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The Hegemony of Christianity in America Is in Long-Term Deep Trouble

This map of religious traditions across the United States will surprise you.
 
 
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The second largest religious tradition among Arizona residents is Hinduism. That’s right. In Arizona—where only four months ago, Governor Jan Brewer was pressured into vetoing a “ religious freedom bill” that would have allowed corporations to decline service to homosexual customers out of religious conviction—Hindus are the runner-up religious group. This is just one of many surprising findings in a state-by-state map of the second largest religious traditions made by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. While a 2012 Gallup poll reported that 77% of Americans identify as Christian, this map helps paint a far more diverse, geographically distinct, and demographically shifting portrait of religious belief in what is all too often assumed to be a homogeneously Christian country.

In the West, Buddhism ranks in second place, while Islam is the second most reported religious tradition in some 20 states across the South and Midwest. In the Northeast, meanwhile, Judaism is the runner-up. While these numbers only represent a small fraction of the population in each state, suggesting that the US is just as religiously uniform as certain conservative politicians would like to believe, it is important to take two factors into account: immigration and the distinction between a Christian identity and an active Christian faith.

According to the 2008 Pew US Religious Landscape Survey, which was based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, “Immigration is adding even more diversity to the American religious quilt….Muslims, roughly two-thirds of whom are immigrants, now account for roughly 0.6% of the US adult population; and Hindus, more than eight-in-ten of whom are foreign born, now account for approximately 0.4% of the population.”

Again, on their own, these numbers are relatively insignificant, but they speak to broader demographic trends across the country. In Arizona, for example, the Asian population (176,695) is tiny in comparison to the numbers of whites (4,667,121) and Hispanics (1,895,149), but it is one of the fastest-growing groups, up from only 92,000 in 2010. And while the majority of immigrants from Central and South America are Catholics, the total number of Catholics in the US has still declined slightly due to the number of Americans who were raised in the faith but no longer describe themselves as Catholic.

This brings up another key point: many of those who were raised in the Christian faith may identify as Christian because it is the religion of their families and their communities—the faith with which they are most familiar—but they don’t necessarily practice any form of organized religion. Though the 2012 Gallup poll notes that 18% of Americans claim no explicit religious identity, there may also be a significant number of nonbelievers—or lapsed ones—among the 77% of the adult population that identifies as Christian. The percent of non-affiliation is particularly high among younger Americans; one-in-four aged 18-29 say that they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

With growing numbers of young people claiming no attachment to organized religion, and an influx of immigrants from non-Christian nations, the religious landscape of the United States will continue diversifying, whether Marco Rubio wants it to or not.

Allegra Kirkland is AlterNet's associate managing editor. Her writing has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Inc., Daily Serving and the Nation.

 
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