Friday, January 25, 2013

NPR Series on the Religiously Unaffiliated (Nones) in the US

by Salman Hameed

Last week, NPR had a thoughtful and interesting series on "nones" - people who do not affiliate with any religion - in the US. It was prompted by recent polls that show that the number of "nones" has been increasing steadily for the past few decades and that the younger people today are not only more religious unaffiliated than their elders today, but that they are more religiously unaffiliated than their younger counterparts in the past (also see an earlier post: Global Religious Landscape - Young Muslims and the Unaffiliated). This is from the Gallup poll for the US:

And here is a Pew survey that breaks the data by age:

Here are particular characteristics of this group:


  • comprises atheists and agnostics as well as those who ally themselves with "nothing in particular"
  • includes many who say they are spiritual or religious in some way and pray every day
  • overwhelmingly says they are not looking to find an organized religion that would be right for them
  • is socially liberal, with three-quarters favoring same-sex marriage and legal abortion
  • Perhaps most striking is that one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. 


I have posted below links to the full series. If you have time to listen to just one, then check out the first one at the bottom (it includes an interview with sociologist, Robert Putnam. There they talk about the possible reasons for the rise of "nones", including the idea that it is because of decreasing importance of social institutions in general. But while listening to the full series, I was wondering about the possible trends in the Muslim world. We know that the median age of Muslims in the world is 23. What kind of trends should we expect? While the importance of religion is quite high in much of the Muslim world (see this post here for plots on this), that may not tell us much about the diversity of beliefs (i.e. religion can be very important, but the way people practice it can vary a lot). Pew did ask a question about perceptions of religious orthodoxy within Islam. In particular, they asked if "there is only one interpretation of Islam" or can it be interpreted in different ways. Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents in most countries agreed with the single interpretation statement, with Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Iraq being the exceptions, with under 50%. Interestingly, Muslims in the US are outliers on this:



Much to ponder about. Here are the links to this NPR special. If you have time, you should listen to all of these as they provide a glimpse of the complex ways people deal with religion and life.

Losing Our Religion

the two-way

As Social Issues Drive Young From Church, Leaders Try To Keep Them(466)  

January 18, 2013 Morning Edition wraps up its weeklong look at the growing number of people who say they do not identify with a religion. In the final conversation, two religious leaders describe what they do to attract young people to the church.

Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes In God(332)  

Peyer says that even though she and her husband believe different things when it comes to God, they have found ways to accept and support each other's beliefs.
January 17, 2013 Every couple has differences and disagreements to navigate. But what happens when the couple disagrees on the fundamental question of faith? Maria Peyer is a church-attending Lutheran; her husband, Mike Bixby, is an atheist. But they've found ways to accept and support each other's beliefs.

On Religion, Some Young People Show Both Doubt And Respect(200)  

NPR's David Greene leads a discussion about religion with a group of young adults at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
January 17, 2013 NPR's David Greene talks with a group of young adults who've struggled with the role of faith and religion in their lives. They do not speak of emptiness without religion, but recognize that it fills needs. They talk of having respect for religion, but say that it's not something they identify with now.

After Tragedy, Nonbelievers Find Other Ways To Cope(372)  

Carol Fiore's husband, Eric, died after the plane he was test-piloting crashed in Wichita, Kan., 12 years ago. An atheist, Carol felt no comfort when religious people told her Eric was in a better place.
January 16, 2013 Many have long turned to religion for solace in the aftermath of a tragedy, but that's not an option for the nonreligious or those whose faith is destroyed by the event. For the nonreligious, dealing with trauma and loss often requires forging one's own path.

More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?(1147)  

(From left) Yusuf Ahmad, Kyle Simpson, and Melissa Adelman also participated in the discussion about religion with NPR's David Greene at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
January 15, 2013 One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. Six young adults — some with Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Seventh-day Adventist backgrounds — explore their struggle with faith and religion.

the two-way

Losing Our Religion: The Growth Of The 'Nones'(731)  

As religious as this country may be, many Americans are not religious at all. The group of religiously unaffiliated — dubbed €œ"nones" €-- has been growing.
January 14, 2013 As religious as this country may be, many Americans are not religious at all. The group of religiously unaffiliated – dubbed "nones"— has been growing. One-fifth of Americans say they're nones, as are one in three under 30. They're socially liberal and aren't looking for an organized religion.

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