The Evangelical 99 Percent

A guest post by Richard Flory

Last week I spent a day at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Francisco. My entree to the event was an invitation from some colleagues who are working on an project linking theological reflection and California culture, which allowed me to get a closer look at a gathering of several hundred evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, pastors and political interlocutors–in effect, the brain trust of conservative American evangelicalism.

I went fully expecting to hear the working out of the theological and philosophical arguments that underlie the strident voices that emanate from the religious right. While there was a bit of shrill posturing (apparently some religions–one in particular–could legally be outlawed, according to one point of view), most of the sessions amounted to earnest attempts to uncover and present deeper thinking and reflection about the Christian scriptures, how Christians should live in the world and how they might have a positive influence in American culture.

I wasn’t surprised to see that most (85 percent or more) of the participants were white men. Still, there was what appeared to be a good number of blacks in attendance (in addition to a scattering of other minorities). But like the phenomenon described in the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? the non-whites gravitated toward one another in the conversations between sessions. This in itself isn’t too surprising, given the isolation that many people of color experience at evangelical colleges and seminaries, which tend to be overwhelmingly white.

Equally unsurprising was the assertion that [Read more...]

What Asian American Religion Tells Us About Religious Incongruity

So as you’ve probably figured out, I am fascinated by Asian Americans and their religions. And wherever possible I try to find the best examples that can shed light on this population because they help us to learn about how we know anything about religion today, and how we need to improve what we know. I mentioned earlier that sociologists are struggling over how to identify Asian Americans and their religious preferences in surveys. And I alluded to the problem that people with “no religion” might in fact be religious .

What makes someone religious? In the minds of many it could simply be belief in God, or it could be praying, reading a sacred text, or attending a religious service on a regular basis. Sociologists describe this as measures of religiosity. We tend to think of religiosity in two forms: beliefs and behavior. Note: you can believe all kinds of things, and practice all kinds of rituals and say that you’re a Christian or that you have no religion. It’s what Brad Wright summarized in a recent argument made by sociologist Mark Chaves: most religious people experience incongruity between what they say they are, what they believe, and what they do. Asian Americans are no exception. To get an idea about how incongruity might look like we can examine the connection between one measure of religiosity, church attendance, and religious affiliation (how someone identifies their religion) among Asian Americans. [Read more...]

Asian American Faith and the Problem With “No Religion”

In a previous post I shared the current prevalence of Christianity among Asian Americans. Based on three different surveys, each with different drawbacks, less than half of all adult Asian Americans are not Christian. To some of my Korean Christian second-generation friends, this may or may not be surprising. In fact they would raise concern that I am perhaps overstating the figures because the “true” Christian is one who is active in his or her faith. From their perspective there is little difference between someone who affiliates as a Christian but never attends a worship service, or someone who does not mention any religious affiliation at all.

Sociologists of religion distinguish between those who say that they have no religion and those who are not religiously active; the former is described as (lack of) affiliation, and the latter is (lack of) behavior. Let’s start with affiliation and in an upcoming blog we’ll take a look at behavior. So what’s the percentage of Asian Americans who say they have “no religion?”

[Read more...]

Surveying Religion in Asian America

While attending college, I occasionally participated in a largely Korean evangelical Protestant campus group that spent their Friday or Saturday evenings gathered together in an auditorium (because the group was remarkably large) doing the evangelical thing: singing, listening to a speaker about Christian living, praying and socializing. But sometimes I would also hop around to other groups of Christians that also had Asian Americans. I figured there was something perhaps shared in common among Asian ethnic groups that grew up in the US. Given their fluency in English, I guesstimated that most of the Asian Americans I met were either born in the US or raised here – these are what sociologists describe as the second generation and the 1.5 generation. Besides growing up in the US, it seemed like a lot of us ended up going to college, as if the alternatives were either unimaginable or not allowed. So did we also share Christianity in common?

The question I asked then and examine here is one of prevalence, and the best known way of getting at prevalence is a survey. What is the prevalence of Christianity among Asian Americans who were raised in the US? For those that are not aware, nearly every major Asian nation today remains largely non-Christian. The only exception is the Philippines which is mostly Catholic. Even a country like South Korea which claims to have the largest church in the world, Yoido, as well as the largest Presbyterian church and some of the largest Methodist churches as well – is still largely not Christian . But funny things happen when people immigrate. Scholars agree that there tends to be a “pro-Christian” migration to the United States, that is, Christians tend to migrate to the United States disproportionally to their actual religious composition in their homeland. Second, scholars of immigration say that immigration is a theologizing experience. Simply put, a lot of immigrants turn to God during this experience of uprooting from one’s homeland and migrating to another. Some might turn to Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam to remind themselves of their homeland, but others wind up converting to Christianity. These two factors combined, pro-Christian migration and conversion to Christianity can explain the consensus that nearly three-quarters of Korean Americans are Christian (overwhelmingly Protestant) whereas only about a third of South Korea claims Christian affiliation. But is Christianity highly prevalent in other Asian groups? [Read more...]