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The new American Religious Identification Survey is out–for our overall take, see the press release after the jump. The summary report will be is up on its website shortly, but in the meantime, check out  and don’t miss USA Today‘s very cool graphics.

Among the most significant news politically is that 18 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of those belonging to Mainline Protestant denominations say yes when you ask whether they consider themselves born-again or evangelical Christians. That’s the same question the exit polls ask, and the one that gives us the results for “the evangelical vote.” But we now know that about 25 percent of those “evangelicals” are Catholics and Methodists and Presbyterians etc.–that is, they do not belong to “evangelical” churches. To be sure, mainline churches in the South, Methodist ones especially, are often pretty evangelical. But it’s going to take a while to run the cross-tabulations to determine whether these non-evangelical evangelicals are more like other Catholics or mainliners, or more like “true” evangelicals in their beliefs and practices.




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Catholics on
the Move, Non-religious on the Rise

Religious Identification Survey is Third in Landmark Series


– The Catholic population of the United States
has shifted away from the Northeast and towards the Southwest, while secularity
continues to grow in strength in all regions of the country, according to a new
study conducted by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College.
“The decline of Catholicism in the Northeast is nothing short of stunning,”
said Barry Kosmin, a principal investigator for the American Religious
Identification Survey (ARIS). “Thanks to immigration and natural increase among
Latinos, California now has a higher
proportion of Catholics than New England.”


Conducted between February and November of last year, ARIS
2008 is the third in a landmark series of large, nationally representative
surveys of U.S.
adults in the 48 contiguous states conducted by Kosmin and Ariela Keysar.
Employing the same research methodology as the 1990 and 2001 surveys, ARIS 2008
questioned 54,461 adults in either English or Spanish. With a margin of error
of less than 0.5 percent, it provides the only complete portrait of how
contemporary Americans identify themselves religiously, and how that
self-identification has changed over the past generation.


In broad terms, ARIS 2008 found a consolidation and
strengthening of shifts signaled in the 2001 survey. The percentage of
Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001,
has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American
adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that
reflects an additional 4.7 million “Nones.” Northern New England has now taken
over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country,
with Vermont,
at 34 percent “Nones,” leading all other states by a full 9 points.


“Many people thought our 2001 finding was an anomaly,” Keysar
said. We now know it wasn’t. The ‘Nones’ are the only group to have grown in
every state of the Union.”


The percentage of Christians in America, which declined in the
1990s from 86.2 percent to 76.7 percent, has now edged down to 76 percent.
Ninety percent of the decline comes from the non-Catholic segment of the Christian
population, largely from the mainline denominations, including Methodists,
Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of
Christ. These groups, whose proportion of the American population shrank from
18.7 percent in 1990 to 17.2 percent in 2001, all experienced sharp numerical
declines this decade and now constitute just 12.9 percent.


Most of the growth in the Christian population occurred
among those who would identify only as “Christian,” “Evangelical/Born Again,” or
“non-denominational Christian.” The last of these, associated with the growth
of megachurches, has increased from less than 200,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in
2001 to over 8 million today. These groups grew from 5 percent of the
population in 1990 to 8.5 percent in 2001 to 11.8 percent in 2008.
Significantly, 38.6 percent of mainline Protestants now also identify
themselves as evangelical or born again.


“It looks like the two-party system of American
Protestantism–mainline versus evangelical–is collapsing,” said Mark Silk,
director of the Public Values Program. “A generic form of evangelicalism is
emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States.”


Other key findings:

  • Baptists,
    who constitute the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition, have
    increased their numbers by two million since 2001, but continue to decline
    as a proportion of the population.
  • Mormons
    have increased in numbers enough to hold their own proportionally, at 1.4
    percent of the population.
  • The
    Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in
    1990 to .5 percent in 2001 to .6 percent in 2008.
  • The
    number of adherents of Eastern Religions, which more than doubled in the
    1990s, has declined slightly, from just over two million to just under. Asian
    Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity
    than other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Those
    who identify religiously as Jews continue to decline numerically, from 3.1
    million in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2008–1.2 percent
    of the population. Defined to include those who identify as Jews by
    ethnicity alone, the American Jewish population has remained stable over
    the past two decades.
  • Only1.6
    percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on
    stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while
    12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal
    God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from
    900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not
    expect a religious funeral at their death.
  • Adherents
    of New Religious movements, including Wiccans and self-described pagans,
    have grown faster this decade than in the 1990s.


Professors Kosmin and Keysar are, respectively, director and
associate director of Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in
Society and Culture. The Program on Public Values at Trinity
College comprises the Institute and
the Leonard E. Greenberg
Center for the Study of
Religion in Public Life, which is also directed by Professor Silk. ARIS 2008
was made possible by grants from Lilly Endowment, Inc. and the Posen
Foundation. To receive a copy of the ARIS 2008 Summary Report by email, contact
any of the above.