Tag Archives: Religion in America

Fewer Christians, More Nones

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Image from Patheos

That’s the takeaway from the latest Pew survey of American religion, released with great fanfare this week. The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christians has dropped sharply, by nearly eight percent since the last analogous Pew survey, in 2007. Most of the decline comes from mainline Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. The percentage of Americans who call themselves Evangelicals has stayed roughly the same.

A corresponding increase has occurred in the number of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated–the so-called “Nones.” In the 2007 survey, roughly 16% of Americans described themselves as unaffiliated. Now it’s about 23%, a seven percent rise. When one looks at younger Americans, the numbers are even more stark. More than one-third of Millennials say they are religiously unaffiliated. The younger Americans are, the more they have checked out of religious institutions.

Some argue that surveys like Pew’s overstate the percentage of American Nones, and I’m curious what sociologists will say about these numbers. But the trend is clear, at least for the moment. A significant and growing percentage of Americans are detaching from organized religion, especially from the historically important mainline churches. A minority of American Nones–a growing number, according to Pew–describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. But the majority of Nones do not have problems with belief as such. They reject, or are at least indifferent to, the claims of organized religion. They are the so-called “spiritual but not religious,” or, perhaps “religious indifferents.”

A few quick observations. First, it seems unlikely that these new Nones have had sudden, reverse-Damascus Road experiences in the last several years. I suspect many of the new Nones already had weak commitments to their religious institutions–or, in the case of Millennials, commitments that never really formed–and now have dropped out completely. Church membership confers less social status than it used to do–in some settings, it confers negative social status–and the marginal probably feel more comfortable cutting their ties completely. So the decline in genuine religious attachment is probably not as precipitous as the Pew numbers would suggest.

Second, one often hears that Christianity’s identification with conservatism explains the Nones. People, especially the Millennials, don’t care for conservatism, and so avoid conservative Christian churches. But it’s precisely the liberal churches that have experienced the greatest decline in the last several years. Plus, George W. Bush has been out of office for six years, during which time we have had a president who touts his liberal Christianity on many occasions. If it were just about politics, you would expect the liberal Christian churches to be gaining ground. But they’re falling further behind. Perhaps the association with conservatism is so profound and odious that people don’t want to be affiliated even with liberal Christian churches. Whatever the explanation, the political dynamic seems to be complicated.

Finally, it’s hard to see how the rise of the Nones is good for religious freedom. As people check out of organized religion, they are less likely to view it as important and worthy of protection. People with even marginal affiliations may still understand and endorse the importance of religious commitment. The fact that they affiliate at all shows that religion makes up at least some part of their identity. Once people cut their ties completely, however, they are much less likely to be sympathetic to religious communities. If the future of religious freedom depends on the ability of believers to persuade our fellow citizens that faith commitments deserve respect and protection, that task may well become more difficult in the years ahead.

Kidd & Hankins, “Baptists in America”

This May, Oxford University Press will release “Baptists in America” by Thomas S. Kidd (Baylor University) and Barry Hankins (Baylor University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Baptists in AmericaThe Puritans called Baptists “the troublers of churches in all places” and hounded them out of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Four hundred years later, Baptists are the second-largest religious group in America, and their influence matches their numbers. They have built strong institutions, from megachurches to publishing houses to charities to mission organizations, and have firmly established themselves in the mainstream of American culture. Yet the historical legacy of outsider status lingers, and the inherently fractured nature of their faith makes Baptists ever wary of threats from within as well as without.

In Baptists in America, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins explore the long-running tensions between church, state, and culture that Baptists have shaped and navigated. Despite the moment of unity that their early persecution provided, their history has been marked by internal battles and schisms that were microcosms of national events, from the conflict over slavery that divided North from South to the conservative revolution of the 1970s and 80s. Baptists have made an indelible impact on American religious and cultural history, from their early insistence that America should have no established church to their place in the modern-day culture wars, where they frequently advocate greater religious involvement in politics. Yet the more mainstream they have become, the more they have been pressured to conform to the mainstream, a paradox that defines–and is essential to understanding–the Baptist experience in America.

Kidd and Hankins, both practicing Baptists, weave the threads of Baptist history alongside those of American history. Baptists in America is a remarkable story of how one religious denomination was transformed from persecuted minority into a leading actor on the national stage, with profound implications for American society and culture.

“The Prophet and the Reformer” (Grow & Walker, eds.)

This June, Oxford University Press will release “The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane” edited by Matthew J. Grow and Ronald W. Walker (Professor Emeritus, Brigham Young University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Prophet and the ReformerUntil his death in 1877, Brigham Young guided the religious, economic, and political life of the Mormon community, whose settlements spread throughout the West and provoked a profound political, legal, and even military confrontation with the American nation. Young first met Thomas L. Kane on the plains of western Iowa in 1846. Young came to rely on Kane, 21 years his junior, as his most trusted outside adviser, making Kane the most important non-Mormon in the history of the Church. In return, no one influenced the direction of Kane’s life more than Young. The letters exchanged by the two offer crucial insights into Young’s personal life and views as well as his actions as a political and religious leader. The Prophet and the Reformer offers a complete reproduction of the surviving letters between the Mormon prophet and the Philadelphia reformer. The correspondence reveals the strategies of the Latter-day Saints in relating to American culture and government during these crucial years when the “Mormon Question” was a major political, cultural, and legal issue. The letters also shed important light on the largely forgotten “Utah War” of 1857-58, triggered when President James Buchanan dispatched a military expedition to ensure federal supremacy in Utah and replace Young with a non-Mormon governor.

This annotated collection of their correspondence reveals a great deal about these two remarkable men, while also providing crucial insight into nineteenth-century Mormonism and the historical moment in which the movement developed.

“Secularism, Catholicism, and the Future of Public Life” (Adler, ed.)

This June, Oxford University Press will release “Secularism, Catholicism, and the Future of Public Life: A Dialogue with Ambassador Douglas W. Kmiec” edited by Gary J. Adler, Jr. (University of Southern California).  The publisher’s description follows:

Secularism, Catholicism and the Future of Public LIfeHow can religion contribute to democracy in a secular age? And what can the millennia-old Catholic tradition say to church-state controversies in the United States and around the world? Secularism, Catholicism, and the Future of Public Life, organized through the work of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (www.ifacs.com), responds to these questions by presenting a dialogue between Douglas W. Kmiec, a leading scholar of American constitutional law and Catholic legal thought, and an international cast of experts from a range of fields, including legal theory, international relations, journalism, religion, and social science.

“Buddhism beyond Borders” (Mitchell & Quli, eds.)

This June, SUNY Press will release “Buddhism beyond Borders: New Perspectives on Buddhism in the United States” by Scott A. Mitchell (Institute of Buddhist Studies) and Natalie E. F. Quli (Institute of Buddhist Studies).  The publisher’s description follows:

Buddhism Beyond BordersBuddhism beyond Borders provides a fresh consideration of Buddhism in the American context. It includes both theoretical discussions and case studies to highlight the tension between studies that locate Buddhist communities in regionally specific areas and those that highlight the translocal nature of an increasingly interconnected world. Whereas previous examinations of Buddhism in North America have assumed a more or less essentialized and homogeneous “American” culture, the essays in this volume offer a corrective, situating American Buddhist groups within the framework of globalized cultural flows, while exploring the effects of local forces. Contributors examine regionalism within American Buddhisms, Buddhist identity and ethnicity as academic typologies, Buddhist modernities, the secularization and hybridization of Buddhism, Buddhist fiction, and Buddhist controversies involving the Internet, among other issues.

Claassen, “Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans”

This June, Cambridge University Press will release “Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans: Party Activists, Party Capture, and the ‘God Gap’” by Ryan L. Klaassen (Kent State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Godless DemocratsDo Evangelical activists control the Republican Party? Do secular activists control the Democratic Party? In Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans?, Ryan Claassen carefully assesses the way campaign activists represent religious and non-religious groups in American political parties dating back to the 1960s. By providing a new theoretical framework for investigating the connections between macro social and political trends, the results challenge a conventional wisdom in which recently mobilized religious and Secular extremists captured the parties and created a God gap. The new approach reveals that very basic social and demographic trends matter far more than previously recognized and that mobilization matters far less. The God gap in voting is real, but it was not created by Christian Right mobilization efforts and a Secular backlash. Where others see culture wars and captured parties, Claassen finds many religious divisions in American politics are artifacts of basic social changes. This very basic insight leads to many profoundly different conclusions about the motivations of religious and non-religious activists and voters.

“Religion and Political Tolerance in America” (Djupe, ed.)

This June, Temple University Press will release “Religion and Political Tolerance in America: Advances in the State of the Art” edited by Paul A. Djupe (Denison University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Political ToleranceReligious institutions are often engaged in influencing the beliefs and values that individuals hold. But religious groups can also challenge how people think about democracy, including the extension of equal rights and liberties regardless of viewpoint, or what is commonly called political tolerance.

The essays in Religion and Political Tolerance in America seek to understand how these elements interrelate. The editor and contributors to this important volume present new and innovative research that wrestles with the fundamental question of the place of religion in democratic society. They address topics ranging from religious contributions to social identity to the political tolerance that religious elites (clergy) hold and advocate to others, and how religion shapes responses to intolerance.

The conclusion, by Ted Jelen, emphasizes that religion’s take on political tolerance is nuanced and that they are not incompatible; religion can sometimes enhance the tolerance of ordinary citizens.

Crabtree, “Holy Nation”

This May, University of Chicago Press will release “Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution” by Sarah Crabtree (San Francisco State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Early American Quakers have long been perceived as retiring separatists, but in Holy Nation Sarah Crabtree transforms our historical understanding of the sect by drawing on the sermons, diaries, and correspondence of Quakers themselves. Situating Quakerism within the larger intellectual and religious undercurrents of the Atlantic World, Crabtree shows how Quakers forged a paradoxical sense of their place in the world as militant warriors fighting for peace. She argues that during the turbulent Age of Revolution and Reaction, the Religious Society of Friends forged a “holy nation,” a transnational community of like-minded believers committed first and foremost to divine law and to one another. Declaring themselves citizens of their own nation served to underscore the decidedly unholy nature of the nation-state, worldly governments, and profane laws. As a result, campaigns of persecution against the Friends escalated as those in power moved to declare Quakers aliens and traitors to their home countries.

Holy Nation convincingly shows that ideals and actions were inseparable for the Society of Friends, yielding an account of Quakerism that is simultaneously a history of the faith and its adherents and a history of its confrontations with the wider world. Ultimately, Crabtree argues, the conflicts experienced between obligations of church and state that Quakers faced can illuminate similar contemporary struggles.

Hon. Kenneth Starr to Lecture at Touro on “The First Freedom: Religious Liberty in America”

The Hon. Kenneth Starr, President and Chancellor of Baylor University, will deliver a public lecture titled “The First Freedom: Religious Liberty in America” at Touro Law on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

This event will be live streamed on March 26th at 6 p.m. Watch it here.

For more information, please contact: events@tourolaw.edu.

“Varieties of Southern Religious History” (Sullivan & Hampton, eds.)

This May, the University of South Carolina Press will release “Varieties of Southern Religious History: Essays in Honor of David G. Mathews” edited by Regina D. Sullivan (Carson-Newman University) and Monte Harrell Hampton (North Carolina State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

VarietiesComprising essays written by former students of Donald G. Mathews, a distinguished historian of religion in the South, Varieties of Southern Religious History offers rich insight into the social and cultural history of the United States. Fifteen essays, edited by Regina D. Sullivan and Monte Harrell Hampton, offer fresh and insightful interpretations in the fields of U.S. religious history, women’s history, and African American history from the colonial era to the twentieth century. Emerging scholars as well as established authors examine a range of topics on the cultural and social history of the South and the religious history of the United States.

Essays on new topics include a consideration of Kentucky Presbyterians and their reaction to the rising pluralism of the early nineteenth century. Gerald Wilson offers an analysis of anti-Catholic bias in North Carolina during the twentieth century, and Mary Frederickson examines the rhetoric of death in contemporary correspondence. There are also reinterpretations of subjects such as late-eighteenth-century Ohio Valley missionaries Lorenzo and Peggy Dow, a recontextualization of Millerism, and new scholarship on the appeal of spiritualism in the South. This collection provides fresh insight into a variety of topics in honor of Donald G. Mathews and his legacy as a scholar of southern religion.