Major Religions in the U.S.

Protestantism

Protestantism is one of the major umbrella religions in the U.S., and is constantly evolving in response to political and social changes.

Learning Objectives

Describe the various sects of Protestantism and four key moments in their history in the U.S., including any resitance to those moments

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Evangelicalism is the conversion of individuals, through the preaching of the Word. from a state of sin to a “new birth”.
  • The Great Awakening refers to a northeastern Protestant revival movement that took place in the 1730s and 1740s.
  • The Second Great Awakening has been called the central and defining event in the development of Afro-Christianity. It began after many African Americans became dissatisfied with their treatment in white churches, and disappointed by their fellow believers’ disinterest in abolishing slavery.
  • The Federal Council of Churches, founded in 1908, marked the first major expression of a growing, modern ecumenical movement among Christians in the United States.
  • The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States represented, in the 1950s, an extension and expansion of the Federal Council of Churches, the International Council of Religious Education, and several other interchurch ministries.
  • Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was but one of many notable black ministers involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was but one of many notable black ministers involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Key Terms

  • National Council of the Churches of Christ: The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (usually identified as National Council of Churches or NCC) is an ecumenical partnership of 37 Christian faith groups in the United States. Its member denominations, churches, conventions, and archdioceses include Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, African American, Evangelical, and historic peace churches.
  • Civil Rights Movement: The civil rights movement was a worldwide political movement for legal equality that occured between approximately 1950 and 1980.

The Movement of Christianity to North America

Christianity was introduced to North America when Europeans began colonizing the continent in the 16th and 17th centuries. Spanish, French and British colonists brought Roman Catholicism to the colonies of New Spain, New France and Maryland, respectively. Colonists from Northern Europe, primarily from Great Britain, introduced Protestantism to a number of areas, including Massachusetts Bay Colony, New Netherlands, the Virginia colony, the Carolina Colony, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Lower Canada. These early Protestant settlers represented a diversity of Protestant sects, including Anglicanism, Baptism, Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Quakerism, the Mennonite Church and the Moravian Church.

Evangelicalism and the Great Awakening

Evangelicalism in Protestantism is difficult to both date and define. Scholars have argued that, as a self-conscious movement, evangelicalism did not arise until the mid-17th century, perhaps not until the Great Awakening. The fundamental premise of evangelicalism is that individuals can be converted, through preaching the Word, from a state of sin to a “new birth. ” The Great Awakening refers to a northeastern Protestant revival movement that took place in the 1730s and 1740s.

The first generation of New England Puritans required that church members undergo a conversion experience that they could then describe publicly. While initially popular, their descendants were not as successful in reaping the harvests of redeemed souls. The initial movement began with Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts preacher who sought to return to the Pilgrims’ strict Calvinist roots. British preacher George Whitefield, as well as other itinerant preachers, spread the movement, traveling across the colonies and preaching in a dramatic and emotional style. Followers of Edwards, and other preachers of similar religiosity, called themselves the “New Lights” in contrast to the “Old Lights,” who disapproved of their movement. To promote their viewpoints, the two sides established academies and colleges, including Princeton and Williams College. The Great Awakening has been called the first truly American event.

The supporters of the Awakening and its evangelical thrust, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, became the largest American Protestant denominations by the first decades of the 19th century. By the 1770s, the Baptists were growing rapidly both in the North (where they founded Brown University), and in the South. Opponents of the Awakening or those split by it, Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists, were left behind.

Christianity and Black Populations

The Christianity of the black population was grounded in evangelicalism. The Second Great Awakening has been called the “central and defining event in the development of Afro-Christianity. ” During this movement, Baptists and Methodists converted large numbers of blacks. However, many were disappointed at the treatment they received from their fellow believers. They were also disappointed that Baptists and Methodists, many of whom had advocated for abolition after the American Revolution, ended up backsliding on that commitment. When their discontent could not be contained, forceful black leaders followed what was becoming an American habit, and they formed new denominations. In 1787, Richard Allen and his colleagues in Philadelphia broke away from the Methodist Church and, in 1815, they founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. This church, along with independent black Baptist congregations, flourished as the century progressed.

Coalitions of Churches

The Federal Council of Churches, founded in 1908, marked the first major expression of a growing, modern ecumenical movement among Christians in the United States. It was active in advocating for the reform of public and private policies, particularly as they impacted the lives of impoverished people. This council developed a comprehensive and widely debated Social Creed, which served as a humanitarian “bill of rights” for those seeking improvements in American life.

In 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (usually identified as National Council of Churches, or NCC) represented a dramatic expansion in the development of ecumenical cooperation. It was a merger of the Federal Council of Churches, the International Council of Religious Education, and several other interchurch ministries. Today, the NCC is a joint venture of 35 Christian denominations in the United States. It has 100,000 local congregations and 45,000,000 adherents.

As the center of community life, Black churches played a leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement. Their history, as a focal point for the Black community, and as a link between the Black and White worlds, made them natural for this purpose. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was but one of many notable Black ministers involved in the movement. He helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through non-violent civil disobedience. He was assassinated in 1968.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech

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Methodist Church in Mississippi: Louise United Methodist Church, Louise, Mississippi

Catholicism

Catholicism has a long history in the U.S., with the Catholic Church the single largest religious denomination in the United States.

Learning Objectives

Describe why Catholics in the U.S. were initially perceived as a threat by some Protestants and how that bias was more or less overcome

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and faith.
  • Immigrants in the 19th century made Catholicism the largest religion in the United States.
  • Acquisition of territories in the 19th century, formerly possessions of France, Spain, and Mexico, added to the Catholic population in the United States.

Key Terms

  • parish: An administrative part of a diocese that has its own church; found in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church and certain civil government entities.

The Catholic Church in the United States is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, or the Christian Church that is in full communion with the Pope. It is the largest single religious denomination in the U.S., comprising about 25% of the population. According to a 2011 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the U.S. Catholic population is currently 77.7 million. The U.S. has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines.

Catholicism arrived in what is now the U.S. during the earliest days of the European colonization of the Americas. The first Catholic missionaries were Spanish, having come with Christopher Columbus to the New World on his second voyage in 1493. They established missions in what are now Florida, Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, California, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. French colonization came in the early 18th century, with the French establishing missions in the Louisiana Territory districts – St. Louis, New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Alabama, Natchez, Yazoo, Natchitoches, Arkansas, Illinois, and Michigan.

Catholicism’s Growth and Prosecution

Catholicism has grown during the country’s history. It started slowly in the early 19th century through immigration and acquisition of territories with predominately Catholic populations. In the mid-19th century, a rapid influx of Irish and German immigrants made Catholicism the largest religion in the U.S. This increase of Catholics was met by widespread prejudice and hostility, often resulting in riots and the burning of churches. The nativist Know Nothing party was first founded in the early 19th century in an attempt to restrict Catholic immigration. This party believed that the U.S. was a Protestant nation and the influx of Catholics threatened its purity and mission..

Since the 1960s, the percentage of Americans who are Catholic has stayed roughly the same, at around 25%, due in large part to increases in the Latino population over the same period.

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Assumption Catholic Church: The oldest Catholic Church in St. Paul.

By far, most Catholics in the U.S. belong to the Latin Church and the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. Rite generally refers to the form of worship “liturgical rite” in a church, community owing to cultural and historical differences as well as differences in practice. However, the Vatican II document Orientalium Ecclesiarum “Of the Eastern Churches” acknowledges that these Eastern Catholic communities are “true Churches” and not just rites within the Catholic Church. There are 14 other Churches in the U.S. (23 within the global Catholic Church) that are in communion with Rome and fully recognized in the eyes of the Catholic Church. They have their own bishops and eparchies. The largest of these communities in the U.S. is the Chaldean Catholic Church. Most of these Churches are of Eastern European and Middle Eastern origin. Eastern Catholic Churches are distinguished from Eastern Orthodox, identifiable by their usage of the term Catholic.

By 1850, Catholics had become the country’s largest single denomination. Between 1860 and 1890, their population in the U.S. tripled through immigration; by the end of the decade it would reach seven million. This influx would eventually bring increased political power for the Catholic Church and a greater cultural presence. This led to a growing fear of the Catholic “menace” among America’s Protestants. Some anti-Catholic political movements like the Know Nothings, as well as organizations like the Orange Institution, American Protective Association, and the Ku Klux Klan, were active in the U.S. during this period. Indeed, for most of the country’s history, Catholics have been victims of discrimination and persecution. It was not until the presidency of John F. Kennedy that Catholics lived largely free of suspicion.

There are 68,503,456 registered Catholics in the U.S. (22% of the US population), according to the American Bishops’ count in their Official Catholic Directory 2010. This count primarily rests on the parish assessment tax that pastors evaluate yearly according to the number of registered members and contributors. Estimates of the overall American Catholic population from recent years generally range from 20% to 28%.

Judaism

Judaism is the religion, philosophy, and way of life of the Jewish people.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the similarities and differences between Judaism and other religions, such as Christianity and Islam, and identify characteristics of the American Jewish population

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe, and their U.S.-born descendants.
  • Jewish ethnic divisions are also represented, including Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and a number of converts.
  • American Jews are more likely to be atheist or agnostic than most Americans, especially so compared with Protestants or Catholics.
  • The Holocaust was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II.

Key Terms

  • Sephardi: a Jew of Iberian ancestry, whose native language was Ladino
  • agnostic: Doubtful or uncertain about the existence or demonstrability of God or other deity.

Judaism is the religion, philosophy, and way of life of the Jewish people. It is a monotheistic religion originating in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Tanakh) and explored in later texts such as the Talmud. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenantal relationship God established with the Children of Israel. Rabbinic Judaism holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. The sacred texts of Judaism tends to overlap with many of the stories from Christianity and Islam. The Tanakh consists of the same books as the Christian Old Testament, with minor changes in the order of stories.

Judaism in the United States

American Jews, also known as Jewish Americans, are American citizens of the Jewish faith or Jewish ethnicity. The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe, and their U.S.-born descendants. Minorities from all Jewish ethnic divisions are also represented, including Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and a number of converts. The American Jewish community manifests a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions, as well as encompassing the full spectrum of Jewish religious observance.

Depending on religious definitions and varying population data, the United States is home to the largest or second largest (after Israel) Jewish community in the world. The population of American adherents of Judaism was estimated to be approximately 5,128,000 or 1.7% of the total population in 2007 (301,621,000); including those who identify themselves culturally as Jewish (but not necessarily religiously), this population was estimated at 6,489,000 (2.2%) as of 2008. As a contrast, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the Israeli Jewish population was 5,664,000 in 2009 (75.4% of the total population).

Jews have been present in what is today the United States of America as early as the 17th century. Large scale Jewish immigration, however, did not begin until the nineteenth century, when, by mid-century, many secular Ashkenazi Jews from Germany arrived in the United States, primarily becoming merchants and shop-owners. There were approximately 250,000 Jews in the United States by 1880, many of them being the educated, and largely secular, German Jews, although a minority population of the older Sephardic Jewish families remained influential.

Jewish immigration to the United States increased dramatically in the early 1880s, as a result of persecution and economic difficulties in parts of Eastern Europe. Most of these new immigrants also were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews, though most came from the poor rural populations of the Russian Empire and the Pale of Settlement, located in modern-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. During the same period, a great number of Ashkenazi Jews arrived also from Galicia, at that time the most impoverished region of Austro-Hungarian Empire with heavy Jewish urban population, driven out mainly by economic reasons. Most settled in the New York metropolitan area, establishing what became one of the world’s major concentrations of Jewish population.

American Jews are more likely to be atheist or agnostic than most Americans, especially so compared with Protestants or Catholics. A 2003 poll found that while 79% of Americans believe in God, only 48% of American Jews do, compared with 79% and 90% for Catholics and Protestants respectively. While 66% of Americans said they were “absolutely certain” of God’s existence, 24% of American Jews said the same. And though 9 percent of Americans believe there is no God (8% Catholic and 4% Protestant), 19 percent of American Jews believe God does not exist.

Though Jewish views on evolution are varied, most schools of Jewish thought have reconciled Judaism with evolution. A 2009 Harris Poll showed American Jews as the religious group most accepting of evolution, with 80% believing in evolution, compared to 51% for Catholics, 32% for Protestants, and 16% of Born-again Christians. They were also less likely to believe in supernatural phenomena such as miracles, angels, or heaven.

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A Haredi Jew in New York CIty: The Haredi Jews are the most conservative of Orthodox Jews.

Islam

The American Muslim population is a racially diverse group that has been present in the U.S. since before the Civil War.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the history and characteristics of the American Muslim population in the U.S., including periods of arrival and religious affiliations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Many of the slaves brought to colonial America from Africa were Muslims. By 1800, some 500,000 Africans arrived in what became the United States. Historians estimate that between 15 to 30 percent of all enslaved African men, and less than 15 percent of the enslaved African women, were Muslims.
  • American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population.
  • Unlike many Muslims in Europe, American Muslims do not tend to feel marginalized or isolated from political participation. Several organizations were formed by the American Muslim community to serve as ‘critical consultants’ on U.S. policy regarding Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Mosques are places of worship for Islamic religions.
  • In the United States there exist a number of different traditions. As in the rest of the world, the Sunni Muslims are in the majority. Shia Muslims, especially those in the Iranian immigrant community, are also active in community affairs.

Key Terms

  • Muslim: A person who is a follower and believer of the Islamic faith.
  • mosque: A place of worship for Muslims, corresponding to a church or synagogue in other religions, often having at least one minaret; a masjid.
  • Nation of Islam: A religious and political organization with the declared aim of “resurrecting” the spiritual, mental, social and economic condition of the black people of America and the world.

Islam in the United States

Once very small, the Muslim population of the U.S. increased greatly in the 20th century, with much of the growth driven by rising immigration and conversion, and a comparatively high birth rate. In 2005, more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent United States residents than in any year in the previous two decades (nearly 96,000). In 2009, more than 115,000 Muslims became legal residents of the United States.

American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallup poll. Immigrant communities of Arab and South Asian descent make up the majority of American Muslims. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African-Americans who make up about a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years.

Slavery and Islam

Many of the slaves brought to colonial America from Africa were Muslims. By 1800, some 500,000 Africans arrived in what became the United States. Historians estimate that between 15 to 30 percent of all enslaved African men, and less than 15 percent of the enslaved African women, were Muslims. These enslaved Muslims stood out from their compatriots because of their “resistance, determination, and education”.

Modern Migration

Small-scale migration to the U.S. by Muslims began in 1840, with the arrival of Yemenis and Turks, and lasted until World War I. Most of the immigrants, coming from Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, came with the purpose of making money and returning to their homeland. However, the economic hardships of 19th century America prevented them from prospering. As a result, the immigrants settled in the United States permanently. These immigrants settled primarily in Dearborn, Michigan; Quincy, Massachusetts; and Ross, North Dakota. Ross, North Dakota is the site of the first documented mosque and Muslim cemetery, but it was abandoned and later torn down in the mid-1970s. A new mosque was built in its place in 2005.

Demographics

According to the U.S. Department of State, the largest ethnic groups of American Muslims are those of South Asian, Arab and African-American descent.

There are 1,209 mosques in the United States and the nation’s largest mosque, the Islamic Center of America, is in Dearborn, Michigan. It caters mainly to the Shi’a Muslim congregation; however, all Muslims may attend this mosque. It was rebuilt in 2005 to accommodate over 3,000 people for the increasing Muslim population in the region. Approximately half (50%) of the religious affiliations of Muslims is Sunni, 16% Shia, 22% non-affiliated and, 16% other/non-response. Muslims of Arab decent are mostly Sunni (56%) with minorities who are Shi’a (19%). Bangladeshis (90%), Pakistanis (72%), and Indians (82%) are mainly Sunni, while Iranians are mainly Shi’a (91%). Of African-American Muslims, 48% are Sunni, 34% are unaffiliated (mostly part of the Community of W. Deen Mohammed), 16% other (mostly Nation of Islam and Ahmadiyya) and 2% Shi’a.

Since the arrival of South Asian and Arab communities during the 1990s, there have been divisions with African Americans due to racial and cultural differences. However, since 9/11, the two groups joined together when the immigrant communities looked towards the African Americans for advice on civil rights.

Comparison to Other Religions

Islam has similarities with other American-practiced religions, including Protestantism and Christianity. Some of the similarities include a belief in a single God, who is supreme to all other gods. Many of the religious stories told in these religions share a similar thread, although certain details or the order of the story may be slightly different, depending upon the religious text it comes from. Also, these religious all believe in an afterlife, promoting good behaviors and adherence to religious doctrine in order to ensure entrance to this revered place.

American Islamic Culture

Muslims in the United States have increasingly contributed to American culture; there are various Muslim comedy groups, rap groups, Scout troops and magazines.

Some Muslims in the U.S. are also adherents of certain global movements within Islam such as the Salafi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Gulen Movement, and the Tablighi Jamaat.

Muslim Integration into American Society

Unlike many Muslims in Europe, American Muslims do not tend to feel marginalized or isolated from political participation. Several organizations were formed by the American Muslim community to serve as ‘critical consultants’ on U.S. policy regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. Other groups have worked with law enforcement agencies to point out Muslims within the United States that they suspect of fostering ‘intolerant attitudes’. Still others have worked to invite interfaith dialogue to improve relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Americans.

A Pew report released in 2009 noted that nearly six-in-ten American adults see Muslims as being subject to discrimination, more than Mormons, Atheists, or Jews. While Muslims comprise less than two percent of the American population, they accounted for approximately one quarter of the religious discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during 2009.

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Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque: Mosque in New York City.

Social Correlates of Religion

There are correlations between the degree of religious belief in society and social factors like mortality rates, wealth and happiness.

Learning Objectives

Identify what might be a tension in understanding highly religious nations and highly religious people

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Some sociological research indicates that highly religious, developed nations have higher rates of homicide, mortality, sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancies, and abortions, whereas so-called “Godless” developed nations have significantly lower mortality rates.
  • A BBC research study on religion in Europe suggests that religious belief has declined over the years.
  • A study by sociologist Lisa A. Keister found that adherents of Judaism and Episcopalianism attained the most wealth; believers of Catholicism and mainline Protestants were in the middle; and conservative Protestants accumulated the least wealth.
  • Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than the least religiously committed people.

Key Terms

  • National Opinion Research Center: NORC at the University of Chicago, established in 1941 as the National Opinion Research Center, is one of the largest and most highly respected social research organizations in the United States.

Religion’s Impact on Societies

Research indicates that in prosperous democracies, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion. As author Stephen Law paraphrases in his book “War For the Children’s Mind,” “The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so…The view of the U.S. as a ‘shining city on the hill’ to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. ” In other words, the U.S., a theistic and prosperous nation, demonstrates that religiosity doesn’t necessarily correlate with creating cultures that reduce death.

The study also notes that more secular, pro-evolution societies come closer to “cultures of life. ” Although these countries are far from perfect, they have, for example, low rates of lethal crime. The authors conclude that the reasonable success of non-religious democracies like Japan, France and Scandinavia has refuted the idea that Godless societies suffer disaster. They add, “Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends. ”

BBC news reported on a study that attempted to use mathematical modeling to predict future religious orientations of populations. The study suggests that religion is headed towards “extinction” in various nations where it has been on the decline: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. The model considers not only the changing number of people with certain beliefs, but also attempts to assign utility values of a belief as per each nation.

Americans and Religion: A recent Pew survey reveals that, although the majority of Americans may consider themselves to be religious, many are in fact unaware of basic tenets concerning their faith. Byron Pitts reports.

Wealth and Organized Religion

A U.S. study conducted by sociology researcher Lisa A. Keister found that Jewish and Episcopalian adherents attained the most wealth. Believers of Catholicism and mainline Protestants were in the middle, and conservative Protestants accumulated the least wealth. In general, people who attend religious services achieved more wealth than those who do not (taking into account variations of education and other factors). The researcher suggests that wealth accumulation is shaped by family processes.

The median net worth of people believing in the Jewish religion is calculated at $150,890, while the median net worth of conservative Protestants (including Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and Christian Scientists) was found at $26,200. The overall median in the dataset was $48,200.

Another study by Keister found that “religion affects wealth indirectly through educational attainment, fertility and female labor force participation. ” The study also found evidence of direct effects of religion on wealth attainment.

Religion and Happiness

Religion and happiness have been studied by a number of researchers. The science of positive psychology has identified many components of happiness, and religion seems adapted to satisfy many of them. Some research suggests that both non-religious and religious meaning systems can be quite effective when it comes to managing death anxiety, and that the latter have a few additional advantages.

Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually committed people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than the least religiously committed people. An analysis of over 200 social studies contends that “high religiousness predicts a lower risk of depression and drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts, and more reports of satisfaction with sex life and a sense of well-being. ” A review of 498 studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that a large majority of them showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self-esteem and lower levels of hypertension, depression, and clinical delinquency.

A meta-analysis of 34 recent studies published between 1990 and 2001 found that religiosity has a salutary relationship with psychological adjustment related to less psychological distress, more life satisfaction and better self-actualization. Finally, a recent systematic review of 850 research papers concluded that “the majority of well-conducted studies found that higher levels of religious involvement are positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being (life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect and higher morale) and less with depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, and drug/alcohol use/abuse. ”

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Religion versus GDP per Capita: Wealth and religion

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Religion and happiness: The science of positive psychology has identified many components of happiness, and religion seems adapted to satisfy many of them. Some research suggests that both non-religious and religious meaning systems can be quite effective when it comes to managing death anxiety, and that the latter have a few additional advantages.

Affiliation

The main religious preferences in the Unites States include (in order): Christianity, unaffiliate, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Learning Objectives

Diagram religious and non-religious beliefs in the U.S. according to popularity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The U.S. is a very religiously diverse country. People who identify as Christians in the U.S. encompass the majority of the population, although there are a wide variety of denominations that have developed since the introduction of Christianity in colonial times.
  • Unaffiliated beliefs, including atheism and agnosticism, are the second largest group. Judaism is the third largest group, and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other beliefs are less than one percent of the population.
  • According to recent surveys, 83% of Americans identify with a religious denomination. A majority of Americans report that religion plays a “very important” role in their lives, a proportion unique among developed nations.
  • The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion while also preventing the government from establishing a state religion.

Key Terms

  • agnosticism: The view that the existence of God or of all deities is unknown, unknowable, unproven, or unprovable.
  • denomination: A class, or society of individuals, called by the same name; a sect; as, a denomination of Christians.

Religion in the United States is characterized by both a wide diversity of religious beliefs and practices and by a high adherence level. According to recent surveys, 83% of Americans identify with a religious denomination, 40% state that they attend services nearly every week or more, and 58% say that they pray at least weekly. A majority of Americans report that religion plays a “very important” role in their lives, a proportion unique among developed nations. Many faiths have flourished in the United States, including both later imports spanning the country’s multicultural immigrant heritage, as well as those founded within the country; these have led the United States to become one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.

The majority of Americans (76% to 80%) identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively. Non-Christian religions (including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.), collectively make up about 5% of the adult population. Another 15% of the adult population claims no religious affiliation. When asked, about 5.2% said they did not know or refused to reply. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, religious belief varies considerably by region. The lowest rate is in the West with 59% reporting a belief in God, and the highest rate in the South (the “Bible Belt”) at 86%.

Despite a high level of religious adherence, only 9% of Americans in a 2008 poll said religion was the most important thing in their life, compared with 45% who said family was paramount in their life and 17% who said money and career was paramount. Mark Chaves, a Duke University professor of sociology, religion, and divinity, found that 92% of Americans believed in God in 2008, but that they have significantly less confidence in their religious leaders than they did a generation ago.

From the early colonial days, when some English and German settlers came in search of religious freedom, America has been profoundly influenced by religion. That influence continues in American culture, social life, and politics. Several of the original 13 colonies were established by settlers who wished to practice their own religion within a community of like-minded people: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by English Puritans (Congregationalists), Pennsylvania by British Quakers, Maryland by English Catholics, and Virginia by English Anglicans.

The U.S. Census does not ask about religion. Various groups have conducted surveys to determine approximate percentages of those affiliated with each religious group. Some surveys ask people to self-identify, while others calculate church memberships. Christianity comprises 59.9% to 78.4% of affiliation, unaffiliated, including atheist or agnostic are 15.0% to 37.3%, Judaism are 1.2 % to 2.2 %, Islam about.6%, Buddhism 0.5 % to 0.9%, Hinduism 0.4% and other religions 1.2% to 1.4% in the United States.

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Salt Lake Temple, Utah: It is the sixth temple completed by the church, requiring 40 years to complete, and the fourth operating temple built since the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois.

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Lightmatter Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, California: The Hsi Lai Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the United States.