Southern Religion

Global religious trends defy simple characterization

The study of global religious trends released Friday by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago revealed no simple cluster of trends.

Characterized as “the most comprehensive analysis to date of global religious trends, the study [.pdf] did find that a rising number of people report having no formal religious affiliation [much like the “Nones” of the American Religious Identification Survey], even as the number of Americans who say they pray regularly increases. In fact, “6 out of 10 Americans pray one or more times each day,” and views of God are complex:

“When asked simply about belief in God, most people include a range of God images, from a personal God to believing in a ‘higher power’ or a ‘spirit or life force,’” [study author Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago] said. People who don’t believe in a personal God but in a higher power of some kind rose from 5 percent in 1964 to 9 to 10 percent in recent surveys, the study found.

. . .
In the United States, belief in God has ebbed over time from about 99 percent in the 1950s to about 92 percent at present. Certitude about God also has diminished, but the vast majority of Americans still express a strong and close connection to God.

“People’s images of God are diverse, but they lean toward the traditional,” Smith said. The GSS has asked people for their images of God since 1984, and about half of the people have consistently referred to God as “father,” while others used terms like “master” or “judge” to describe their idea of God. The number reporting God as “mother” has stayed at about 3 percent.

The study, which used data from surveys all over the world, found religious participation strongest among older people, as the church attendance graph below suggests.


The survey found that 22 percent of people said they had never attended a religious service, compared with 9 percent in 1972. These trends toward reduced church attendance began in the mid-1980s, and have both spared no denomination and defied denominational attempts to reverse them.

The study does clearly indicate that these changes are the product of broad demographic forces. And we will explore those and other implications further in future blogs.


October 24, 2009 - Posted by | Churches, Religion, Science

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