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New poll finds even religious Americans feel the good vibrations

A new Pew Research poll found that most Americans mix traditional faith with beliefs in in psychics, reincarnation and spiritual energy. Photo courtesy Pixabay/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Amanda, a 28-year-old Los Angeles resident, used to go to church every Sunday.

She still prays nightly and believes in Jesus, but now she has her own rituals.

“I’ll chant, or I’ll go to Kundalini (yoga) and meditate with a group,” said Amanda, who did not want her last name used because she’s afraid religious groups will target her.

She’s also into crystals.

She keeps a bunch on her nightstand and stows a small bag of them in her purse or backpack during the day.

“The energy they hold is this ancient energy,” she said. “It helps your own energy when you work with them, when you’re near them.”

Amanda wasn’t one of the respondents in a new Pew Research poll. But she fits right in.

The poll shows that beyond a small band of reliably predictable “Sunday Stalwarts,” as the survey calls them, American religiosity is pretty casual, with less than a quarter of Americans attending worship services weekly but nearly all religious groups adhering to some New Age beliefs.

The poll, which grouped 4,729 Americans into seven types, found that though few Americans reject God altogether, most Americans mix traditional faith with beliefs in psychics, reincarnation and spiritual energy that they say can be found in physical objects such as mountains, trees and crystals.

Taken in December, the poll examined beliefs and behaviors that cut across many
 denominations using a method called cluster analysis, which produced seven broad religious typologies. The researchers gave these types pithy names such as “Spiritually Awake” and “Religion Resisters.” Those who believe in no God Pew dubbed the “Solidly Secular.”

The Religious Typology: The highly religious, nonreligious and in between. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Overall, only 23 percent of Americans attend worship services weekly, and only one group — the “Sunday Stalwarts,” who make up about 17 percent of the population —  attend in overwhelming numbers. These include mostly Christians but also Jews, Muslims and Hindus who may attend on other holy days.

In addition, the number of Americans who say they read Scripture daily, at only 11 percent, is strikingly low, and those who say religion is the most important source of meaning in their lives make up only 20 percent of the population.

By contrast, New Age beliefs pervade all seven American types identified in the survey.

“New Age beliefs are something we see many group members hold,” said Becka A. Alper, research associate at Pew, who worked on the poll. But she added, the study cannot explain why.

Fully 41 percent of Americans believe in psychics including 32 percent of “Sunday Stalwarts,” the most traditionally religious group of all.

Forty-two percent of Americans believe spiritual energy can be located in physical objects. Smaller shares believe in reincarnation and astrology.

The group with the most New Age beliefs was what researchers called the “Diversely Devout.” This group, which makes up 11 percent of Americans, consists of Protestants and unaffiliated Americans, the so-called “nones.” Among this group, solid majorities have New Age beliefs.

This is the group that snaps up “smudge sticks” or “sage bundles” — material for ritual or spiritually cleansing burning — and invests in crystals and gemstones touted as possessing energy capable of helping people heal from emotional, physical or spiritual pain.

Crystal enthusiasts say moonstone invokes creativity, citrine boosts energy, and amethyst treats addiction.

Other practices such as yoga, meditation, reiki, ayurvedic medicine — not all New Age — are fast gaining practitioners.

“New Age practices are unstructured,” said Jeffrey Kessler, a Jew who is the president of  his Berkeley, Calif. congregation Chochmat Halev but also teaches tai chi, and engages in somatic healing, which combines psychotherapy and various physical therapies to heal trauma. “There’s no authority. People can pick and choose and explore. I think of it as a spiritual freeform way of beginning to connect to something other than oneself.”

Even among the most traditionally religious groups, some people hold New Age beliefs. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Mark Chaves, a sociologist at Duke University who studies American religiosity, said he’d want to look at other surveys to see if the Pew numbers for New Age beliefs are particularly high.

But he added: “It does strike me as interesting that belief in supernatural-ly kinds of things is more prevalent among the conventionally religious.”

The Pew poll also found plenty of traditional religious measures:

  • 56 percent believe in the God of the Bible.
  • 61 percent believe God will judge people based on what they’ve done.
  • 77 percent say God or a higher power has protected them.

But only 33 percent of Americans say it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral and only 31 percent rely on their religious teachings “a lot” to help them make decisions about right and wrong.

Some scholars have argued that society is not necessarily becoming more secular; instead traditional religions are giving way to new forms of spirituality that are supplanting, but not always replacing churchgoing.

That was the thesis of a 2005 book, “The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality.”

That makes sense to psychotherapist Stephanie Anderson-Ladd of Durham, N.C. Ladd works with women who feel alienated by patriarchal religions and helps them connect with the divine feminine through goddess archetypes that can serve as models.

“A lot of people have been turned off by organized religion,” she said. “They’re exploring alternative ways of being a spiritual being on a human path, as much as a human being on a spiritual path. We’re open to many different ways to understand the divine.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

34 Comments

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  • I can already see The Only True Christians coming out of the woodwork on this one to denounce everyone for their lack of ideological purity.

    In fact, here comes The Biggst Mouth Ever in 4, 3, 2, 1…

  • When you see psychic or similar services advertised on TV, you can usually find a fine-print disclaimer appearing briefly at the bottom. It will say something to the effect of “For entertainment purposes only”—–presumably to stay on the side of truth in advertising and to avoid lawsuits from people whose lives are not fixed by buying psychic services . Forty-one percent of Americans should NOT be believing in psychics. Good grief, no wonder we are so dumb that the nation can be sucked in by the Trumpian shtick tricks.

    It is important to distinguish New Age from occult or paranormal. What you can get from your own meditation, for instance, is not the same thing you can get from letting other people mess with your head.

  • This is unfortunate. I am aware that “New Age” (as a term) can encompass just about anything. I would recommend that if it is not really “new”, stay away from it. Why bother with a bunch of old crap in a new age?

  • Trumpism shtick this week:

    4.2% GDP growth;

    Will confirm 15 federal judges this week;

    Mexico / USA trade deal designed to increase auto manufacturing in US and stop China from circumventing trade law; Canada trade deal to follow;

    NASDAQ at all time high;

    I’ll take that ALL day long….

  • Another interesting religion poll in a forest full of interesting religion polls. Notice it, but don’t get stuck on it.

    The “poll” of one’s own family and hometown — and of one’s own spiritual condition today — is the most important.

  • I thought I’d give it 10 or 11 hours and let a few posters comment before pointing out the “The Biggst Mouth Ever” was the very first post.

  • Were it not for the Pew Research Center, Yonat Shimron would hardly have anything to do.

    The Pew Research Center has been long criticized for spin and an agenda, and I tend to agree based on looking at some of their “polls” years later when our vision is a bit clearer.

  • 1 Kings 19:11-12-13 God is not in the rocks, God is not in the wind, God is not in the earthquake, God is not in the fire. In the last Day mankind reverts back to the Pagan. The polls are validating evidence that we are in the last Day.

  • Jewish Kabbalists and other Jewish mystics believed in reincarnation, including Isaac Luria and Moses Cordovero.

  • So in the future, Atheists and skeptics will no longer be arguing against fraudulent prophets and saviors like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad…but will be taking on fraudulent psychics, astrologers, crystal healing con-artists and other New Age snake oil sales-people.

    I don’t know what is easier…mocking a new Age ‘Sage” and Crystal” enthusiasts (actually Apologists)…or mocking William Lane Craig and his spiritual nonsense.

  • It’s why we have weak laws about con artists who claim to talk with the dead, read palms, promote crystals etc. – No-one has found a way to frame a law that requires proof of the efficacy of claims which wouldn’t bankrupt every religious organisation in the country.

  • The ancient pagan gods are as real as all of the rest of them. That is what atheism ACTUALLY says.

  • Back in my single days, when I was dating, about 1000 years ago, my usually complaint was…

    I date dead people.

  • When it comes to this sort of thing, I always like to quote St. Stupid, patron saint of April 1, Grand Anathematizer to the Holiholies..

    “I know I know, but ya know, ya never know.”

  • No. Your first sentence affirms pantheism, not atheism.

    Atheism denies that ANY deities exist anywhere, period.

  • The positive economic indicators don’t mitigate Trump’s misconduct, just like Nixon’s successes on many fronts did not mitigate his.

  • It’s striking to me that the professor of American religiosity describes, seemingly without irony, New Age beliefs as “supernatural-ly,” as opposed to a belief in the traditional Judeo-Christian God, which is what, science-based now?
    The problem, or opportunity, with some of the questioning is that it leaves a lot of wiggle room if you, like I tend to do, think about the questions too much. Does “the God of the Bible” necessarily mean as described in the New Testament. Put me down as “no.” I read the Talmud daily, and it often has excerpts from the Hebrew Bible, but I would probably not call it “Scripture.” And that doesn’t even touch Muslims, Hindus, etc. Predictably, most “Sunday Stalwarts” said no to believing that spiritual energy can be contained in physical objects, because they’re thinking of trees, crystals, and the like. But what about a Torah scroll, or the Eucharistic host? The latter, for Catholics, is said to become literally the flesh and blood of God.

  • “The latter, for Catholics, is said to become literally the flesh and blood of God.”

    And Orthodox, and Assyrians, and Ethiopians, and Copts, and so on.

    “Literally” may convey a false impression. “Mysteriously” would probably be more apt for all but the Catholics, and “Substantially” would be the Catholic choice.

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