The second aftershock & the rise of irreligion

By Razib Khan | January 10, 2011 4:53 am

The book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us has been getting a lot of press, as it should. It’s pretty rich in data, and finally puts a spotlight on one of the most underreported trends between 1990-2010, the massive surge in irreligion. Because of the power of the Religious Right many Americans perceive that this is a nation in religious revival. And it is. But only among a subset of the population. A more numerous segment has been disaffiliating, silently, but consistently. The data’s been around for ten years now, though pop culture hasn’t caught up. Probably the biggest surprise in American Grace are results which imply that people tend align their religious views with their politics, not the other way around. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is, and that’s because many people hold that the best predictor of religious views are conscious and reflective. The reality is that implicit social cues and pressures are probably more important. You align yourself with your milieu, as much as you select your milieu to align with your own views and attitudes.

If you aren’t inclined to read the book, Pew released many of the top line findings online over the weekend. Some of the graphics are pretty cool. Here are religious trends over the last generation:


And here’s a chart illustrating religious diversity:

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
  • JMW

    The graph illustrates a comment I made back around the time of President Obama’s election victory, to wit: moderates are leaving religion (mainline protestants have decreased), meaning that increasingly religious communities have a larger proportion of hard-line and fundamentalist members (evangelical protestants have remained about the same from 1973 to 2008).

    It would be interesting to see how much the mainline protestant and evangelical protestants attend the same churches. But regardless, the religious point of view in the USA is increasingly represented by those inclined to be anti-science, conservative, hardline (i.e., unwilling to compromise) and/or extreme.

    The graph also shows some interesting demographic data, such as the gradual but marked increase in the percentage of the population who are Latino, while Jewish and African-American percentages remain about constant.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    To some extent the surprise is not the rise of irreligion in the United States, but its timing. The United Kingdom and a lot of Continental Europe experienced something similar starting at least a couple of generations earlier, if not earlier. Why did it start so much later in the United States, and why did whatever was postponing this trend in the United States never the less eventually start to carry the day in the United States?

    Also in the “dog that didn’t bark” department is the question, “how has Judaism survived?”, despite widely proclaimed fears at least going back to World War II that secularism and intermarriage and assimilation would decimate the Jewish community. My intuition is that a large share of intermarried families have ended up identifying more as Jewish than not, and that even secular Jews have retained a strong sense of ethnic identity that sometimes reawakens into religious identity. You’ve also noted high fertility rates among those who continue to identify as Jewish (usually the more Orthodox Jews).

    One trend that isn’t captured well is the extent to which the rise of “irreligion” as well as the shift from people self-identifying with a conservative Christian denomination to identification merely as “Christian” represents “rebranding” in much the same way as political realignment from Dixiecrats to the Republican party — with personal belief shifting only slightly (from Christmas and Easter Christians to non-religious, from one conservative political identity to another), despite a big change in how people label themselves. Beliefs have been more stable than labels, even though there has been a change in beliefs as well. One might view it is a tipping point phenomena of social acceptability — once enough people are “out” as “not religious” and embrace the label, it loses its stigma.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    To some extent the surprise is not the rise of irreligion in the United States, but its timing. The United Kingdom and a lot of Continental Europe experienced something similar starting at least a couple of generations earlier, if not earlier. Why did it start so much later in the United States, and why did whatever was postponing this trend in the United States never the less eventually start to carry the day in the United States?

    the USA went through the same wave in the 1960s. rather, it seems to be going through #2, like ireland, spain, and perhaps poland, as well.

    wish than not, and that even secular Jews have retained a strong sense of ethnic identity that sometimes reawakens into religious identity. You’ve also noted high fertility rates among those who continue to identify as Jewish (usually the more Orthodox Jews).

    the data from the american jewish identification survey, etc., shows about the same number of offspring of mixed marriages identifying as not religious, christian, and jewish. presumably the “not religious” category has some jewish bias, since judaism is an ethnicity and more praxic than doxy. but, the reality is that half-jews, unless they are religious jews, tend to have quad-jewish children. at which point jewish identification starts dropping a lot.

    Beliefs have been more stable than labels, even though there has been a change in beliefs as well.

    this is highly debatable. the evolution of originally evangelical revivalist denominations such as american methodism attest to this.

  • http://www.riverellan.blogspot.com Tom Bri

    Are we looking at the same chart? I am seeing a fairly substantial drop in main line Christianity, and not a heck of a lot of change otherwise. Certainly nothing to compare with Europe.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    the white is “no religion.” if that doesn’t help, get some glasses :-)

  • http://www.riverellan.blogspot.com Tom Bri

    Har Har. Wearing my bifocals, thanks for caring. From a miniscule 7% to 17%. Sometimes trends in human events do just keep right on rolling. Maybe we’ll see a huge drop in reported belief in coming years. My bet is on the mainline churches fissioning and turning into something more hard-line. It is happening in my denomination, Presbyterian. In my area last year the only really dynamic church split off from the national congregation. Explosive growth. My home church is growing, but quite slowly, adding a handful of members per year. The church that split now calls itself Evangelical Presbyterian.

    The American religious tradition is far more flexible than the European. Darwinian, you might say. Although I do expect to see a religious revival in Europe, as their governments become less able to pay for the goodies.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    tom bri, you’re a long time reader, so i’m going to be straight with you about my reaction to your analysis: your comment is kind of retarded. i don’t want to hear anymore from you about this. i’m not learning anything from it. if other readers are, they’re ignorant, and should actually read this book instead of wasting my time. no offense intended of course :-)

  • Tom Bri

    Got it. No offense.

  • http://ukcommentators.blogspot.com/ Laban Tall

    I’m alas not a long time reader – but doesn’t Tom have a point (if you’ve only seen that graph and not read the book)? Can’t the 10% drop in ‘no religion’ be almost completely down to the drop in ‘mainline Protestant’?

    That’s not necessarily to imply that there’s a move straight from mainline Protestant to atheist. It may be that Christian churches are losing equally, but that traditionalist Christians are moving from liberal Protestant churches to other churches – which is certainly happening in the UK with the Church of England.

    Re religious homogeneity – that’s almost certainly true in the UK as well, with a few notable exceptions – Northern Ireland with its Protestant and Catholic areas, small Orthodox Jewish areas like Stamford Hill in London, and some Muslim areas of our major cities.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Can’t the 10% drop in ‘no religion’ be almost completely down to the drop in ‘mainline Protestant’?

    @ the link i’d kindly provided you’d see that there’s been a drop in the % who are evangelical protestants and an increase in “nones” among the youth. it’s more than just a switch from mainliners, though that’s a big part of the picture. i also think it’s kind retarded to dismiss a 7 to 17% jump in less than a generation. sorry. since i probably know more about this topic than you, it would be nice if you dug through the links before commenting. it’s generally my policy when i leave comments on other blogs.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »