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Does religious diversity make America less religious?

Does religious diversity make America less religious?

In the United States, our diversity is seen as a source of national pride and a worthy ambition, but new evidence suggests that religious pluralism could undermine the vitality of America’s religious communities. reports:

The American religious landscape is transforming rapidly. At one time, religious diversity meant: Baptist, Methodist and Episcopalian. Today, it encompasses a multiplicity of religious traditions such as Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, as well as an increasing variety of noninstitutional belief systems such as humanism, skepticism, atheism and subjective spirituality. Racial and ethnic shifts have also changed the face of Christianity. The U.S. was once a predominantly white Christian country, but fewer than half of Americans (45 percent) identify as white Christian today.

We don’t know for sure that America’s religious pluralism is causing a drop in religious vitality — there are reasons to think the two might simply be related — but there are a number of different ways diversity might erode commitment. The practical effect of rising religious diversity is to expose Americans to ideas and views that could challenge their religious beliefs. Arecent survey found that 77 percent of Americans are acquainted with someone who is nonreligious, 61 percent know someone who is Jewish and 38 percent know someone who is Muslim. The widening array of religious beliefs and identities also challenges long-held understandings of America’s Christian heritage and religious character that can reinforce a commitment to religion. This weakening of America’s religious consensus means there is far less social pressure to conform to religious norms. For young people coming of age today, America’s Christian heritage is no longer a given, and being Christian is not viewed as a critical component of national identity.1

Geographically, states with greater religious variety tend to exhibit lower levels of overall religiosity.2 No state is more religiously uniform than Mississippi. It is a place where, as my colleague and native Mississippian Robert Jones once said: “It’s hard to swing a dead cat without hitting a Baptist.” And this is not far from the truth. Half of the state’s populationidentifies as Baptist and 54 percent are evangelical Protestant. No other state is so singularly dominated by a single faith tradition. It’s probably no coincidence that Mississippi is also one of the few states with constitutions that prohibit atheists from serving in elected office. According to Gallup’s 2016 rankings of the most and least religious states, Mississippi has the honor of being the most religious state in the country.3 In contrast, Oregon ranks high in terms of religious diversity — no one religious tradition makes up more than 20 percent of the state’s population — and falls near the bottom in Gallup’s ranking. Only four states are less religious.



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Paul Woodrum

American “diversity” turns all religious groups into competing sects. Probably why, through out history, uniformity of religion within national boundaries has been the goal of the ruling class as well as the religious establishment. Today, it seems, only Islam seeks to be coterminous with the state, banning or limiting the incursion of non-Islamic paganism.

Marshall Scott

Actually, Paul, I think we can demonstrate that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church seek to be coterminous with the state. See, for example, how Russia has moved more and more to restrict non-Orthodox Christian groups, as well as Muslim groups. And, while it’s laws are certainly more open, there are groups in Israel working actively for a uniformly Jewish state (they’re not the majority by any means, but they work to get a lot of attention). I think France’s interpretation of “freedom from religion” seeks to accomplish the same thing, really: a coherent non-religious state, and so a mirror image. I would say non-Buddhists in Thailand and Myanmar would say it isn’t just Muslims. Indeed, in those states it is the Muslims who are most often and most specifically the victims.

Tim Wooley

I worship The God who is still creating, which in part means to me that our knowledge about, and relationship to, God should/MUST grow and improve as we learn more about God. I perceive the reduced religiosity evident today as an indictment of our efforts to reproduce the spirit of yesteryear, rather than growing our own spiritual relationship. (Part of the problem has been refusing to learn from other religions, i.e., rejecting diversity of religious experience.)

Leslie Marshall

Religion is such a broad term now. Even Atheists are religious.

In my very narrow belief system, which I picked up from reading the bible… I toss out the word Religion and separate people into just [2] groups. ‘Believer’ (in Jesus) & ‘Non-Believer’ (not Jesus, other) .

I don’t think its possible to believe in ‘nothing’.

Gregory Orloff

Of course, “believing” doesn’t mean much without “doing.” Hence, the lament of Christ Jesus, so applicable in our own day as well as his own: “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Marshall Scott

I haven’t yet perused the Fivethirtyeight article, so won’t reflect on it. I do have a personal reflection, though. It seems to me that American society has been functionally secular and lacking in “religious vitality” for some time. The Gallup people, as I recall, have for some time had similar result: while perhaps 80% of respondents identify with a faith community, perhaps 48% actually claim connection with a specific congregation, and about 16% (one third of those connected) report attending regularly.

We’ve been able to gloss over that for some time with our sense of a shared “Christian society,” however insipid that shared Christianity often was. The sense that there are others making choices simply highlights the lie.

Part of what is sad for me, too, is that our colleagues in other religions (as opposed to the “Nones”) are certainly active and vital in their religious practices. Somehow, because they are small, and especially because they are not Christian, their “religious vitality” doesn’t seem worth noting.

Jos. S. Laughon

The academic work of Robert Putnam on America’s declining social capital, civic trust & institutional health has some sobering thoughts on diversity and what can smooth out the rough edges.

David Allen

The proposals that the paper (2007) contains are located in a section called Becoming Comfortable with Diversity at the end of his article. This section has been criticized for lacking the rigor of the preceding sections. According to Ilana Mercer “Putnam concludes the gloomy facts with a stern pep talk”.

JoS. S. Laughon

Which seems like an odd contention given that he does so in two separate books, Better Together & American Grace.

David Allen

Both times you appear to posit that he offered some actual solutions, and as the assessment I found states, he didn’t.

Jos. S. Laughon

The findings are not that controversial among the social scientists. Putnam isn’t some reactionary. It’s basic human nature unfortunately.

It wasn’t his findings that were considered not very rigorous, it was his solutions for them. Putnam purposefully held off on publishing his findings before he could find solutions for how to deal with declining social trust due to increased diversity.

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