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Pew study shows number of non-religious Americans on the rise

In the final Big Questions Over Lunch discussion of the semester, politics professor David Gutterman spoke on the growing trend of religiously unaffiliated people in America.

Titled ‘The Nones,” Gutterman’s seminar on Nov. 5 presented the facts and statistics behind the growing number of individuals leaving main-line churches and identifying as non-religious.  

The statistics show that the growth of “Nones” is comparable across the country and is a generational phenomenon.   

In a 2012 nationwide survey of 5,000 people — conducted by the Pew Religion and Public Life Project — 24 percent of 18-29 year olds said they do not believe in God or a higher being. While the data was collected between 2007 and 2012, the spike occurred in the late 90’s, and, according to Gutterman, “set the trend that we are seeing now.”

Parents who are unaffiliated are said to have a higher “retention rate,” as their children are more likely to stay unaffiliated than religious families’ children are to stay religious. This may also be a contributing factor to the recent rise in statistics, Gutterman says.

In addition, the statistics show that more people are now adjusting their religious beliefs to fit their political beliefs, instead of the other way around. Twenty-four percent of Democrats or democratically leaning registered voters identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew study.

“Political identification is leading religious identification,” Gutterman says. “There seems to be a distrust of authority attributed to the religious-right.”

Finding a Sense of Community

In addition to the growing number of young adults pursuing college degrees — and changes in age and roles within marriage — Gutterman says this shift is partially due to a change of desire to be in a religious group.

Instead of finding a sense of community and membership through religion, he says people are experiencing belonging through organizations of shared interests outside of religious groups.

“Being a member of a religious organization is becoming less important for social status,” Gutterman says. “Many people are saying, ‘if religion is merely about ethics, why go to church on Sunday?’”

Among the “Nones,” 28% of those polled still believe it’s important to participate in groups with shared values and beliefs.

Seth Radler '16, who attended the seminar, says Gutterman presented a lot of information in a humorous yet thoughtful manner. Though Radler thought economic classes and race may play large roles in religious affiliation, the statistics showed otherwise.

“I was struck most by the misconceptions I had, but he refuted them in a logical, informed and respectful way,” Radler says.  

Though the series is complete for the first semester, it will start up again in February.

• Article by Natalie Pate '15, politics major



11-08-2013