In an article that appears in the open access online journal Sociological Science, sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fisher take a look at the relationship between religious disaffiliation and backlash against right-wing religio-political movements.
Posts Tagged ‘religious nones’
In an essay published at the Atlantic online, TIF editor-at-large Steven Barrie-Anthony urges politicians and pundits to pay closer attention to “spiritual but not religious” voters as a potentially influential bloc.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that an increasing number of American adults identify as religiously unaffiliated, and nearly one half of respondents said that the increase in non-religious individuals is a “bad thing” for American society.
Writing in the Christian Century, Philip Jenkins suggests that there are signs of an early stage European style “secularization” at work in parts of Latin America.
Noting that “nearly all of the white Americans who drifted away from organized religion in the last few decades were liberals,” Claude Fischer worries worries that this is problematic for both the left and the right.
But why, first of all, is this subject a significant one? And why does it appear especially pertinent at precisely the present moment? To begin with, growing numbers of “religious nones,” that is, people who have limited or no religious affiliation yet still claim to believe in some kind of divinity, signal an unprecedented shift in the American religious landscape, and many scholars who have sought to understand this phenomenon have indicated that something like “spirituality” might capture an important aspect of their outlook, if not their “identity.” We, for our part, certainly agree that this is a socially significant shift. Yet we also note that much of the interpretation and ensuing discussion about the “religious nones” draws upon and continues to assert uninvestigated understandings of religion and spirituality, where we would argue that the shifts underway should elicit some reconsideration of the terms that are deployed to analyze and interpret this allegedly “new” phenomenon.
In a recent issue of TIME, Amy Sullivan writes of a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and an example of American expats in Mexico that both suggest Americans may prefer to grow their own when it comes to religious congregations.
What we need is a bird’s eye view, and that requires taking theology seriously, and considering a longer view of the history of Western civilization than any sociological survey can provide. […] American Grace adopts a position of respectful skepticism toward theology. The authors dutifully reproduce the questionnaire of “measures of theological belief and religious commitment” included in their survey, but they express surprise that many Americans “have stable views on such seemingly arcane theological issues” as whether a person is saved by faith or by their own good deeds. (Calling this fundamental question “arcane” is a bit like expressing confusion at that obscure rule in baseball that allows a player to score a run by crossing home plate.)
Ever since he told a Guardian reporter last weekend that the idea of an afterlife is a “fairy story,” Stephen Hawking has been in the religion news. The author of A Brief History of Time isn’t the only physicist making religion headlines. Not long ago, a paper presented at the American Physical Society’s annual meeting led the BBC to report: “Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says.” Finally, the ongoing work on particle physics at CERN prompted its director to tell an interviewer: “we are crossing the boundary between knowledge and belief.”
The religiously “unaffiliated”—atheists, agnostics, nonconformists, the unchurched and the uncertain—are underrepresented in Congress, notes Richard Blow today in The New York Times. Citing a recent Pew Forum poll, he notes that 16 percent of the nation refuses to identify with any particular faith, while only 1 percent of Congress claims no religious affiliation.
What is the relationship between rates of church attendance and national identity? When more than 50 percent of a country’s population does not attend religious services, is that the tipping point that makes for a secular nation?
Who are the Americans who identify as “spiritual but not religious”? What unifying characteristics, qualities, and beliefs might they share? And to what extent might their distinctive approach to religion, or to systems of meaning, have relevance to political discourse, electoral campaigns, and public policy? As many other contributors to this blog have noted, these questions elude easy answers, because defining spirituality is, as Courtney Bender aptly puts it in her brilliant book The New Metaphysicals, “like shoveling fog.” Nevertheless, perhaps we can obtain just a slight bit of traction by investigating some of the characteristics shared by SBNR Americans.
Kosmin and Keysar and others are already analyzing who has given up worship, belief, and other modes of religiosity. I am more interested in what is happening as a result to the societal and social functions of religion. Thus, I would hypothesize that an increasing number of people are finding religion irrelevant in and to their everyday lives, and to the social, cultural, and other roles they play in society. They are not only “religious nones,” but they are no longer thinking about religious matters. Consequently, I think of them as seculars.
The furious debate in some quarters over whether America was born a “Christian nation” is ironic. The historical record shows that America was not born Christian, but grew to be very Christian centuries later. Some Religious Right activists believe that were it to be accepted as a fact that pre-1800 Americans were deeply Christian, a new light would be cast on current debates about where (if anywhere) to draw a line between Church and State today. In the sense of the Supreme Court’s search for “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution, Christian dogma would be an originalist justification for, say, reintroducing prayer into schools. But the story of Early American religion is, in fact, a quite different one.
At the New York Times, Charles M. Blow weighs in on new data showing that “Young adults are looking for spirituality but not necessarily through organized religion,” a topic being explored in depth by the SSRC’s project on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life.
In 2008, roughly 15 percent of Americans told telephone surveyors with the American Religious Identification Survey that they had no religious preference, were atheist, agnostic, secular, or humanist….Whether or not we want to feed these findings back into a very long-running debate about sociology’s secularization thesis, many of us will feel compelled to ask what this trend means for American public life. We are trained to ask the question because we are so used to thinking in Tocquevillian terms about religion’s relation to democracy. For that reason alone, it is worth taking a little time to clarify what the oft-quoted French traveler, diarist and social thinker Alexis de Tocqueville actually did say about American religion and its public consequences, so we can better decide what, if anything, in the Tocquevillian heritage helps us grapple with these findings.
Today, contemporary voluntary religion entails a “common-sense” epistemology that in some ways is strangely unaware of its own limits. Today’s widespread deference to a liberal voluntarism is so radically “open,” for example, that it can lead to intransigence, and to an inability to imagine that “others” see things differently from the way you do. A parallel development over at least the past three decades is the power of explicitly and unabashedly faith-centered political factions to bring their views to bear in the public square, to exclaim against imminent moral decay in American life, and to rail against rising unbelief.
More and more Americans say they have no formal religious affiliation. National surveys, scholarly findings, and media coverage make that clear. Those identifying with “no religion”—often termed “nones,” “no religionists,” or the “unchurched”—jumped from 8.2 percent of the public in 1990 to just over 15 percent in 2008.
This trend causes some observers to cry out in alarm and others to rejoice. But the transition is far more complicated than a mere movement from faith to non-belief implies.
A number of recent studies have attempted to analyze the emergent and fast-growing segment of American society that declines any specific religious identification—a demographic that Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, the authors of one such report, call the religious “Nones.” Kosmin and Keysar’s report has elicited much speculation about the possible repercussions of the growth of the “no religion” population on American politics, religion, and culture; as well as questions regarding the distinct identities of those classed as religious “Nones.”