01: The recent Pew Religious Landscape Survey has received wide publicity for its findings on the decline of Christians and the growth of the unaffiliated, but the study’s figures on the growth of non-Christian religions are also noteworthy if more complex. According to Pew, Hinduism is now tied with Buddhism as the country’s fourth-largest religion, with approximately 2.23 million adherents. This suggests that the population of Hindus in the United States increased by more than 1 million since the 2008 Pew survey. Murali Balaji reports in the Huffington Post (May 19) that the research center did acknowledge a potential undercount last time. But even taking an undercount into consideration, the Pew figures are much larger than previous studies. “Even if, as Pew suggests, the growth of Hindus is fueled by immigration, the statistics of immigration from countries with high Hindu populations (India, Nepal, Guyana, Fiji, Bangladesh, Suriname, Trinidad, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius) would not be able to match the jump in numbers between surveys,” Balaji writes.
In 2008, Hinduism Today magazine, using U.S. Census Data, found that the number of Hindus in the U.S. was roughly 2.3 million. Why the disparity between the Hinduism Today and Pew findings? She writes that part of the answer may be due to the “respondent and population size and composition, as well as statistical assumptions about just who Hindus are. Hinduism Today, published by the Kauai Hindu Monastery and read widely by the Hindu-American community, likely had a larger and more responsive sample size, while Pew might have relied more on ‘traditional’ barometers of Hindu community growth, such as concentrations of Indian Americans.” Even then, the count on Hindus may face the same obstacles, as is the case with Muslims; both populations tend to largely include immigrants who are often reluctant to participate in surveys. Hinduism’s decentralization and diverse interpretations of what it actually means to be Hindu may be another reason for the disparity. It is also likely that second and third generation Hindus may not be part of the samples because fewer of them are part of the temple-attending community.
02: While there was never a distinct “Bible Belt” in the U.S., but rather a combination of “belts, buckles and notches,” those areas with high concentrations of evangelical churches and other identifiers have remained relatively stable since the early 2000s, according to a study in the new anthology The Changing World Religion Map (Springer, 2015). Authors Gerald R. Webster, Robert H. Watrel, J. Clark Archer and Stanley D. Brunn compared the spatial distribution of Bible Belt counties from 2000 to 2010, and the patterns remained very similar. In 2000, the greatest concentration of Bible Belt counties was in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma. But, the number of counties with over 40 percent adherence to Bible Belt denominations had decreased. The authors also found that “minor belts” within the South remain similar to the 2000 patterns, though they have become somewhat diluted. Most of the increases in the number of adherents were found in Bible Belt denominations in metropolitan counties—especially in the South—rather than rural counties.
03: The trend away from religious affiliation in the U.S. that has been documented in several recent surveys appears to be starting earlier—before the college years—than in previous generations, according to a study in the online interdisciplinary journal Plos One (May 11). Researchers Jean Twenge, Julie Exline, Joshua Grubbs, Ramya Sastry, and W. Keith Campbell analyze four large nationally representative surveys, finding that adolescents are disaffiliating to a greater extent than those in the 1960s and 1970s. They find that although the majority of adolescents and emerging adults are still religiously involved, twice as many 12th graders and college students, and 20-40 percent more 8th and 10th graders, never attend religious services (compared to the 60s and 70s). As for religious affiliation, the researchers found that twice as many 12th graders and entering college students in the 2010s (compared to the 1960s and 70s) give their religious affiliation as “none,” as do 40-50 percent more 8th and 10th graders. The authors conclude that while these results do not suggest a growth of atheism they do suggest, “religious organizations are rapidly losing the youngest generation of Americans, known as Millennials.”
(Plos One, http://www.plosone.org/)
04: While those supporting the far right in European countries may claim they are defending the Christian heritage of their respective societies against Islam and immigration, such radical populist parties do not draw many actual Christians who tend to vote for larger, mainstream parties, according to a study in the journal Politics and Religion (online May, 2015). The failure of the far right to draw believing Christians has puzzled some researchers, but authors Kathleen Montgomery and Ryan Winter argue that demographic factors may drive this tendency. Montgomery and Winter examine survey data from 13 European and East European countries, and confirm that far right supporters are relatively non-religious and that as religiosity increases, the odds of voting for a populist radical right party instead of a mainstream party decline. It may be the case, as in Poland and other Eastern European countries, that those who may have supported a secular far right party, as in Western Europe, are supporting other nationalist and religious parties that do not define themselves as being on the right. Montgomery and Winter conclude that the reluctance of believers to support the far right may not be strictly due to their beliefs; older voters and women, who happen to be more religious, tend to gravitate to larger, more mainstream conservative parties.
(Politics and Religion, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=RAP)
05: There has been a growth of Catholics from 7.83 million in 1980 to 1.2 billion, although there has also been a decrease in participation in the sacraments, according to a study by the Center for Research on the Apostolate (CARA). Europeans are still dropping their Catholic identity while the Global South, particularly Africa and Asia, continue to expand, according to a Religion News Service report (June 1). Europe saw only a 6 percent increase, while growth in Africa was 238 percent. But that growth is primarily due to a higher birth rate, “not to conversion or evangelization,” according to Father Thomas Reese. Worldwide, there has only been a 7 percent growth in parishes, but the overall rate per 1,000 Catholics receiving the sacraments “is in uninterrupted decline worldwide. It’s not keeping up with population growth,” said Mark Gray, senior research associate for CARA and a co-author of the report. While marriages are increasing in rough numbers, measured by the rate per 1,000 Catholics, marriage in the church “is one of the hardest hit sacraments around the globe.”
06: The claims of a religious revival in Italy in the last few decades are not supported by the data, according to a study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (54:1). Using six different studies, the article, by Cristiano Vezzoni and Ferrucio Biolcati-Rinaldi, looks at the secularization trend by studying church attendance rates. In looking at the period of 1968-2010, the authors find a pattern of sharp decline during the 1970s, but in the 1980s and early 1990s there was a period of stability, followed by a slower but steady pace of decline from the second half of the 90s onward. Vezzoni and Biolcati-Rinaldi write that these results “counter the thesis of an Italian religious revival,” either in terms of “Catholic exceptionalism” or renewed vitality based on internal competition within the Catholic Church. While they maintain that surveys on church attendance are the most numerous and provide the broadest window of religious change, the researchers acknowledge that individual religiosity may not have decreased as compared to rates of institutional involvement.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291468-5906)
07: A “religious sea change is clearly under way in El Salvador,” as Catholic membership has significantly declined while “non-practicing Catholics seem to be heading to the altars of evangelical conversion,” according to a study in the Latin American Research Review (Vol. 50, No 1). Co-authors Patricia Christian, Michael Gent, and Timothy Wadkins analyze data from three surveys of religion from 1988 to 2009 and find that aside from the continued Protestant growth in this Central American country, the numbers of evangelicals who enter the movement by birth rather than by conversion has risen dramatically. Yet the researchers do not foresee a strict parting of the ways between Protestants and Catholics, much less a “Protestant takeover.” Rather, El Salvadoran society has become a religious marketplace, with Catholicism competing for souls alongside other churches. It is also the case that Protestants have all but caught up with Catholics in important social indicators such as wealth, education, and occupation. There are not strong political differences between El Salvador’s Protestants and Catholics, with the rate of Protestants believing that the church should show a preference for the poor having “skyrocketed from less than 45 percent to more than 75 percent.”
(Latin American Research Review, https://lasa.international.pitt.edu/eng/larr/current-issue.asp)