Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Book Outlines Decline of American Religion

The majority of Americans say they believe in God and almost 40 percent claim they attend religious services every week, but a new book that is based on almost 40 years of research shows that actual church attendance is not that high, and what people mean when they tell pollsters that they pray or believe in God is not always clear.

The book, American Religion: Contemporary Trends by Dr. Mark Chaves of Duke University, presents an overview of religious trends in the United States, and is based on the National Congregations Study, and the General Social Survey, research which goes back to 1972. In his book and in a recent article posted on the Association of Religion data Archives Web site, Dr. Chaves concludes that in some ways religious expression in America has been very stable over the years, but in other ways there are significant signs of decline. For example:
  • The percentages of Americans who know that God exists (64%), say they've had a born-again experience (36%), and who pray several times a week (69%) have remained steady since the 1980s.
  • The percentages of individuals who read the Bible at least weekly (31%), watch religious television (28%), feel extremely close to God (31%), consider themselves very or extremely religious (26%), or believe in heaven (86%) or hell (73%) haven't changed much during the 17-year period over which they were measured .
  • In 1957, three percent of Americans said they had no religious affiliation. By 2008, the percentage increased to 17 percent.
  • The weekly church attendance rate is closer to 25 percent than the 35 or 40 percent often reported.
  • The percentage of people who never attend religious services increased from 13 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2008.
  • The percentage of people who report growing up with religiously active fathers declined from nearly 70 percent for those born before 1900 to about 45 percent for those born after 1970.
  • Over the last 30 years, the percentage of people who say they believe that the Bible should be taken literally declined from approximately 40 percent to just over 30 percent.
  • The percentage of people who say that they have a great deal of confidence in leaders of religious institutions has declined from about 35 percent in the 1970s to about 25 percent today.
Dr. Mark Chaves, who is a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University, directs the National Congregations Study and specializes in the sociology of religion. His newest book is, American Religion: Contemporary Trends, and his article mentioned above, “The Decline of American Religion” can be found at

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