Religion in the United States
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Religion in the United States is characterized by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Various religious faiths have flourished, as well as perished, in the United States. A majority of Americans report that religion plays a "very important" role in their lives, a proportion unique among developed nations.
The majority of Americans (73%) identify themselves as Christians and about 20% have no religious affiliation. According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) (2008) 76% of the American adult population identified themselves as Christians, with 51% professing attendance at a variety of churches that could be considered Protestant or unaffiliated, and 25% professing Catholic beliefs. The same survey says that other religions (including, for example, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism) collectively make up about 4% of the adult population, another 15% of the adult population claim no religious affiliation, and 5.2% said they did not know, or they refused to reply. According to a 2012 survey by the Pew forum, 36 percent of Americans state that they attend services nearly every week or more.
Despite a high level of religious adherence, only 9% of Americans in a 2008 poll said religion was the most important thing in their life, compared with 45% who said family was paramount in their life and 17% who said money and career was paramount.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Freedom of religion
- 3 Abrahamic religions
- 4 Dharmic religions
- 5 No religion
- 6 Others
- 7 Major denominations founded in the United States
- 8 Government positions
- 9 Statistics
- 10 Religion and politics
- 11 Membership reported by congregations
- 12 ARIS findings regarding self-identification
- 13 Ethnicity
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
From early colonial days, when some English and German settlers came in search of religious freedom, America has been profoundly influenced by religion. That influence continues in American culture, social life, and politics. Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by settlers who wished to practice their own religion within a community of like-minded people: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by English Puritans (Congregationalists), Pennsylvania by British Quakers, Maryland by English Catholics, and Virginia by English Anglicans.
The text of the First Amendment to the country's Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It guarantees the free exercise of religion while also preventing the government from establishing a state religion. The Supreme Court has also interpreted this as preventing the government from having any authority in religion.
According to a 2002 survey by the Pew forum, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that religion plays an important role in their lives, compared to 33% in Great Britain, 27% in Italy, and 21% in Germany. The survey report stated that the results showed America having a greater similarity to developing nations (where higher percentages say that religion plays an important role) than to other wealthy nations, where religion plays a minor role.
In 1963, 90% of Americans claimed to be Christians; 2% professed no religious identity. In 2012, the percentage of Christians was closer to 70%; 13% claimed no religious identity.
Freedom of religion
Although some New England States continued to use tax money to fund local Congregational churches into the 1830s, the United States claims to have been the first nation to have no official state-endorsed religion.
Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the framers of the Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the federal government any power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise, thus protecting any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference. The decision was mainly influenced by European Rationalist and Protestant ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent them.
The largest religion in the US is Christianity, claimed by the majority of the population (76% in 2008). From those queried, roughly 51% of Americans are Protestants, 24% are Catholics, 1.7% are Mormons (the name commonly used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and 1.7% have affiliations with various other Christian denominations. Christianity was introduced during the period of European colonization.
According to the 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, from which members in the United States are combined with Canadian members, and of the National Council of Churches, the five largest denominations are:
- The Catholic Church, 68,503,456 members
- The Southern Baptist Convention, 16,160,088 members
- The United Methodist Church, 7,774,931 members
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6,321,416  members
- The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members
The Southern Baptist Convention, with over 16 million adherents, is the largest of more than 200 distinctly named Protestant denominations. As of 2007, members of Evangelical Churches comprise 26% of the American population, while another 18% belong to mainline Protestant churches, and 7% belong to historically black churches.
Due to its large population and history, the United States has numerically more Catholics and Protestants than any other country in the world. Other countries, however, have higher percentages of Catholics and Protestants within their total populations.
Beginning in the 17th century, Northern European peoples introduced Protestantism. Among Protestants, Anglicans, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Quakers, and Moravians were the first to settle in the US, spreading their faith in the new country.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Spanish (and later the French and English) introduced Catholicism. From the 19th century to the present, Catholics came to the US in large numbers due to immigration of Italians, Hispanics, Portuguese, French, Polish, Irish, Highland Scots, Dutch, Flemish, Hungarians, Germans, Lebanese, and other ethnic groups.
Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and South Indian immigrants brought Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy to the United States. These branches of Christianity have since spread beyond the boundaries of ethnic immigrant communities and now include multi-ethnic membership and parishes.
Several Christian groups were founded in American during the Great Awakenings. Interdenominational evangelicalism and Pentecostalism emerged; new Protestant denominations such as Adventism; non-denominational movements such as the Restoration Movement (which over time separated into the Churches of Christ the Christian churches and churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)); Jehovah's Witnesses (called 'Bible Students' in the later part of the 19th century); and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism).
The strength of various sects varies greatly in different regions of the country, with rural parts of the South (except Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and the Hispanic community, which both consist mainly of Catholics), having many evangelicals but very few Catholics, while urbanized areas of the north Atlantic states and Great Lakes, as well as many industrial and mining towns, are heavily Catholic, though still quite mixed, especially due to the heavily Protestant African-American communities. As of 1990, nearly 72% of the population of Utah was Mormon, as well as 26% of neighboring Idaho. Lutheranism is most prominent in the Upper Midwest, with North Dakota having the highest percentage of Lutherans (35% according to a 2001 survey.)
Despite its status as the most widespread and influential religion in the US, Christianity has undergone a continuous relative decline in demographics. While the absolute number of Christians rose from 1990 to 2008 as the overall population increased, the actual percentage of Christians dropped from 86% to 76%. A nationwide telephone interview of 1,002 adults conducted by The Barna Group found that 70% of American adults believe that God is "the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today", and that 9% of all American adults and 0.5% young adults hold to what the survey defined as a "biblical worldview".
After Christianity, Judaism is the next largest religious affiliation in the US, though this identification is not necessarily indicative of religious beliefs or practices. There are between 5.3 and 6.6 million Jews. A significant number of people identify themselves as American Jews on ethnic and cultural grounds, rather than religious ones. For example, 19% of self-identified American Jews believe God does not exist. The 2001 ARIS study projected from its sample that there are about 5.3 million adults in the American Jewish population: 2.83 million adults (1.4% of the U.S. adult population) are estimated to be adherents of Judaism; 1.08 million are estimated to be adherents of no religion; and 1.36 million are estimated to be adherents of a religion other than Judaism. ARIS 2008 estimated about 2.68 million adults (1.2%) in the country identify Judaism as their faith.
Jews have been present in what is now the US since the 17th century, though large scale immigration did not take place until the 19th century, largely as a result of persecutions in parts of Eastern Europe. The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe. There are, however, small numbers of older (and some recently arrived) communities of Sephardi Jews with roots tracing back to 15th century Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and North Africa). There are also Mizrahi Jews (from the Middle East, Caucasia and Central Asia), as well as much smaller numbers of Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, Kaifeng Jews and others from various smaller Jewish ethnic divisions. Approximately 25% of the Jewish American population lives in New York City.
According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, 1.7% of adults in the U.S. identify Judaism as their religion. Among those surveyed, 43% said they were Reform Jews, 31% said they were Conservative Jews, and 10% said they were Orthodox Jews. According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, 38% of Jews were affiliated with the Reform tradition, 35% were Conservative, 6% were Orthodox, 1% were Reconstructionists, 10% linked themselves to some other tradition, and 10% said they are "just Jewish."
A 2009 study estimated the Jewish population (including both those who define themselves as Jewish by religion and those who define themselves as Jewish in cultural or ethnic terms) to be between 6.0 and 6.4 million. According to a study done in 2000 there were an estimated 6.14 million Jewish people in the country, about 2% of the population.
According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, 4.3 million American Jewish adults have some sort of strong connection to the Jewish community, whether religious or cultural. Jewishness is generally considered an ethnic identity as well as a religious one. Among the 4.3 million American Jews described as "strongly connected" to Judaism, over 80% have some sort of active engagement with Judaism, ranging from attendance at daily prayer services on one end of the spectrum to attending Passover Seders or lighting Hanukkah candles on the other. The survey also discovered that Jews in the Northeast and Midwest are generally more observant than Jews in the South or West. Reflecting a trend also observed among other religious groups, Jews in the Northwestern United States are typically the least observant of tradition.
Beginning in the 1960s, a worldwide movement among previously secular Jews, called baalei teshuva ("returners", returning to a more religious, in most cases, Orthodox, style of observance) has had a noticeable presence in America. It is uncertain how widespread or demographically important this movement is at present.
Islam is the 3rd largest faith in America, after Christianity and Judaism, representing 0.8% of the population. Islam in America effectively began with the arrival of African slaves. It is estimated that about 10% of African slaves transported to the United States were Muslim. Most, however, became Christians, and the United States did not have a significant Muslim population until the arrival of immigrants from Arab and East Asian Muslim areas. Islam gained a higher profile through the Nation of Islam, a religious group that appealed to black Americans after the 1940s; its prominent converts included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The first Muslim elected in Congress was Keith Ellison in 2006, followed by Andre Carson in 2008.
Research indicates that Muslims in the US are generally more assimilated and prosperous than Muslims in Europe. Like other subcultural and religious communities, the Islamic community has generated its own political organizations and charity organizations.
The United States has perhaps the second largest Bahá'í community in the world. First mention of the Faith in the U.S. was at the inaugural Parliament of World Religions, which was held at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. In 1894, Ibrahim Kheiralla, a Syrian Bahá'í immigrant established a community in the U.S. He later left the main group and founded a rival movement.
During the late 19th century Buddhist missionaries from Japan came to the US. During the same time period, US intellectuals started to take interest in Buddhism.
The first prominent US citizen to publicly convert to Buddhism was Henry Steel Olcott. An event that contributed to the strengthening of Buddhism in the US was the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893, which was attended by many Buddhist delegates sent from India, China, Japan,Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
The early 20th century was characterized by a continuation of tendencies that had their roots in the 19th century. The second half, by contrast, saw the emergence of new approaches, and the move of Buddhism into the mainstream and making itself a mass and social religious phenomenon.
Many foreign associations and teachers—such as Soka Gakkai and Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama for Tibetan Buddhism)—started to organize missionary activities, while US converts established the first Western-based Buddhist institutions, temples and worship groups.
The first time Hinduism entered the US is not clearly identifiable. However, large groups of Hindus have immigrated from India and other Asian countries since the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. During the 1960s and 1970s Hinduism exercised fascination contributing to the development of New Age thought. During the same decades the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (a Vaishnavite Hindu reform organization) was founded in the US.
In 2004 the Hindu American Foundation—a national institution protecting rights the Hindu community of US—was founded.
Adherents of Jainism first arrived in the United States in the 20th century. The most significant time of Jain immigration was in the early 1970s. The United States has since become a center of the Jain Diaspora. The Federation of Jain Associations in North America is an umbrella organization of local American and Canadian Jain congregations to preserve, practice, and promote Jainism and the Jain Way of Life.
Around 1900, the state of Punjab of British India was hit hard by British practices of mercantilism. Some Sikhs emigrated to the United States to work on farms in California. They were the first community to come from India to the US in large numbers.
This group includes atheists, agnostics and people who describe their religion as "nothing in particular".
"Unaffiliated" does not necessarily mean "non-religious". Some people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion express religious beliefs (such as belief in God or reincarnation) and engage in religious practices (such as prayer or meditation).
Agnosticism, atheism, deism and humanism
A 2001 survey directed by Dr. Ariela Keysar for the City University of New York indicated that, amongst the more than 100 categories of response, "no religious identification" had the greatest increase in population in both absolute and percentage terms. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no theistic religious beliefs or practices. Figures are up from 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, representing an increase from 8% of the total population in 1990 to 15% in 2008. A nation-wide Pew Research study published in 2008 put the figure of unaffiliated persons at 16.1%, while another Pew study published in 2012 was described as placing the proportion at about 20% overall and roughly 33% for the 18–29-year-old demographic.
In the United States, Enlightenment philosophy (which itself was heavily inspired by deist ideals) played a major role in creating the principle of religious freedom, expressed in Thomas Jefferson's letters and included in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. American Founding Fathers, or Framers of the Constitution, who were especially noted for being influenced by such philosophy of deism include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Cornelius Harnett, Gouverneur Morris, and Hugh Williamson. Their political speeches show distinct deistic influence. Other notable Founding Fathers may have been more directly deist. These include Thomas Paine, James Madison, possibly Alexander Hamilton, and Ethan Allen,
In a 2006 nationwide poll, University of Minnesota researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who trusted them less than Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society". They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism. However, the same study also reported that "The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one's exposure to diversity, education and political orientation – with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts." Some surveys have indicated that doubts about the existence of a god were growing quickly among Americans under 30.
On 24 March 2012, American Atheists sponsored the Reason Rally in Washington D.C. This was followed by the American Atheist Convention at the Bethesda North Marriott and Convention Center in Bethesda, MD. Organizers called the estimated crowd of 8,000–10,000 the largest-ever gathering of nonbelievers in one place.
Belief in the existence of a god
Various polls have been conducted to determine Americans' actual beliefs regarding a god:
- A 2006 CBS News Poll of 899 U.S. adults found that 76% of those surveyed believed in a god, while 9% believed in "some other universal spirit or higher power", 8% believed in neither, and 1% were unsure.
- A 2007 Gallup Poll found that 86% of Americans believe in a god, with 8% saying they are not sure, and 6% saying they don't believe in a god.
- According to a 2008 ARIS survey, belief in god varies considerably by region. The lowest rate is in the West with 59% reporting a belief in God, and the highest rate in the South at 86%.
- Mark Chaves, a Duke University professor of sociology, religion and divinity, found that 92% of Americans believed in God in 2008, but that significantly fewer Americans have great confidence in their religious leaders than a generation ago.
- A 2008 survey of 1,000 people concluded that, based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification, 69.5% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12.3% of Americans are atheist or agnostic, and another 12.1% are deistic (believing in a higher power/non-personal God, but no personal God).
- A late 2009 online Harris poll of 2,303 U.S. adults (18 and older) found that "82% of adult Americans believe in God", the same number as in two earlier polls in 2005 and 2007. Another 9% said they did not believe in God, and 9% said that they were not sure. It further concluded, "Large majorities also believe in miracles (76%), heaven (75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (73%), in angels (72%), the survival of the soul after death (71%), and in the resurrection of Jesus (70%). Less than half (45%) of adults believe in Darwin's theory of evolution but this is more than the 40% who believe in creationism..... Many people consider themselves Christians without necessarily believing in some of the key beliefs of Christianity. However, this is not true of born-again Christians. In addition to their religious beliefs, large minorities of adults, including many Christians, have "pagan" or pre-Christian beliefs such as a belief in ghosts, astrology, witches and reincarnation.... Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated."
- A 2010 Gallup poll found 80% of Americans believe in a god, 12% believe in a universal spirit, 6% don't believe in either, 1% chose "other", and 1% had no opinion. This is down only slightly from the 1940s, when Gallup first asked this question.
- A 2011 Gallup poll found 92% of Americans said yes to the question "Do you believe in God?", while 7% said no and 1% had no opinion.
- A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that doubts about the existence of a god have grown rapidly among younger Americans, with 68% telling Pew they never doubt God's existence, a 15-point drop in just five years. In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God's existence.
- A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll showed that 5% of Americans considered themselves "convinced" atheists, which was a fivefold increase from the last time the survey was taken in 2005, and 5% said they did not know or else did not respond.
Many other religions are represented in the United States, including Shinto, Caodaism, Thelema, Santería, Kemetism, Religio Romana, Kaldanism, Zoroastrianism, Vodou, and many forms of New Age spirituality.
Native American religions
Native American religions historically exhibited much diversity, and are often characterized by animism or panentheism. The membership of Native American religions in the 21st century comprises about 9000 people.
Neopaganism in the United States is represented by widely different movements and organizations. The largest Neopagan religion is Wicca, followed by Neo-Druidism. Other neopagan movements include Germanic Neopaganism, Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism, and Semitic Neopaganism.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), there are approximately 30,000 druids in the United States. Modern Druidism came to North America first in the form of fraternal Druidic organizations in the nineteenth century and orders such as the Ancient Order of Druids in America were founded as distinct American groups as early as 1912. In 1963, the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) was founded by students at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. They adopted elements of Neopaganism into their practices, for instance celebrating the festivals of the Wheel of the Year.
Wicca advanced in North America in the 1960s by Raymond Buckland, an expatriate Briton who visited Gardner's Isle of Man coven to gain initiation. Universal Eclectic Wicca was popularized in 1969 a diverse membership drawing from both Dianic and British Traditional Wiccan backgrounds.
New Thought Movement
A group of churches which started in the 1830s in the United States is known under the banner of "New Thought". These churches share a spiritual, metaphysical and mystical predisposition and understanding of the Bible and were strongly influenced by the Transcendentalist movement particularly the work of Emerson. Another antecedent of this movement was Swedenborgianism, founded on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg in 1787. The New Thought concept was named by Emma Curtis Hopkins ("teacher of teachers") after Hopkins broke off from Mary Baker Eddy's Church of Christ, Scientist. The movement had been previously known as the Mental Sciences or The Christian Sciences. The three major branches are Religious Science, Unity Church and Divine Science.
Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a result of that search and not obedience to an authoritarian requirement.
Major denominations founded in the United States
- Anglican Church in North America – broke from the Episcopal Church in 2009 to protest against the latter denomination's liberalizing tendencies.
- Calvary Chapel
- Polish National Catholic Church – broke from Rome in 1897.
- Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ – a restoration movement with no governing body. The Restoration Movement solidified as a historical phenomenon in 1832 when restorationists from two major movements championed by Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell merged.
- Pentecostalism – movement which emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit, finds its historic roots in the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California, from 1904 to 1906, sparked by Charles Parham.
- Adventism – began as an inter-denominational movement. Its most vocal leader was William Miller, who in the 1830s in New York became convinced of an imminent Second Coming of Jesus. The most prominent modern group to emerge from this is the Seventh-day Adventists.
- Nation of Islam – A sect of Islam, created and followed solely by African-Americans; redefined "Allah" as someone "who came in the person of W. D. Fard."
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) – founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1830 in the Burned Over District of upstate New York. Now headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
- New Thought Movement – two of the early proponents of New Thought beliefs during the mid to late 19th century were Phineas Parkhurst Quimby and the Mother of New Thought Emma Curtis Hopkins. The three major branches are Religious Science, Unity Church and Divine Science.
- Jehovah's Witnesses – originated with the religious movement known as Bible Students, which was founded in Pennsylvania in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. Loosely connected in its early years with Adventism, with which it shares some similarities.
- Scientology – founded by L. Ron Hubbard.
- Christian Science – founded by Mary Baker Eddy.
- Reconstructionist Judaism – founded by Mordecai Kaplan.
- Native American Church – founded by Quanah Parker beginning in the 1890s and incorporating in 1918.
- Church Of Satan – founded by Anton LaVey in San Francisco, California, 1966.
- Metropolitan Community Church – founded by Troy Perry in Los Angeles, California, 1968.
The First Amendment guarantees both the free practice of religion and the non-establishment of religion by the federal government (later court decisions have extended that prohibition to the states). The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was modified in 1954 to add the phrase "under God", in order to distinguish itself from the state atheism espoused by the Soviet Union.
Various American presidents have often stated the importance of religion. On February 20, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that "Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism." President Gerald Ford agreed with and repeated this statement in 1974.
The U.S. Census does not ask about religion. Various groups have conducted surveys to determine approximate percentages of those affiliated with each religious group. Some surveys ask people to self-identify, while others calculate church memberships. The first table below represents the ranges that have been found.
- Christianity: (59.9% to 78.4%)
- Unaffiliated, including atheist or agnostic (15.0% to 37.3%)
- Judaism (1.2% to 2.2%)
- Islam (0.6%)
- Buddhism (0.5% to 0.9%)
- Hinduism (0.4%)
- Unitarian Universalism (0.3%)
- Wicca/Paganism/Druidry (0.1%)
- Other (~1%)
|Affiliation||% of U.S. population|
|Nothing in particular||13.9|
|Don't know/refused answer||2|
Gallup International indicates that 41.6% of American citizens report they regularly attend religious services, compared to 15% of French citizens, 10% of UK citizens, and 7.5% of Australian citizens.
In 2006, an online Harris Poll (they stated that the magnitude of errors cannot be estimated due to sampling errors, non-response,etc.; 2,010 U.S. adults were surveyed) found that 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 9% went "once or twice a month", 21% went "a few times a year", 3% went "once a year", 22% went "less than once a year", and 18% never attend religious services.
Church attendance varies considerably by state and region. In a 2009 Gallup survey, 41.6% of Americans said that they attended church or synagogue once a week or almost every week. The figures ranged from 63% in Mississippi to 23% in Vermont.
|35||District of Columbia||36%|
Religion and politics
In August 2010 67% of Americans said religion is losing influence, compared with 59% who said this in 2006. Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (79%), while mainline Protestants (67%), Black Protestants (56%), Catholics (71%), and the religiously unaffiliated (62%) all agree that religion is losing influence on American life; 53% of the total public says this is a bad thing while just 10% see it as a good thing.
Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning, and Fundamentalist and Black Protestants are highly politically active. However, to keep their status as tax-exempt organizations they must not officially endorse a candidate. Historically Catholics were heavily Democrats before the 1970s, while mainline Protestants comprised the core of the Republican Party. Those patterns have faded away—Catholics, for example, now split about 50–50. However, white evangelicals since 1980 have made up a solidly Republican group that favors conservative candidates. Secular voters are increasingly Democratic.
Only three presidential candidates for major parties have been Catholics, all for the Democratic party:
- Alfred E. Smith in presidential election of 1928 was subjected to anti-Catholic rhetoric, which seriously hurt him in the Baptist areas of the South and Lutheran areas of the Midwest, but he did well in the Catholic urban strongholds of the Northeast.
- John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In the 1960 election, Kennedy faced accusations that as a Catholic President he would do as the Pope would tell him to do, a charge that Kennedy refuted in a famous address to Protestant ministers.
- John Kerry won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. In the 2004 election religion was hardly an issue, and most Catholics voted for his Protestant opponent.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is Mormon and a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is the former governor of the state of Massachusetts and his father George Romney was the governor of the state of Michigan. The Romneys were involved in Mormonism in their states and in the state of Utah.
Membership reported by congregations
The table below is based mainly on data reported by individual denominations to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, and published in 2011 by the National Council of Churches of Christ in USA. It only includes religious bodies reporting 60,000 or more members. The definition of a member is determined by each religious body.
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) surveyed congregations for their memberships. Churches were asked for their membership numbers. Adjustments were made for those congregations that did not respond and for religious groups that reported only adult membership. ARDA estimates that most of the churches not responding were black Protestant congregations. Significant difference in results from other databases include the lower representation of adherents of 1> all kinds (62.7%), 2>Christians (59.9%) 3>Protestants (less than 36%); and the greater number of unaffiliated (37.3%).
| % in
|Total US pop year 2010||308,745,538||100.0%|
|other – including Mormon & Christ Scientist||13,146,919||4.3%|
|The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon, LDS)||6,144,582||2.0%|
|other – excluding Mormon||7,002,337||2.3%|
ARIS findings regarding self-identification
The United States government does not collect religious data in its census. The survey below, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008, was a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 54,461 American residential households in the contiguous United States. The 1990 sample size was 113,723; 2001 sample size was 50,281.
Adult respondents were asked the open-ended question, "What is your religion, if any?" Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. The religion of the spouse or partner was also asked. If the initial answer was "Protestant" or "Christian" further questions were asked to probe which particular denomination. About one third of the sample was asked more detailed demographic questions.
Religious Self-Identification of the U.S. Adult Population: 1990, 2001, 2008
Figures are not adjusted for refusals to reply; investigators suspect refusals are possibly more representative of "no religion" than any other group.
in % of
|Adult population, total||175,440||207,983||228,182||30.1%|
|Adult population, responded||171,409||196,683||216,367||26.2%||97.7%||94.6%||94.8%||−2.9%|
|United Church of Christ||438||1,378||736||68.0%||0.2%||0.7%||0.3%||0.1%|
|Protestant – Unspecified||17,214||4,647||5,187||−69.9%||9.8%||2.2%||2.3%||−7.5%|
|Pentecostal – Unspecified||3,116||4,407||5,416||73.8%||1.8%||2.1%||2.4%||0.6%|
|Assemblies of God||617||1,105||810||31.3%||0.4%||0.5%||0.4%||0.0%|
|Church of God||590||943||663||12.4%||0.3%||0.5%||0.3%||0.0%|
|Other Protestant Denominations||4,630||5,949||7,131||54.0%||2.6%||2.9%||3.1%||0.5%|
|Churches of Christ||1,769||2,593||1,921||8.6%||1.0%||1.2%||0.8%||−0.2%|
|Mormon/Latter Day Saints||2,487||2,697||3,158||27.0%||1.4%||1.3%||1.4%||0.0%|
|Total non-Christian religions||5,853||7,740||8,796||50.3%||3.3%||3.7%||3.9%||0.5%|
|New Religious Movements & Others||1,296||1,770||2,804||116.4%||0.7%||0.9%||1.2%||0.5%|
|None/No religion, total||14,331||29,481||34,169||138.4%||8.2%||14.2%||15.0%||6.8%|
|Did Not Know/Refused to reply||4,031||11,300||11,815||193.1%||2.3%||5.4%||5.2%||2.9%|
- The ARIS 2008 survey was carried out during February–November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.
- The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.
- 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.
- The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001.
- The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
- 34% of American adults considered themselves "Born Again or Evangelical Christians" in 2008.
- The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every seven Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.
- The "Nones" (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.
- Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.
- One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
- Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
- America's religious geography has been transformed since 1990. Religious switching along with Hispanic immigration has significantly changed the religious profile of some states and regions. Between 1990 and 2008, the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% and in New York it fell from 44% to 37%, while it rose in California from 29% to 37% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.
- Overall the 1990–2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.
The table below shows the religious affiliations among the ethnicities in the United States, according to the Pew Forum 2007 survey. People of Black ethnicity were most likely to be part of a formal religion, with 85% percent being Christians. Protestant denominations make up the majority of the Christians in the ethnicities.
|Other world religions||<0.5%||<0.5%||2%||<0.5%||<0.5%|
|Unaffiliated (including atheist and agnostic)||16%||12%||23%||20%||14%|
- Freedom of religion in the United States
- Historical religious demographics of the United States
- List of religious movements that began in the United States
- Religion in United States prisons
- Separation of church and state in the United States
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|Religions by country|
- Association of Religion Data Archives
- 2008 ARIS Survey
- CNN Article on 2008 Pew Results, 2/25/2008
- Religious Affiliation Underestimated in U.S., Study Shows
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