Topic 11
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Topic 11: Reconstruction of American Religion


In the 1960s and 1970s another major shift was underway in American life. Consensus gave way to conflicts over issues of racial justice, gender roles, sexual behavior, and the role of the United States in the world, particularly in Vietnam. Traditional values were questioned,  and a new generation was shaped by a "youth revolution". Indeed, those decades were  marked by several "liberation movements".  These issues and conflicts led to the so-called "culture wars" of the last decades of the century and the polarization that has come to mark national life. Religion no less than politics has played a major role in this realignment.

Religious life itself was also transformed:

Traditional mainline Protestant denominations declined in membership. These churches  represent traditions of theology, piety, and ecclesiology [church structure] rooted in the Reformation.

Evangelical,   Pentecostal, Charismatic churches have grown at a fast rate, many of them new denominations which have made effective use of television, a  "Christian pop culture" (Note the Moore's essay, A Protestant (Counter) Culture. ), and so-called megachurches.  The links between non-denominational Evangelical churches, megachurches and the use of pop culture to attract youth are well illustrated in Teenagers Mix Churches for Faith that Fits. These churches are largely 20th-century in origin, stress emotional experience instead of theological traditions, and appeal to the strong  individualism that marks American culture.

After the changes in immigration  law in 1965, many new immigrants added to the multicultural profile of American religion.

Latino immigrants increased the size of the Roman Catholic Church, already the largest denomination, but many were also attracted to Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. 

Immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East added faiths outside the Judeo-Christian religions. The "New Immigrants" and their Religion

Religion became a source of political activity. [Also see Topic 12]

Conservative churches developed strategies to influence public  policy on controversial  issues such as abortion and gay rights. 



Marty, chap. 19: Always a Horizon (1960s, 1970s) Marty look at the decades when consensus came under fire in terms of the various movements of spiritual quest and liberation. Note his discussion of the Catholic  monk, Thomas Merton (436), the Native American Revival (     ), the movement for African-American rights (440-447), with particular reference to M. L. King (343-355) and Malcolm X (356-371), and Chicano Rights and Cesar Chavez, 447-450. He also discusses Journeys to the East and New Religions, 450-458 , including Zen and Krishna

Porterfield, #9: Striving for Muslim Women's Human Rights
# 32: Ginsberg "Sunflower Sutra and Kaddish
#33: ML King, Jr., Nonviolence and Racial Justice
#34: Malcolm X, God's Judgment on White America
#39: American Indian Religious Freedom

Moore, #4: American Religion and the Second Sex

Eck, chaps. 1-5


World Religions in Boston
Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)
Malcolm X,
The Ballot  or the Bullet (1964)

Shared Prayers (from NY Times series on Race in America)
Pentecostal Church, historical overview (from Race in America)
Teenagers Mix Churches for Faith that Fits (NY Times, Dec. 30, 2005) [Note the pictures that accompany this article.]
Megachurches and Christmas



Religion in Post WWII America [A presentation  by Joanne Beckman, Duke University,
©National Humanities Center]

Contrary to what many observers predicted in the 1960s and early 1970s, religion has remained as vibrant and vital a part of American society as in generations past. New issues and interests have emerged, but religion's role in many Americans' lives remains undiminished. Perhaps the one characteristic that distinguishes late-twentieth-century religious life from the rest of America's history, however, is diversity. To trace this development, we must look back to the 1960s. As with many aspects of American society, the 1960s proved a turning point for religious life as well.

Up until the 1960s, the "Protestant establishment" (the seven mainline denominations of Baptists, Congregationalists, Disciples, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians) dominated the religious scene, with the occasional Catholic or Jewish voice heard dimly in the background. References to American religion usually meant Protestant Christianity. Traditional Christianity faced some challenges in the first half of the century, especially from the literary elite of the 1920s, but after the second great war, the populace seemed eager to replenish its spiritual wells. At midcentury, Americans streamed back to church in unprecedented numbers. The baby boom (those born between 1946 and 1965) had begun, and parents of the first baby boomers moved into the suburbs and filled the pews, establishing church and family as the twin pillars of security and respectability. Religious membership, church funding, institutional building, and traditional faith and practice all increased in the 1950s. At mid-century, things looked very good for Christian America.

Over the next decade and a half, however, this peaceful landscape was besieged from many sides. The Civil Rights movement, the "Sexual Revolution," Vietnam, Women's Liberation, and new "alternative" religions (e.g., yoga, transcendental meditation, Buddhism, Hinduism) all challenged the traditional church and its teachings, its leaders and their actions. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, then, religion itself was not rejected so much as was institutionalized Christianity. The Church, along with government, big business, and the military—those composing "the Establishment"—was denounced by the young adults of the '60s for its materialism, power ploys, self-interest, and smug complacency.

The 1960s "revolution" has perhaps been exaggerated over the years. Studies show, for example, that while a large vocal minority of mostly middle- and upper-middle-class college students challenged traditional institutions and mores, many of their peers remained as committed to old-time moral and religious values as ever.

Nevertheless, the 1960s did swing wide a door that had never been opened before. A new vista of lifestyle options was introduced into mainstream America. In the religious sphere, this meant that mainline Protestantism or even the tripartite division of Protestant-Catholic-Jew no longer represented all of society's spiritual interests. Americans now had to take into account different kinds of spiritualities and practices, new kinds of leaders and devotees.

In the post-1960s era, the religious scene has become only more diverse and complex. The list is endless, but let us consider three examples that illustrate the pluralistic nature of American religion at the close of the twentieth century:

  1. the "boomer" generation of spiritual seekers
  2. the growth of non-European, ethnic-religious communities
  3. religious rights in the public square.

Generation of Seekers

Even as diversity has increasingly fragmented American religious life in the last thirty years, religious interest remains as lively as ever.

Vitality is seen both in the resurgence of more traditional, conservative expressions of Christianity and in the sustained interest in non-Christian alternatives. Two groups that have received much attention in recent years are the Religious Right, on the one hand, and New Age seekers on the other. Here we simply note that alongside a thriving conservative Christian community stands a very different expression of religious vitality. Its main participants are composed of what sociologist Wade Clark Roof calls the new "generation of seekers." These seekers are baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s and are now in their thirties, forties, and fifties. Composing a third of the total population, this generation, because of its vitality and sheer size, is shaping contemporary culture in a profoundly new fashion.

One chief characteristic is that of being spiritual seekers. Some boomers have returned to the churches they grew up in, seeking traditional values as they now raise their own children. A larger number, however, never returned to the tradition of their childhood (predominantly Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish). Sociologists have estimated that 25 percent of the boomer generation have returned to church, but a full 42 percent have "dropped out" for good. These dropouts do not belong to any religious organization and claim no denominational ties. They eschew institutional formality and define themselves as seekers rather than traditionally devout or "religious." They might be open to "trying church" but are just as willing to sample Eastern religions, New Age spiritualism, or quasi-religious self-help groups of the Recovery Movement. For seekers, spirituality is a means of individual expression, self-discovery, inner healing, and personal growth. Religion is valued according to one's subjective experience. Thus seekers feel free to incorporate elements of different traditions according to their own liking. They shop around, compare, and select religious "truths" and experiences with what one historian calls their "à la carte" spirituality.

Books on angels, fascination with reincarnation and the afterlife, New Age music, the selling of crystals, popular Eastern garb, and best-selling recovery titles testify to how widespread and "mainstream" seeker spirituality has become in our society. Seeker self-discovery is far removed from conservative Christianity's traditional piety, but both point to the array of religious options now readily available and thoroughly respectable in late-twentieth-century America.

Ethnic-Religious Communities

Another sign of the dismantling of a monolithic "Protestant America" is the increasing celebration of religious particularity through the championing of ethnic identity, the politics of multiculturalism, and the growing communities of "new immigrants" from Latin America and Asia (those who moved to the United States since immigration restrictions were lifted in the landmark Immigration Act of 1965).

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement provided a context for celebrating non-Anglo ethnicity for the first time.

By the mid-1970s an ethnic revival celebrating the roots of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, American Jews, and Asian Americans spawned. Suddenly non-Anglo, non-Protestant Americans were valorizing their own ethnicity, religions, and histories.

In the 1980s, a politicized version of ethnic celebration emerged in the ideals of "multiculturalism," a philosophy of multiethnicity that sees America composed of a wonderfully diverse group of communities ineradicable in their ethnic character. Replacing the already old notion of America as the melting pot nation, or a citizenry bound together by a set of universalistic values (e.g., democracy, equality, justice), multiculturalism argues for the beauty of diversity, the essentialist nature of ethnic identity, and thus the necessity for cultural pluralism. We should encourage ethnic communities to celebrate their own histories, cultural distinctives, and religious traditions (Afrocentrism and bilingual education, for instance, are two key policies of the multicultural agenda).

With the number of immigrants from Latin America and Asia only growing in the 1990s, the issue of religious diversity or cultural pluralism looms larger than ever. Spanish speakers, for example, will soon outnumber English speakers in the state of California. Southeast Asians are making their home on both coasts and in the heartland as well (Laotians and the Hmong have established thriving communities in wintry Wisconsin and Minnesota).

A wholly new religious space is being carved out in the American landscape—a space that has little to do with the traditional ethnic divide between black and white or the religious division of Protestant, Catholic, and Jew. This religious site is different, too, from the New Age seekers and spiritual shoppers of the boomer generation. Americans are going to be exposed to multiple ethnic and "Two-Thirds" world religions as never before. While certain portions of the intellectual elite have been fascinated with the world's "great religions" (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam) since the mid-nineteenth century, these traditions have never penetrated Main Street America. By the end of this century, however, Americans will increasingly encounter Buddhist neighbors, Muslim colleagues, and Hindu businessmen. These "foreign" religions will no longer be simply descriptions in school textbooks or exotic movie subjects. Indeed, advocates of cultural pluralism hope that the new religions will become as much a part of the American Way as historically Protestant orthodoxy.

Not only will new ethnic religions dot the landscape, but multiethnic religious traditions will emerge as well. Indeed a broad survey conducted by the Institute for the Study of American Religion reports that some 375 ethnic or multiethnic religious groups have already formed in the United States in the last three decades. Sociologists of religion believe the numbers will only increase in the coming years. Roman Catholic Mexican, Anglo, and Vietnamese Americans, for example, are beginning to celebrate a common Mass together in some parts of the country. Muslims of different sects are sharing mosque space in major cities. African Americans wearing kufi hats are singing Southern Baptist hymns in Chicago churches (with portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela gracing the walls). In sum, these young, thriving, and growing immigrant communities are introducing a whole new kind of religious pluralism into late-twentieth-century America. The real impact of immigrant communities remains to be seen, but religion in America promises to be more complex and diverse in the coming years than ever.

Religion in the Public Square

Another area in which the diversity of contemporary American religion manifests itself is in the escalating battles fought in the courts over religious practice in the public square. Most legal battles over religion center around interpretations of the First Amendment's religion clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The issues commonly raised, thus, concern questions about the "separation of church and state" (especially as violated by traditionally privileged Protestantism) and the free exercise of religion (especially as sought by minority traditions). Litigation and disputes over the First Amendment have increased dramatically since the 1970s and continue unabated today.

Historically, the courts have been loathe to rule on disputes within religious groups, questions concerning what constitutes "religion," and the legitimacy of personal religious practices. Concerning the free exercise of religion, however, the courts have intervened when traditional welfare questions or "common good" policies are involved. Under "traditional welfare," for example, Jehovah's Witnesses have been ordered to grant blood transfusions for their children, Christian Science parents have been convicted for refusing medical care for their children, and the marriages of child brides have been prohibited despite being customary practice among certain Hindu sects. The courts, then, will rule against certain religious practices when they believe a child's welfare is in serious jeopardy. "Common good" policies have led the Supreme Court to rule against the sacramental use of peyote by Oregon Indians. Protecting anti=drug laws is considered absolutely necessary (i.e., banning certain drugs no matter what their usage) for the larger "common good" of the nation.

Aside from welfare and common good policies, however, the post-1960s courts tend to support the broad exercise of religious freedom. Since the 1970s, religious groups that have been traditionally marginalized have especially received a careful hearing. Landmark cases supporting practices within the Amish community (their children do not have to attend high school), the Hare Krishnas (the right to proselytize), and the Santeria religion (animal killings for ritual sacrifice are allowed) testify to the trend towards a liberal reading of the free exercise clause. In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to require "strict scrutiny" of any state or federal law that conflicts with the free exercise of religion. The Supreme Court struck down this act in 1997 (in a case involving city zoning laws and a church's renovation plans), asserting that Congress had overstepped its authority and that the act violated the separation of powers in the federal government. Since then several states have passed or introduced bills for state religious freedom restoration laws.

The second set of battles in the courts centers around the religious establishment clause. Since the 1960s "no establishment of religion" has been interpreted by many as requiring a strict "separation of church and state." The separation of church and state argument has been levied against traditional Christianity in particular. The focus of the battles has been in the public schools, especially, where the courts have sought to dismantle any practices of conventional religion. Both Bible reading and prayer that are directed by the school have been banned from public schools since the early 1960s. Despite ongoing efforts to appeal these laws (and most recently to replace prayer time with a "moment of silence"), the courts have not changed their stance. Legislation to include creationism alongside teachings on evolution in the schools has been continually struck down. In 1992, clergy prayers were abolished at high school graduations (although student prayers are allowed).

Some Christians have argued that such rulings do not protect against the establishment of a state religion but actually promote the religion of secular humanism. The Courts maintain, however, that a neutral zone can be created in the schools and do not see secular humanism as a religious belief. Just as the cultural trend towards supporting religious pluralism has led to a broad free exercise of religion for marginalized groups, so the courts have also taken a generally strict stance over the no establishment clause to ensure traditional Christianity does not take a privileged role once again in the public square.

Note the statistical profiles of religious affiliation in the USA at present. Among other things, notice how numerically dominant certain traditional groups continue to be despite the appearance of new religious communities. What does this suggest to you about the religious pluralism in contemporary America?

Top Ten ORGANIZED Religions in the United States, 2001
(self-identification, ARIS)

[Nonreligious, Atheist, Agnostic have been dropped from this list.]
Religion 2001 Est.
Adult Pop.
2004 Est.
Total Pop.
% of U.S. Pop.,
Christianity 159,030,000 224,437,959 76.5%
Judaism 2,831,000 3,995,371 1.3%
Islam 1,104,000 1,558,068 0.5%
Buddhism 1,082,000 1,527,019 0.5%
Hinduism 766,000 1,081,051 0.4%
Unitarian Universalist 629,000 887,703 0.3%
Wiccan/Pagan/Druid 307,000 433,267 0.1%
Spiritualist 116,000 163,710 0.05%
Native American Religion 103,000 145,363 0.05%
Baha'i 84,000 118,549 0.04%

Largest denominational families in U.S., 2001
(self-identification, ARIS)

Denomination 1990 Est.
Adult Pop.
2001 Est.
Adult Pop.
2004 Est.
Total Pop.
Est. % of U.S. Pop.,
% Change
1990 - 2001
Catholic 46,004,000 50,873,000 71,796,719 24.5% +11%
Baptist 33,964,000 33,830,000 47,744,049 16.3% 0%
Methodist/Wesleyan 14,174,000 14,150,000 19,969,799 6.8% 0%
Lutheran 9,110,000 9,580,000 13,520,189 4.6% +5%
Presbyterian 4,985,000 5,596,000 7,897,597 2.7% +12%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 3,191,000 4,407,000 6,219,569 2.1% +38%
Episcopalian/Anglican 3,042,000 3,451,000 4,870,373 1.7% +13%
Judaism 3,137,000 2,831,000 3,995,371 1.3% -10%
Latter-day Saints/Mormon 2,487,000 2,697,000 3,806,258 1.3% +8%
Churches of Christ 1,769,000 2,593,000 3,659,483 1.2% +47%
United Church of Christ
599,000 1,378,000 1,944,762 0.7%
Jehovah's Witnesses 1,381,000 1,331,000 1,878,431 0.6% -4%
Assemblies of God 660,000 1,106,000 1,560,890 0.5% +68%

Top Ten Largest Religious Bodies in the United States

(Figures reflect U.S. membership only. A few of these religious bodies have significant numbers of members in other countries as well.)
Rank Religious Body Year Membership
1 Catholic Church 2002 66,407,105
2 Southern Baptist Convention 2003 16,400,000
3 United Methodist Church 2002 8,251,042
4 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 2004 5,599,177
5 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 2003 4,984,925
6 Church of God in Christ 1991 * 4,500,000
7 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2001 3,595,259
8 National Baptist Convention of America 1987 3,500,000
9 Assemblies of God 2002 2,687,366
10 Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 2003 2,512,714


U.S Christian  membership numbers, as supplied by various Christian denominations (in thousands) are: (Reference: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1997, World Almanac Books, Mahwah NJ )


Membership, in thousands in 2004

Membership, in thousands in 1996


Adventist Churches




Apostolic Christian Church




Apostolic Christian Churches of America




Baptist Churches







German Baptists

Christian Brethren



Plymouth Brethren

Christian Church



Disciples of Christ

Christian Churches



Churches of Christ

Christian Congregation




Christian and Missionary Alliance




Christian Union, Churches of Christ in




Churches of Christ




Churches of God




Church of the Nazarene




Community Churches, Inter. Council of




Congregational Christian Churches




Conservative Congr. Christian Conference




Eastern Orthodox Churches




Episcopal Church




Evangelical Church




Evangelical Congregational Church




Evangelical Covenant Church




Evangelical Free Church of America




Grace Gospel Fellowship




Independent Fundamental Churches of America




Jehovah's Witnesses




Latter-Day Saints




Liberal Catholic Church




Lutheran Churches




Mennonite Churches



Includes Old Order Amish

Methodist Churches




Metropolitan Community Churches




Missionary Church




Moravian Churches




Nat. Org. of the New Apostolic Church




National Spiritist Association of Churches




Pentecostal Churches




Polish National Catholic Church




Presbyterian Churches




Reformed Churches




Reformed Episcopal Church




Roman Catholic Church




Salvation Army




Schwenkfelder Church




Society of Friends (Quakers)




Swedenborgian Church




United Brethren in Christ




Non-Christian Groups:

The World Almanac derives its data from religious groups themselves.


Membership in Thousands




In N. America

Baha'i Faith



Buddhist Churches of America



Chinese Folk Religions


In N. America



In N. America






Estimates vary greatly



In N. America






Misc. faiths, since 1945



In N. America



In N. America



In N. America



In N. America

Unitarian Universalist Association


See Note 1



In N. America


Number in Thousands

Other, unclassified





  1. Ken Park, "The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2003," World Almanac Books, Mahwah NJ. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
American Religious Identification Survey, 2001, at:


The public opinion poll:

The Bliss Institute at the University of Akron conducted a National Survey of Religion and Politics in the spring of 2004 for the Pew Forum. A sampling of the Americans was conducted from March to May, and was completed well in advance of the 2004-NOV elections. They collected data from 4,000 adults over the age of 18 who were grouped into 18 distinct religious communities.

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Makeup of religious communities in the U.S.:

In the past, most polls simply attempted to identify American adults by denomination and religion. They counted the number of Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, etc. in their sample and estimated the number of followers that each had across the U.S.  The ARIS Study is one example. This poll attempted to study religious communities, such as the conservative wing of Evangelical Christianity, the liberal wing of Mainline Protestantism, Latino Catholics, and fifteen other groups. These communities cross denominational boundaries and include:


Evangelical Protestantism: This consists of the conservative, mainline and liberal wings of Fundamentalist, other Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations. This includes such denominations as: the Assemblies of God; the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod; the Presbyterian Church in America; the Southern Baptist Convention, many smaller conservative faith groups, and a very large number of nondenominational -- often Fundamentalist -- churches.


Mainline Protestantism: This consists of the left, center and liberal wings of the Episcopal Church, USA; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, and smaller denominations with similar beliefs.

In order to capture the diversity of belief among Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants and Catholics, each was subdivided into three groups:


Traditionalists: This includes Individual conservative believers with:


High levels of orthodox belief in God, Satan, life after death, the Bible, creation science, and the truth -- or lack of it - within the world's religions), and


Heavy religious involvement (attendance, financial support, prayer, scripture reading, small group participation), and


A desire to hold fast to their beliefs and practices and resist pressures for change coming from society as a whole.



Modernists: These are believers at the other end of the scale -- those with liberal tendencies: a high level of heterodox belief, relatively low level of religious involvement, and a desire to accommodate change.


Centrists: These are church members whose beliefs and practices are intermediate between the Traditionalists and Modernists.

Finally, they tabulated membership data from the major categories -- Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism -- by ethnicity and/or race.

They found the following 18 religious communities, and established the size of each. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 2%. This means that if the survey were repeated twenty times with different random samplings of American adults, any given result would be within 2% of the value shown here, for nineteen times out of twenty repeat polls:

They found:

54.7% of American adults identify themselves as Protestants. Of these:


12.6% are Traditionalist Evangelicals


10.8% Centrist Evangelicals


02.9% Modernist Evangelicals


Making a total of 26.3% for white and non-Latino Evangelical Protestants



04.3% Traditionalist Mainliners


07.0% Centrist Mainliners


04.7% Modernist Mainliners


Making a total of 16.0% for white and non-Latino Mainline Protestants



02.8% Latino Protestants


09.6% Black Protestants

22.0% are Roman Catholics:


04.4% Traditionalist Catholic


08.1% Centrist Catholic


05.0% Modernist Catholic


04.5% Latino Catholic

12.6% are followers of one or more religions not otherwise specified:


02.7% Other Christian, including Christian Scientists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, O (the Mormons), Orthodox Churches, etc.


01.9% Jewish


02.7% Other religions, including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, New Agers.


05.3% Unaffiliated believers -- persons with no religious affiliation.

10.7% do reject the beliefs of established religions:


07.5% Secularists -- persons with no religious affiliation who have few or no religious beliefs or practices.


03.2% Atheists & Agnostics -- non-theistic beliefs.

Some observations:


Religious transition: It appears that America is poised to go through its second major religious transition. Prior to 1492 CE, the entire population of the U.S. was composed of about 500 tribes of Native Americans following an Aboriginal form of spirituality. After 1492, with the influx of Europeans, the balance shifted, and the area became predominately Protestant. Within a few years, a second shift will probably occur, placing Protestants in the minority. More details.


Belief in God: Table 30 of the survey 3 shows that:


Marginally more Americans regard God as a spirit or impersonal force (41%) than believe in a personal God (40%). However, this plurality is not statistically significant at this time.


"Other Christians," and Traditionalists among the Evangelicals, Mainline denominations, and Catholics have a strong belief in the personhood of God (63%, 78%, 61%, 65%).


Among Modernists in Evangelical, Mainline, and Catholic denomination, those who believe that God is a spirit or impersonal force (42%,62%,66%) outnumber those who believe that God is a person (30%, 3%, 3%).


If we define the religion of a person by the God that they believe it, it can be argued that Traditionalists and Modernists among Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic denominations in the U.S. are actually following different religions.



The importance of cultural matters: When asked what was the most important problem facing the U.S. at this time:


More than 40% of American adults mentioned an economic issue (unemployment, lack of health care, poverty...);


Fewer than one in three mentioned a foreign policy issue (Iraqi war, terrorism, the UN...).


Twenty percent mentioned a cultural matter (abortion, crime, public disorder...).


Less than 10% mentioned a political process issue (media bias, campaign finance reform...).

Only Traditionalist Evangelicals ranked cultural matters as their main concern, at about 40%.

Quotations on the changing religious scene in the USA:


"The proportion of the [American] population that can be classified as Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001." ARIS Study. 4


" 'We the people' of the United States now form the most profusely religious nation on earth." Diana Eck. 1


George Barna of The Barna Group:


"There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions." George Barna. 2


"...evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994....less than one out of five born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria. " (N = 1003; margin of error = ±3.2%). 13



"...the number of Protestants soon will slip below 50 percent of the nation's population." National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey, 2004.

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The shift away from Christianity and other organized religions:

The United States appears to be going through an unprecedented change in religious practices. Large numbers of American adults are disaffiliating themselves from Christianity and from other organized religions. Since World War II, this process had been observed in other countries, like the U.K., other European countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. But, until recently, affiliation with Christianity had been at a high level -- about 87% -- and stable in the U.S.

Polling data from the 2001 ARIS study, described below, indicate that:


81% of American adults identify themselves with a specific religion:


76.5% (159 million) of Americans identify themselves as Christian. This is a major slide from 86.2% in 1990. Identification with Christianity has suffered a loss of 9.7 percentage points in 11 years -- about 0.9 percentage points per year. This decline is identical to that observed in Canada between 1981 and 2001. If this trend continues, then by about the year 2042, non-Christians will outnumber the Christians in the U.S.


52% of Americans identified themselves as Protestant.


24.5% are Roman Catholic.



1.3% are Jewish.


0.5% are Muslim, followers of Islam.


The fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage) is Wicca -- a Neopagan religion that is sometimes referred to as Witchcraft. Numbers of adherents went from 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in 2001. Their numbers of adherents are doubling about every 30 months. 4,5 Wiccans in Australia have a very similar growth pattern, from fewer than 2,000 in 1996 to 9,000 in 2001. 10 In Canada, Wiccans and other Neopagans showed the greatest percentage growth of any faith group. They totaled 21,080 members in 1991, an increase of 281% when compared with 1990.



14.1% do not follow any organized religion. This is an unusually rapid increase -- almost a doubling -- from only 8% in 1990. There are more Americans who say they are not affiliated with any organized religion than there are Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans taken together. 6


The unaffiliated vary from a low of 3% in North Dakota to 25% in Washington State. "The six states with the highest percentage of people saying they have no religion are all Western states, with the exception of Vermont at 22%." 6

A USA Today/Gallup Poll in 2002-JAN showed that almost half of American adults appear to be alienated from organized religion. If current trends continue, most adults will not call themselves religious within a few years. Results include:


About 50% consider themselves religious (down from 54% in 1999-DEC)


About 33% consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" (up from 30%)


About 10% regard themselves as neither spiritual or religious. 6

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The U.S. losing its Protestant majority?:

Prior to 1492, the entire population of what was to become the United States of America and Canada followed Native American Spirituality. With the influx of immigrants from Europe and the genocide of the native population, the U.S. became predominately Protestant Christian by the time of the Revolutionary War. The percentage of Protestants in the U.S. has been diluted because of:


Immigration from Roman Catholic countries,


More recent immigration from the Middle and Far East, and


The rise in numbers of  Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists and other non-theists.

From 1972 to 1993, the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center found that Protestants constituted about 63% of the population. This declined to 52% in 2002. Protestants are expected to slip to a minority position between 2004 and 2006. 11 "Respondents were defined as Protestant if they said they were members of a Protestant denomination, such as Episcopal Church or Southern Baptist Convention. The category included members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of independent Protestant churches." However, the data may be deceiving. Some subjects simply reported themselves as "Christians" and were not counted as Protestants since they were not affiliated with a Protestant denomination.  12

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About people who walk away from organized religion:


Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and a co-author of "Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion" commented: "People who believe in God — and they do — who pray — and they do — are not secular, they are just unchurched. They've never been to church and, in many cases, their parents didn't go either."


Mark Galli, managing editor of the Evangelical magazine Christianity Today, said: "It's a cliché now to call institutional religion 'oppressive, patriarchal, out of date and out of touch.' So what else is new? I feel sorry for those people who don't think there's anything greater than themselves. It must feel like a lonely and frightening world for them. Lone-ranger spirituality is not conducive to taking us to the depths God designed us to go. It leaves out the communal dimension of faith. If you leave out the irritations, frustrations and joy that community entails, you miss something about God."