Nearly 30 million Americans said they had no religion, according to a recent survey.
The American Religious Identification Survey 2001, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, indicated that 14 percent of the nation’s citizens had no religion. That is up from 8 percent in 1990 when the group first conducted the survey.
ARIS also revealed that “nearly 20 percent of adults who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic reported that either they themselves or someone else in their household is a member of a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or some other religious institution.”
By contrast, nearly 40 percent of those identifying with a certain religion said neither they themselves nor anyone else in their household belonged to a church or other religious institution.
Women were more likely than men and older Americans more likely than younger Americans, to describe themselves as religious, according to ARIS. Black Americans were the least likely to describe themselves as secular, while Asian Americans were most likely to do so.
Evangelical Christians (790,000 gain) and nondenominational Christians (2.29 million gain) joined the non-religious as the top three “gainers” from 1990 to 2001. Follow the link at the bottom of the story to view the totals for each religious group.
“Historical traces of the Bible belt in the South and an irreligious West are still evident,” ARIS reported.
Those claiming no religion comprised the highest group in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. In North and South Dakota, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, those who adhered to no religion numbered below 10 percent.
“Experts see people looking upward, inward, online and out-of-doors for the comfort, connection and inspiration they once sought in formal sanctuaries,” according to USA TODAY. “Their ‘spirituality’ is unhemmed by ritual, Scripture or theology.”
“People aren’t really saying, ‘I have no religion.’ They are saying, ‘None of the above,'” University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark, co-author of Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion, told USA TODAY.
Stark said he sees the shift as an expression of culture, history and immigration patterns. This is accentuated in the West by the waves of pioneers, refugees, entrepreneurs and restless youth, he told USA TODAY.
Most Americans still claim a religion, ARIS reported.
This majority represented a counterargument to the theory that the more developed a country, the more its citizens move away from religion, Ronald Inglehart, head of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, told USA TODAY.
Americans break the mold, he said. “Even if you look at the easiest measure of religiosity—church attendance—the USA has 30% to 32% per week depending on which poll you look at, but comparably wealthy countries in Northern Europe have 5% to 15%.”
But those outside religious camps see the numbers as representing a culture that is becoming more pluralistic and diverse.
“The ranks of those who reject religious doctrines and movements is thriving in the United States,” according to Atheists.org. “This is a diverse and politically independent group, of course, that will likely never march under any one banner, label or organization—as it should be.”
The site also pointed out that this growing group does have common perspectives on issues like civil rights for atheists, separation of church and state and civil liberties in general.
Larger than many denominations, the “no religion” group, Atheists.org noted, “is a potential sleeping giant waiting to flex its political and cultural influence.”
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.