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PostPosted: 08 Oct 2008, 12:58 
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New Study: Areligious, Irreligious and Anti-religious Americans

Barry Kosmin, director and research professor at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, has recently released a new study titled “Areligious, Irreligious and Anti-Religious Americans: The No Religion Population of the U.S. –Nones.” The study uses data from the American Religious Identification Surveys. These nationally representative surveys are uniquely objective, in that the key question of religious identification or worldview is an open-ended, unprompted question that requires a self-identifying answer from the respondent. Those who provide an affirmative non-theistic self-identification such as atheist or agnostic, along with those who self-identify with none of the myriad of religious offerings in the marketplace are designated the No Religion population. This method contrasts with often quoted Pew or Baylor national surveys where a list of named choices is offered respondents and where in their analyses, this growing element in the national population is treated negatively and wrongly defined in the findings as the “unaffiliated” or ”unchurched”.

Nevertheless, affirmatively non-theistic definitions are offered by only a small proportion (10%) of this population which now numbers well over 30 million adults. Most respond “none” when asked “what is your religion if any?” A sociologically sophisticated and realistic approach to investigating this relatively new social phenomenon is to separate out the different trajectories of belonging (identifying with a religious group), beliefs and behaviors. Individuals move along these dimensions of secularity at different speeds and with different emphases.

For instance, the theological belief question regarding the existence of God reveals that in terms of personal belief 9% of the population is Atheist whereas only 4% self-identify as such. Moreover, 21% or perhaps 40% is Agnostic in terms of belief as against 6% in terms of “belonging”. Furthermore another 21% are Deists on the belief criterion. Thus only 21% of the No religion population hold to a belief in a personal God and can therefore really be termed “unaffiliated” believers, though probably “anti-clericalist” is a more accurate designation.

The questions on worldviews – concerning human evolution and astrology - clearly show that this is overwhelmingly a rationalist and skeptic population. In terms of political preference half the population is Independent and so perhaps is also “skeptical” in political matters.

For the first time data is offered showing how this population enlarges over time and the life cycle. Whereas only 14% were born into No Religion (both parents) 72% intend to die in it (i.e. without a religious funeral).

Surveys often report that No Religion people are unpopular in the U.S. and that Americans distrust non-believers more than other groups. This may account for the low rates of self-identification as Atheists and Agnostics i.e. “belonging” revealed by ARIS compared with much higher levels when questioned about actual “belief”. Another new and unique piece of information offered here is the perceived level of discrimination faced by No religion people today. Interestingly they report more social prejudice than institutional discrimination.

Further information from ARIS 2008 will be released later in the year along with more definitive numbers. To view a PDF slide presentation of this study, go to http://cruller.cc.trincoll.edu/NR/rdonl ... lation.pdf

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