Points of note from current research


Gallup and a number of other survey research organizations continuously measure and analyze the religious behavior of Americans and its relationship to other aspects of American culture, politics, and society. The following is a discussion of several interesting recent developments derived from this research.

1. “None.”

Several studies have suggested a stabilization in the increase in “nuns” in the United States – the percentage of the adult population who, when asked, say they have no formal religious identity or affiliation. Gallup data, for example, reflects the dramatic increase in the proportion of American adults who report having no religious preferences, from as low as 1% in the 1950s to 20% in recent years. Gallup’s annual averages between 2017 and 2020 were 20%, 20%, 21%, and 20%, respectively. And in the latest poll, last May, 16% say “none”. Likewise, a report from the Public Religion Research Institute shows the same type of stabilization or even a slight decline – from a high of 25.5% none in 2018 to 23.3% in their last report in 2020. There are many. ways to measure religiosity, and other organizations may post data that will differ in the coming months. And, as we’ll see below, the long-term impact of the pandemic on religious identity is still unknown. But the “rise of the nuns” can be moderating.

2. Who are the “Nones”?

A sort of cottage industry focuses on analyzing ‘no’s’, with researchers trying to figure out who they are and why they have increased over the decades. Some may consider none to be synonymous with atheists or agnostics, but there is more to it. Sociologists Joel Thiessen and Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme[1], for example, divided unbelievers into subgroups, and while the largest of these groups – the “inactive unbelievers” – fits the stereotype of completely irreligious people, the authors believe there is a substantial number in the category of unbelievers who are “spiritual but not religious” and “inactive believers”, in the words of the authors.

Gallup research shows that a sizeable percentage of people say religion is at least quite important enough in their lives, and Pew Research has also concluded that “a significant minority of “no” say religion plays a role in their livesYears ago, people who did not attend religious services and were not particularly religious apparently believed it was important to declare a religious identity in response. to a survey question (hence 99% of Americans with a religious identity). Today, people with the same lack of active religiosity may feel more comfortable telling an interviewer that they do not have a religious identity. In other words, religious identity went from being an attributed characteristic (i.e. something one was born with the same age and race) to an attained characteristic (i.e. that is, something that develops voluntarily over the course of a person’s life, such as education and geographic location of residence).

3. Young people feel disconnected.

The younger the person (among adults aged 18 and over), the more likely they are to have no formal religious identity. I discussed the implications of these age differences in religiosity a few years ago and noted the complexities involved in trying to predict future developments. A key question centers on the likelihood of young people replicating the historical pattern of returning to the religious fold as they move into their thirties. The answer to this question, in turn, relates to future trends in marriage rates and fertility, both of which are strong correlates of religiosity.

An interesting study recently reviewed in the the Wall Street newspaper highlighted a challenge that religious organizations face in their efforts to attract young people. The study, conducted by the non-partisan, nonprofit Springtide Research Institute[2], has shown that young people are more likely to care personally about a list of moral and value issues than they perceive to be the case with faith and religious communities. Religious in general are now more conservative on social issues, while young people are more liberal, highlighting another disconnect that potentially creates barriers between young people and their decision to get involved in religious organizations.

4. Geography, parents and religiosity among young people.

The religiosity of an adolescent’s parents and where that adolescent lives can affect the adolescent’s religious development (in the same way that the politics of his parents and where one lives affects his partisanship). An interesting new study by two sociologists at Purdue University – Charissa Mikoski and Daniel VA Olson – shows how these factors may interact. Mikoski and Olson find, unsurprisingly, a strong relationship between the religiosity of parents and the religiosity of their adolescent sons and daughters. They also find that teens who live in US counties where their parents ‘religious tradition is widespread are more religious than teens who live in counties where their parents’ religious tradition is in the minority.

In other words, if the parents of a teenager are Baptists and the county in which they live is predominantly Baptist, then the teenager has a high probability of being religious himself. An interesting twist, however, is the finding that the impact of the religious characteristics of the county of residence is lessened when the teenager’s parents are very religious. But if the parents are not very religious, the religious tradition in the county of residence has more of an impact on the religion of the teenager. In short, if parents want their children to be religious then they themselves (the parents) have to be religious and, if they are not, they have to at least live in an area where there are many others. people who share the religion of the parents. religious tradition.

5. COVID-19 and attendance at church service.

Self-reported church attendance had trended downward before the pandemic, as noted by Gallup and many other investigative bodies. The pandemic, however, created one of the most disruptive events in U.S. religious history, and today we are faced with the important question of what will happen to American worship behavior in the long run.

Gallup’s religious attendance data shows what I would call a minor drop in 2020 and 2021, but not a huge drop. For example, 30% of Americans in May this year say they attended a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple – in person or remotely – in the previous seven days, down a few points from previous readings . A separate question in Gallup’s May survey asked how often people usually attend church services, and found that 47% say they typically attend at least once a month, not too different from readings in 2018 and 2019 (when the question was asked without the word “usual”).

A follow-up survey of Gallup’s ‘last seven days’ issue shows that in April 2020, with the pandemic dominating American culture, most of those who attended in the previous seven days said they attended. distance. In May of this year, the majority of those who had worshiped in the previous seven days said they had attended in person. Pew Research also shows an increase in in-person presence (and a decrease in virtual presence) as of September of this year. Overall, while it is clear that some Americans are returning to church, I think it is still too early to comment on the long-term impact of the pandemic on personal religiosity and worship patterns. Americans.

6. Resurgence of Christian schools?

The impact of the pandemic has spread to almost every aspect of American society, and schools were no exception. In addition to the obvious disruptions caused in normal school patterns over the past year and a half, there has been an apparent increase in the viability of other non-traditional school arrangements.

Gallup’s August annual update includes a sample of parents of K-12 children and reflects an increase in home schooling reports last year that has leveled off at more models. normal in the August survey of this year. The data does not reflect any very unusual increases in private or parish schools this year; public school attendance remains by far the dominant school choice. Still, there may be something going on, at least according to reports from the New York Times religious journalist Ruth Graham, whose recent report was titled “Christian Schools Boom in Revolt Against Pandemic Programs and Rules.” Graham presents case studies of Christian schools that have experienced dramatic growth in recent years. It also presents data from the Association of Christian Schools International which asserts enrollment gains of 12% in the last school year. (Enrollment in Roman Catholic schools, she reports, continued to decline.)

Whether the anecdotal evidence and statistics really represent a “boom” in Christian school enrollment is debatable, particularly because Gallup’s general indicators have not seen any increase. But the combined impact of the pandemic and recent controversies over critical race theory and other burning issues with the public school curriculum could certainly affect the attractiveness of church-related schools in the future.

7. Religion and vaccine hesitation.

Recent headlines such as “Evangelical White Churches and the Vaccine Reluctance Crisis” have highlighted the relationship between religion and willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation for the summer actually showed that the percentage of white evangelical Christians who had received a vaccine at that time was significantly below average.

However, it is not clear to what extent a crisis in vaccine acceptance is directly related to white evangelical identity per se. Americans who are classified as white evangelical Christians also have a Republican bias and are more likely to live in the South, characteristics which in themselves are strongly linked to vaccine reluctance. This makes it difficult to determine if there is anything in the religion per se that is directly related to vaccine reluctance, or if being a white evangelical Christian is rather a correlate of other characteristics that are more defining.

But some new and interesting research from Pew shows that there could be a direct connection between his religion and his views on vaccination. Pew data shows that among those who attend church services, 61% trust their clergy or religious leaders in their place of worship to advise them on vaccines[3], about as much as trusting public health officials such as those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than trusting their local and state officials and the media. Only the primary care physician scores higher on this confidence measure.


[1] https://www.amazon.com/None-Above-Nonreligious-Identity-Secular/dp/1479860808

[2] https://springtideresearch.org/the-state-of-religion-2021-digital-edition/?page=34

[3] https://www.pewforum.org/2021/10/15/most-americans-who-go-to-religious-services-say-they-would-trust-their-clergys-advice-on-covid-19- vaccines /

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