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Spring 2010

Trinity Reporter Spring 2010
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A rise in secularism

Kosmin and Keysar came to Trinity more than four years ago to found the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. Kosmin, a Trinity research professor in public policy and law, is director and Keysar is associate director. They started the institute, Keysar says, when they realized an increasing number of Americans claim no religion.

Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

Along with research, the institute puts on public events and works with various Trinity departments to develop curriculum materials.

Barry Kosmin
Barry Kosmin, Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and Research Professor, Public Policy and Law Program.
The ARIS study, conducted through random phone calls in 2008, is the third that Kosmin and Keysar have done. The first two—in 1990 and 2001—were done at City University of New York.

One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

The Census does not ask about religion because of concerns about the constitutional separation of church and state. The General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago uses such a tiny sample that smaller religions can’t be tracked. “You aren’t going to find many Rastafarians if you ask 1,200 people,” Kosmin says.

ARIS surveyed more than 54,000 people. (And found a jump in Wiccans from 8,000 to 342,000 in the past 18 years, for instance.) ARIS is also a bigger survey than the one conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The challenge to Christianity in the US does not come from other religions but rather from the rejection of all forms of organized religion.

The government’s official Statistical Abstract of the United States uses the Trinity survey for its religion table. Kosmin is proud of that and the fact that the data is in “public use”—meaning open for other researchers to use.

The ARIS survey gives a snapshot of both the beliefs and the religious identification of Americans, as well as how demographic and cultural forces have changed over time.

The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines, while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward, particularly since 2001.The percentage of people who said they were Christian has dropped—from 86 percent in 1990 to 76 percent 2008. Most of those “lost” Christians entered the no-religion category. Catholics are the single largest U.S. denomination, with a quarter of the population, followed by Baptists with almost 16 percent. The no-religion group was the third-largest.

Challenges to the old way

Kosmin predicts that the number of people who list no religion at all will continue to grow. Many of them are young and could pass that along to their children. Other people are likely to leave the denominations where they belong now, he says.

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