Religious landscape shifts underfoot

UNITED STATES –Analysts at the Pew Research Center have released a second report parsing data collected during the 2014 Religious Landscape Survey. Where the initial report “described the changing size and demographic characteristics of the nation’s major religious groups,” this second one instead “focuses on Americans’ religious beliefs and practices and assesses how they have changed in recent years.” While the activities of those who belong to religious minorities, including those who fall under or near the Pagan umbrella, can at best be inferred from the data — out of 35,071 survey participants, only 605 are listed in the “other faiths” category, which was separate from the 92 identified under “other world religions” — the overall trends in the United States suggest a slow, generational shift away from any religious activity. However, among those who hold religious beliefs, the frequency and variety of religious activities has not appreciably changed since the first survey, conducted in 2007. Those interested in digging into the data have, for the first time this year, an interactive tool for combing through the results as well as the full report in PDF format.

The Narrative of Explosive Growth Does Us No Good

Modern Pagan religions are growing, this is a fact backed up by surveys and census data, and many believe that we are growing even faster than these somewhat imprecise methods can track. Historian Ronald Hutton has estimated that there may be as many as a quarter of a million Pagans in the United Kingdom, far more than the figure of 40,000 from the 2001 census, and Pagan groups in Australia and Britain have engaged in campaigns that they hope will bring in census results closer to their own estimates. That said, until we get better figures, better surveys, we have to go by what we have. That means around 40,000 Pagans in the UK, around 30,000 Pagans in Australia, around 22,000 Pagans in Canada, and recent Pew Forum and ARIS data that places modern Paganism hovering somewhere around a million adherents (give or take a hundred thousand or two) in the United States. However, even if we grant that the larger estimates by friendly scholars and movement insiders are more accurate (and I’m hoping 2011 census data will bear our larger estimates out), that would still only mean around 3-5 million modern (ie “neo,” revivalist, and reconstructionist) Pagans worldwide.

Quick Note: There Are How Many Pagans?

There are two types of people who tend to over-estimate the size of the modern Pagan movement. Those who are advocates of Pagan religions and want to emphasize our vitality and popularity; and those who are hostile to Pagan religions and want to frighten (or at least dismay) their audience with the specter of Pagan dominance. Of these two, polemicist Melanie Phillips falls into the latter camp. “Some of Ms. Phillips’ data may startle those of us who think of ourselves as reasonably normal people. “What previously belonged to the province of the quack and the charlatan have become mainstream,” and “‘Wicca’ – or witchcraft – and paganism constitute the fastest growing religious category in America, with between 500,000 and 5 million adherents.”

The Kids Are Alright and other Pagan News of Note

Top Story: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new study, entitled “Religion Among the Millennials”, that tracks the beliefs and views of the generation born after 1981 (and who largely came of age in the year 2000, hence the name).  The report asserts that Millenials are far more “unaffiliated”, religiously speaking, than the previous two generations, and less concerned about “culture war” issues like gay marriage and abortion than their predecessors. “Young people are more accepting of homosexuality and evolution than are older people. They are also more comfortable with having a bigger government, and they are less concerned about Hollywood threatening their values. But when asked generally about morality and religion, young adults are just as convinced as older people that there are absolute standards of right and wrong that apply to everyone. Young adults are also slightly more supportive of government efforts to protect morality and of efforts by houses of worship to express their social and political views.”

Are Cascadian “Nones” Worshiping Nature?

The past couple years have given much food for thought to those who are interested in the state of religion in the United States of America. In 2008 you had the release of the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, and then at the beginning of 2009 you had Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey data from 2008. Both not only showed an ongoing increase in the population of modern Pagans, but that the “religiously unaffiliated” or “nones” now claim around 15% of our total population. But are the “nones” really not religious? While the Pacific Northwest is only second to New England in the percentage of “unchurched” adults (hovering around 25%), some assert that the Cascadian “nones” are actually deeply spiritual and look to nature and the New Age as inspirations in crafting their own belief systems.
“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.”