There have recently been several books and major articles about “cultural creatives” and other influential Americans who set the trends in society.
A series on the “creative class” in the Austin American-Statesman (Dec. 29) newspaper reports that an important trait of this group of Americans is their high interest in spirituality while showing less confidence in organized religion. Many books and articles have been devoted to this divorce between spirituality and religion, usually in relation to the baby boom generation, but writers Mark Lisheron and Bill Bishop note that this trend is more “advanced in U.S. cities that are the centers of technology and innovation, the nation’s cities of ideas.”
When the newspaper examined polling data collected by an advertising agency since the mid-1970s, it was found that people in these cities of ideas, such as Seattle, Denver, Atlanta and Austin, were less likely to attend church regularly than in cities with more traditional economies. These people are more likely to be involved in individualistic activities and have an interest in other cultures, yet like other Americans, they still have an interest in spiritual matters.
The trends of incorporating spirituality into work and creating congregations that blend various spiritualties are typical creative class innovations. The article views these individuals as being in the vanguard of challenging traditional religious forms, but concludes that it “remains to be seen if this creative class will reorder Christianity or bring chaos.”
The new book The Influentials (The Free Press, $26) explores how one class (they are not labeled as cultural creatives) influences other Americans and bring about wide-spread changes. Authors Ed Keller and Jon Berry use decades of Roper surveys to identify influential individuals — one in 10 Americans — who have special skills in networking and word-of-mouth conversation, are highly informed, and strongly active in their communities. Helped along by the Internet and the rising rate of education in the U.S., these influentials are adept at popularizing trends and products for the rest of Americans as well as globally .
The influentials were among the first to have personal computers and have helped revive notions of self reliance in education and health care. In religion, Keller and Berry find that the influentials are more active in organized religious life than other Americans, with six in ten going to church or synagogue services in the past month, and the majority going every week. More than one in 10 currently has a leadership position in a congregation or other religious group, which is triple the rate of the public as a whole. Yet the influentials are not significantly more likely to say that religion is “very important” in their lives (only half do).
They are not strict in their religious observance, and, disproportionate to the public as a whole, they tend to portray themselves as “spiritual but uncomfortable with organized religion” (22 percent, which is ten points higher than the public).
It seems clear that the creative class and the influentials (if they can be parsed apart as two distinct groups) differ sharply in their level of involvement in religious institutions. But both classes overlap in valuing spirituality over institutional involvement — which may mean that the spiritual market place will expand in the years ahead, even if organized religion stabilizes or declines.