America - Land of the Free Thinkers

  (14 March 09)
  by Jim Norman

America, Land of the Free Thinkers

Meerkat or ostrich, what's your style? Consider the meerkat, standing vigilant astride its burrow. Then the ostrich - well, everyone knows what ostriches do. Two long-running studies of Americans' religious alignment exemplify these styles. Which is doing the better job of capturing today's religious landscape?

Standing with the meerkats we find Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College. Since 1990 they've helmed the American Religious Identification Study (ARIS). The third of their massive, methodologically consistent surveys was released this week.

ARIS 2008 finds Roman Catholicism in near-collapse across the Northeast. The church of Rome now draws its numbers largely from Hispanics across the South and West. Denominational Protestantism, too, is in decline. Mainline Protestant denominations claimed 17.2 percent of Americans in 2001, just 12.9 percent in 2008. Even Baptists declined as a portion of population. In their place have surged generic or nondenominational evangelical Christian groups (for example, megachurches): 5 percent of Americans in 1990, 11.8 percent today.

Meanwhile, America's fastest-growing religion is ... no religion at all.

Read the rest in the Washington Post's On Faith blog.


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