Tuesday, February 26, 2008

High competition at US religious bazaar

We were just recently discussing that the US has created a free religious marketplace and it is now impacting religions worldwide. Just yesterday, Pew Forum released a report, US Religious Landscape Survey, that supports the view of this competitive religious market, at least in the US (also see a NYT article on it). The key result is that there is significant horizontal movement in people's religious affiliations:
More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.
This is quite impressive. Furthermore, the numbers of unaffiliated have doubled:
The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
But the whole landscape is very dynamic:

The survey finds that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents. Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members. Conversely, those that are declining in number because of religious change simply are not attracting enough new members to offset the number of adherents who are leaving those particular faiths.

To illustrate this point, one need only look at the biggest gainer in this religious competition - the unaffiliated group. People moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than a three-to-one margin. At the same time, however, a substantial number of people (nearly 4% of the overall adult population) say that as children they were unaffiliated with any particular religion but have since come to identify with a religious group. This means that more than half of people who were unaffiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group. In short, the Landscape Survey shows that the unaffiliated population has grown despite having one of the lowest retention rates of all "religious" groups.

Basically, we are looking at fierce competition at a high pace and those religions that adapt well will survive and others will become marginal within a few decades. Again, the interesting thing would be observe this battle play out internationally - especially in places where a single religion has traditionally been dominant. This is where globalization and internet inroads will play a significant role.

Read the Pew Forum summary report here and you can download the full report here (pdf).