Religious affiliation in the United States since 1910: The long, steady decline of Mainline Protestantism

On Thursday, I referenced the dramatic decline in Mainline Protestantism over the past century.  Here’s some data from the General Social Survey that illustrate this change.  I took the question asking respondents in which religious tradition they were raised, calculated in which decade they were 16 years old, and estimated American affiliation rates at that time.  Note, this presents the religious affiliation of young people, not adults, and they are not the same since family size varies by religious tradition.

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...]

Did the Religious Right Lose 10 Million Christians?

In the 1990s, a seismic shift occurred in religious America. During that period, the percentage of Americans who did not affiliate with any religion more than doubled. In the 1980s, about 7% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated, and by 2000, this was up to 14% (and has since increased to about 17%). To be clear, many of these religiously unaffiliated still believe in God, but they don’t associate with any particular religion or denomination.

What happened, and why did it happen in the 1990s? Micheal Hout and Claude Fischer, sociologists at Berkeley, published a study that links part of this substantial drop of religious affiliation to politics. They examined what type of people left religion in the 1990s, and they found it closely tied to political beliefs. Unaffiliation among liberals increased 11 percentile points; among political moderates it increased 5-6 points; and among political conservatives it increased an insignificant 1.7 points.

So, why would liberal or moderate politics move people away from Christianity in the 1990s? Well, that was a time in which [Read more...]

Moving Forward the Science & Religion Debate

As a graduate student, I remember reading Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on Faith and Reason and reflecting on his claim that science, for all of its great advances, is insufficient by itself to answer questions about the meaning of life, questions better left to philosophy and theology. As he wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” Reading Cardinal John Henry Newman’s book The Idea of a University communicated the same message: the intellectual life, the life of a student, a scientist or a university professor, is a search for truth, and all sincere search for truth leads us to God.

If faith and reason are like two wings of a bird, and if the pursuit of scientific knowledge can help us in our search to know God, then why do we read so much about religion and science being in conflict? As I often tell my students, public debates about many topics related to religion are dominated by extremes. As Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund shows in her book Science Vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, two of the most outspoken intellectuals in the religion and science debate, Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, do not fully represent the views of either non-religious or religious scientists.

[Read more...]

5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds

I’m a sucker for maps, and this is one of my favorites.  It charts the rise and fall of world religions over the past 5,000 years.  It’s striking to me how relatively late it was that Christianity truly spread throughout the world.