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Monday, August 25, 2008

Request for Information: Changes in American Religious Demographics

I wonder whether I can appeal to my reader(s) -- hi, Mom! -- for some research assistance.  I'm looking for basic information on changes in American religious belief -- what religions Americans profess, how deeply, and so on -- over the last 50 years or so.  I'm sure there are some very basic sources here that will give me all I need, but for some reason I've come up a cropper in my quick searching.  Can someone point me where I need to go?  Feel free to use the comments or to email me directly.  Many thanks....

Posted by Paul Horwitz on August 25, 2008 at 09:31 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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Pew reports on this.

See http://religions.pewforum.org/

Posted by: Jason Mazzone | Aug 25, 2008 5:08:45 PM

One recent book which I read is called "Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers" by Christian Smith (see here: http://www.nd.edu/~csmith22/). It's an in-depth sociological study precisely on what it says. Smith ends up calling the beliefs of the teenagers he interviewed (in 2005) along the lines of "therapeutic moralistic deism" (and notes that this is, for the most part, what they have been taught by parents and culture).

Posted by: Jonathan | Aug 25, 2008 9:56:51 AM

The best survey of which I know is Pippa Norris & Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge Press 2004). Inglehart, of course, is famous for his survey research on measuring happiness and political goals -- he coined the idea of "post-material politics" during the 1980s -- and Norris has done great work on the media.

The Inglehart & Norris book is, I think, the most comprehensive empirical examination of the secularization thesis around (i.e., the thesis that economic development leads to secularization). Their major findings are that (a) industrial development and education does indeed undermine religious belief and practices but (b) industrialization also undermines birth rate -- secular and better-educated folks have fewer kids than religious folks -- such that (c) even as religious belief is waning in industrial democracies among the well-off, it is burgeoning among recently arrived immigrants to those democracies who, because they have far more kids than their predecessors, are becoming politically dominant, masking much of the secularization that otherwise accompanies increasing wealth and education.

By the way, the religious believers are not only more fecund, but also apparently significantly happier, than the secular folks. I do not know if there is an evolutionary lesson buried in that data....

Posted by: Rick Hills | Aug 25, 2008 9:43:53 AM

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