01: While scholars have found that many Americans are “believing without belonging,” there are many who belong to religious groups but don’t believe, according to sociologist Darren Sherkat.
Writing on the Immanent Frame, a blog of the Social Science Council, Sherkat writes that many scholars are “somewhat dismissive” of trends in disaffiliation, arguing that Americans still believe, even if they don’t belong to religious institutions. But Sherkat writes that “there are far more people who belong to religious groups but not do not believe than there are people who believe but don’t belong.”
People have belonged to religious institutions not just because of belief, but for a whole range of social reasons (such as family and friendship ties). Sherkat looked at data from the General Social Surveys from 1998 to 2008 and found a connection between the two trends of believing without belonging and belonging without believing. In focusing on beliefs in the divine authority of the Bible and “personal gods,” Sherkat found that 12 percent belonged to religious institutions in 1998, but didn’t hold to these institutions’ beliefs, while that rate dropped to under 11 percent in 2008.
In contrast, the percentage of Americans who “believe but don’t belong” increased from 3.3 percent (in the authority of the Bible) or 3.5 percent (in a personal god/gods) to 6.7 percent or 6.5 percent, respectively, between 1988 and 2008. The fact that those who belonged but did not believe decreased suggests that “non-believers are becoming less likely to belong to religious groups for social reasons, and this probably also explains why more believers also choose not to belong—social norms mandating religious ties are receding.”
(Sherkat did not count as believers those who view God as a spiritual force—disqualifying many of those falling into the “spiritual but not religious” category.)
02: Members of the Millennial generation (those born in 1981 or later) show higher rates of disaffiliation than earlier generations, yet they remain fairly traditional in religion, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
One in four adults under the age of 30 are unaffiliated, calling themselves “atheists,” “agnostics” or “nothing in particular.” Only 19 percent of those over 30 describe themselves as such, and around 14 percent of those in their 40s and 50s. In fact, Millennials are significantly more likely to be unaffiliated than members of “Generation X” were at the same age (20 percent).
These young adults also attend religious services less than older Americans, and fewer say that religion is important to them compared to their elders. But young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of miracles are about the same as those of older people, according to the survey. There are also similar rates of those Millennials claiming they pray every day and believe in God with absolute certainty to those of their elders. These patterns suggest that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans are not entirely generational, but result in part from religion becoming more important as people age.
(This study is available at: http:// www.pewforum.org/docs/? DocID=510#introduction)
03: A study of surviving American spiritual communal groups and how they have changed over a 46year period finds more differences than commonalities, with external changes being as important as internal changes.
An article by Timothy Miller in the journal Nova Religio (February) looks at five case studies of communal religious groups that have lasted since their establishment in the 1960s and 70s—the messianic Christian group Twelve Tribes; the Eastern religious-oriented The Farm; the meditation-based Divine Light Mission; Ananda, an Indian-oriented spiritual group; the Tibetan Buddhist Shambhala Mountain Center; and the New Age Renaissance Community. Miller finds as many trajectories as there are communitarian groups; some, such as the Renaissance Community, have notably declined, while the Twelve Tribes and the Shambhala Center are still flourishing.
Miller notes that the usual factors, such as leadership turnovers and the maturation of membership, have change these communities, but external developments can also have a significant impact. Most notably, zoning regulations may be radically changing the future growth and existence of communal spiritual groups. Ever-more stringent zoning laws, forbidding multiple dwelling units, have put some communes out of business entirely (such as the Israel Family of Washington state).
“The widespread public fear of new religious movements takes a particularly heavy toll on communal groups,” Miller writes.
(Nova Religio, University of California Press, 2000 Center St., Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223)
04: A range of networks and open channels of communication created between governments and Muslim communities and other multicultural policies may have made the difference between the unrest in Denmark over the cartoon controversy in 2005 and 2006 and the more benign Islamic response to a similar incident in Sweden.
That was one of the conclusions of a preliminary study by Emily Bech of Columbia University on religious identity and immigrant incorporation in Scandinavia. Bech, who was speaking at a Columbia seminar in late February attended by RW, traced the similarities in waves of immigration and the establishment of multicultural policies in Sweden and Denmark starting in the 1970s. But this changed as Denmark adopted a number of restrictive policies, such as language requirements (at the tenth grade reading level), mainly under the influence of the conservative Danish People’s Party.
The differences were also reflected on the popular level; although both Sweden and Denmark register low rates of personal religiosity, in a Eurobarometer survey, 33 percent of Danes agreed that citizens should share the same religion, compared to 17 percent among Swedes. When the controversy over the cartoons caricaturing Mohammed broke out in Denmark in 2005 and 2006, protesting Danish Muslims found few channels to express their grievances or to engage in dialogue with the public or the government; the prime minister and ambassadors of Muslim countries refused to meet with increasingly angry protestors.
There were also few support networks among Muslims, along with a greater representation of “fundamentalists” in the Danish Islamic community, according to Bech. In contrast, when another offensive cartoon was published in 2007 in Sweden, long-established Muslim organizations took the lead in responding. The way in which the controversy was framed tended to “tone down the response,” with Muslim leaders arguing that it would not be appropriate to ban the offending publications.
The Swedish prime minister visited a mosque and met with 20 Muslim country ambassadors. Bech said that the disestablishment of the Church of Sweden in 2000 and the fact that, unlike in Denmark, Muslims groups receive public funds along with churches may also be a contributing factor for the different response in Sweden. Bech, however, does see an emerging official emphasis on encouraging “democratic and social citizenship” in Denmark.
05: The correlation between education and religious belief is weakening and even being reversed in Britain, according to recent survey research.
An article in the New Scientist (March 3) cites the 2008 British Social Attitudes Survey as showing, for example, that about 25 percent of men between 25 and 34 claiming “no religion” have degrees, compared with around 40 percent of those describing themselves as religious. For women and other minorities in the same category, the differences were less marked, “but the trend is the same,” write Lois Lee and Stephen Bullivant.
This finding appears to contradict findings showing a positive correlation between lack of belief in God and education, as shown in the 2005 World Values Survey, but even in that case the effect was weaker among those with a higher education. A recent study of Oxford University students shows a high rate of disaffiliation (49.6 percent) and atheism (48.9 percent). University of Manchester demographer David Voas says that one reason why a greater number religious people are degree holders may be that “better educated people have typically reflected on religion and have the self-confidence to come down decisively, on one side or the other.”
It may also be that the relationship between education and non-belief may be stronger at first, and as this perspective spreads across the population, the education levels associated with it may average out.