Parsing the Pew Numbers

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 26, 2008 — 6 Comments

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has released a new study of the religious landscape in America. The results, which the Pew Forum calls “unprecedentedly precise”, points towards an increasingly “post-Christian” landscape in America.

“The United States is firmly 78 percent Christian but barely 51 percent Protestant, according to a survey released Monday (Feb. 25). The findings, part of the sweeping U.S. Religious Landscape Survey produced by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, reaffirm a decades-long decline toward minority status for the family of churches that long steered American politics and culture.”

That “barely” 51% figure includes both mainline and evangelical varieties of Protestants. The vast majority of the rest of that 78 percent are the Catholics, who are the largest Christian denomination in America with 23 percent of American adults. But things aren’t looking too good for the Catholics either.

“In the marketplace of American faith, Catholicism is the big loser. Catholics have lost more members to other faiths, or to no faith at all, than any other U.S. religion, according to the new survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life … Perhaps more worrisome for church leaders, while 2.6 percent of Americans converted to Catholicism, four times as many — 10.1 percent — of cradle Catholics have left for another faith or no faith at all. Roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics, the study reported.”

According to Pew researchers, Catholic numbers have only remained stable due to waves of Hispanic immigration. So Catholicism’s stability is precarious, and observers claim that as the current waves of Catholic immigrants assimilate to American culture, they too will drift away from the faith as previous waves of immigrants have.

So if Christianity’s cultural power is starting to wane, what is taking its place? Well, the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has risen to 16.1 percent, with a large chunk of that number claiming to have no particular religious orientation. Hindus have acheived the highest retention rate among faiths in America (8 in 10 children remain Hindu), meanwhile, the study finds that religious adherence is becoming increasingly fluid, with 28 percent of people leaving their childhood faith, and a whopping 44 percent changing affiliation in their lifetime.

Finally, we have confirmation that modern Paganism is continuing to grow. The study found that 0.4 percent of Americans adhere to a “New Age” religion, broken down into “Pagan”, “Wiccan”, and “Other”. These figures don’t include those who described themselves as “eclectic”, “spiritual but not religious”, “other liberal faith groups”, or members of CUUPs who identified themselves primarily as Unitarian Universalists. Working then with the idea then that (at least) 0.4 percent of Americans are modern Pagans (according to the study), that means there are at least 1.2 million Pagans of one variety or another in America.

This is the largest scientific study that (theoretically) places modern Paganism over the one million mark. A number that could conceivably be much larger (0.8% refused to answer the survey). Previously, the largest estimated number was 768,400 Pagans in North American according to a COG poll. It is very likely that the actual number of people fitting under the umbrella of modern Paganism is much larger. Signaling perhaps that our days of being classified under “other” are coming to a close. For more data, I suggest looking through the entire study, There is a treasure trove of information here, that has only begun to be analyzed.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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