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Religion Becomes Less Important To Americans


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

According to the findings of the new American Religious Identification Survey, the percentage of people in the United States who stop calling themselves Christians, nearly doubled in the past two decades, growing to 15 per cent last year.

The study, by the researchers at Connecticut's Trinity College, appears to be one of the nation's largest ever religious surveys. It tracked more than 54,000 people in English and in Spanish over the period of nine years, and found out that the number of Americans identifying themselves as Christians has gone down from 86 per cent in 1990 to 76 per cent in 2008. According to the survey, about 90 per cent of the decline comes from the non-Catholic part of the Christian population, the largest from all mainline denominations, including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ.

The study reports three huge trends:

1) "Nones" - people who claim themselves as nondenominational; 15 per cent of all the respondents said that they had no religion at all, which is an increase from nearly 14 per cent in 2001 and 8.2 per cent in 1990.

2) Approximately 40 per cent of mainline Protestants now consider themselves as evangelical, or born again. The number of Christians who claim to be Protestant went down now to 5 million, which is a decrease from about 17 million in 1990. Mainline Protestants, as well as Methodists and Lutherans, went down to 12.9 per cent, a decrease from 19 per cent in 1990.

3) The massive Roman Catholic U.S. population has shifted to the Southwest from the Northwest. According to the researchers, there are now more catholics in California compared to those in New England.

All across the nation, Catholics still are the largest religious group, with 57 million people saying they belong to the church. Eleven million followers joined Catholicism since 1990, but its share of the population has dropped by about a percentage point to 25 per cent.

Nearly 12 per cent of the U.S population believe in a higher power but they do not believe in the personal God. Since 1990, not a significant share of respondents - 1.2 per cent - said that they were part of new religious movements, such as Scientology, Wicca and Santeria.

Numbers of Mormons remained steady over the period at 1.4 per cent of the population, while the number of Jews who identified themselves as religiously observant continued to go down, from 1.8 per cent in 1990 to 1.2 per cent, or 2.7 million individuals, in the previous year. The experts said that they are going to continue investigation in order to survey people who are Jewish by their culture, but are not religious. The study has also found that the percentage of Muslim American population went up to 0.6 per cent, while there was not much of a change concerning Eastern religions, such as Buddhism.

In addition, what appeared to be very surprising for the researchers, was the fact that the traditional organized religion turned out to be of no importance in the lives of many Americans. When asked, 30 per cent of married couples reported that they did not have a religious wedding ceremony, and 27 per cent of respondents said they did not want or expect to have a religious funeral.

While the numbers American Christian population has significantly dropped, the percentage of atheists and agnostics has increased more than twice after 2001. The number of Americans who identify themselves atheists is just 1.6 per cent, but based on what they consider to believe, 12 per cent are either atheist or agnostic. Other religions, such as Paganism, have also been on a more rapid rise during the past ten years, compared to the 90s.

A study was funded by the Lilly Endowment and the Posen Foundation.

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