all states with one-third of those surveyed there claiming no affiliation; 9 points higher than any other state.

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