Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nones on the bus

So the new Pew survey is out, and we have something big - growth in the "nones" from about 15% to nearly 25% of the population in just five year, or, if you will, a 50% increase in the proportion of those who report no religious affiliation ("atheist"/"agnostic"/"nothing in particular"). I recall downplaying the result a few years ago, since it looked like there had been an upsurge during the Bush years but then five years of plateauing, but this starts to look like a true trend, especially when you look at this breakdown by generation. (Generational differences like this can of course be read at least two ways - generations are truly different from each other, the product of changing times and possibilities - or people are different at different ages, and members of all generations go through the same general trajectory from disconnection in youth to reconnection later on.)
Two important things to note, however. First, the growth in "nones" is not a growth in atheism, which hovers, still, around 2% of the population. (You'd really want to know what it means to someone to identify as atheist, of course.)
But it's also not the case (as I was inclined to believe) that a fair number of the "nones" are the "spiritual but not religious." "Nones" are about as likely as the rest of the population to consult astrologers, believe in reincarnation, feel a connection to the earth, or see ghosts (right). But most of them aren't looking, so they're not "seekers" either. (Again one would want to factor the generational/age differences in here, too.)
I can't wait to discuss all this with my first years, since this is just the sort of data the secularization theorists feeds on.

[And hey - random factoid: this is the 2222nd post on this blog]

[PS Wednesday 10/10: Discussed this with the students in Theorizing Religion today, at the end of a discussion of Marx which focused on his critique of liberal Protestantism's individualized "religious sentiment" as the reflex of a commodity economy. The headlines announced the end of the Protestant era, but they focused on the third of their own generation evidently immune to religion altogether. Did they think we'd had a revolution without noticing it, I asked semi-seriously? Yes, some replied semi-seriously. Slightly more serious the suggestion that a generation sustained by social media has a more satisfying relationship with species nature, and so doesn't feel the alienation which drives religious projection toward the superhuman...] 

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