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Religious identification: How American adults view themselves

2001 to 2012: Degree of religiousness. Well being.
Public confidence. Classifying faith groups.

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General point of view: Religious or Secular:

In 2008, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) asked a random selection of Americans to rate their general outlook, ranging from religious to secular: 1

Outlook All adults Young (18 - 34) Senior (over 64)
Religious 37% 27% 47%
Somewhat religious 38 43 34
Somewhat secular 6 9 3
Secular 10 14 7
Don't know/ refused 9 7 9

2012: Degree of religiousness as a function of age, gender, location, race, etc:

In late 2012, Gallup® reported the results of a survey of almost a third of a million American adults conducted between January and November of that year. Margin of error is ±1 percentage point. They found that:

  • When asked about attendance at religious services and whether they rate religion as important in their daily lives Gallup concluded:
    • 40% were regarded as very religious
    • 29% as moderately religious
    • 31% as nonreligious.

  • Religiousness increases with age.

  • Religiousness is highest in the Southern states, incluing MS, AL, LA. It is least in the North East and North West, including VT, NH, ME, OR, WA, AK.

  • Women are significantly more religious than men.

  • Blacks are the most religious when compared to other races and ethnic groups.

  • Mormons are the most religious of any faith group.

  • Jews are the least religious of any faith group.

  • Republicans are more religious then either Democrats or Independents.

  • 77% of all Americans identify themselves as Christian. Among Americans who identify with a specific religion, 94% are Christian.

  • 18% do not identify with any religion. This number is growing rapidly.

  • The religiousness of Americans is expected to increase over time because seniors are expected to double between 2012 and 2032.

  • Gallup speculates that denominations that exclude women from positions of leadership will experience a loss in membership in the future. 2

It is important to realize that adults tend to over-estimate their attendance at weekly religious services. Although over 40% say that they attend weekly, only about half that number really do. In Canada about 20% say they attend and only about half that number actually do.

Frank Newport, Editor in Chief at Gallup is one of the leading pollsters in the U.S. He has published a book on religion in America titled "God is alive and well: The future of religion in America," 3

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2010/2011: Variations of physical and mental well being with religiousness:

A survey of almost 700,000 American adults showed an apparent relationship between wellbeing and religiousness. Margin of error is ±0.5 percentage points.

Religiousness is measured by a combination of two factors: how important the person regards religion as an important part of their life, and the frequency of their attendance at religious services.

Index Very Religious Moderately Religious Nonreligious
Life evaluation
53%
45%
49%
Emotional health
82%
76%
78%
Physical health
77%
74%
78%

Gallup comments:

"Americans who are very religious have higher wellbeing than those who are less religious, a relationship that holds even after controlling for a number of related demographic and geographic variables.

This study does not allow for a precise determination of why this might be the case. It is possible that Americans who have higher wellbeing are more likely to choose to be religious than those with lower wellbeing, or that some third variable could be driving certain segments of the U.S. population to be more religious and to have higher wellbeing." 4

One such variable may be that persons who are in good physical health may well be more likely to attend religious services regularly, and thus achieve a higher rating of religiousness.

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Public confidence in organized religion:

The percentage of American adults who say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in organized religion has dropped significantly from 68% in 1975 to 44% in mid-2012. Gallup speculates that scandals among famous televangelist preachers in the late 1980's and revelations of extensive molestation of teen-aged boys by Roman Catholic priests and subsequent extensive cover-ups by the Church. We speculate that an emerging factor might be disallusionment by teens and young adults of the negative attitudes by organization towards sexual activity generally, homosexuality, and scientific findings. 5

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Classifications of Christians:

One source estimates that there are 34,000 separate faith groups in the world that consider themselves to be Christian. 6 In fact, many consider themselves alone to be the only "true" Christian church. Within North America, there are in excess of 2,000 faith groups that regard themselves as Christian.

There are lots of different ways in which individual Christians and faith groups can be sortied them into identifiable groups. A few examples are on the basis of:

bulletHistory: There are four to seven meta-groups: (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism......)

bulletTheological and social views: There are three main wings: (conservative, mainline and liberal); some refer to them as two (conservative and mainline) or (early and emerging Christian paradigm)

bulletPast schisms: There are fifteen or so religious families, (Adventist, Baptist, Lutheran, Reform....)

bulletDenominations, (from the Amish to The Way), and

bulletSpecific belief (Arminianism, British Israelism, Calvinism...)

bulletA group of beliefs: One example is the Barna Research Group; they sort persons who regard themselves as Christian into a number of sub-groups.

More details

This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Barry A. Kosmin, et al., "American Religious Identification Survey 2008," Trinity College, 2008-DEC-19, at: http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read them. Software can be obtained free from: 
  2. Frank Newport, "Seven in 10 Americans Are Very or Moderately Religious," Gallup, 2012-DEC-04, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  3. book cover image Frank Newport, "God is alive and well: The future of religion in America," Gallup Press, 2012-DEC. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  4. Frank Newport, "Religious Americans Enjoy Higher Wellbeing," Gallup, 2012-FEB-16, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  5. Lydia Saad, "U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion at Low Point," Gallup, 2012-JUL-12, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  6. David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book

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Copyright © 2001 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-15
Latest update: 2012-DEC-04
Author: B.A. Robinson 

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