Most Americans consider themselves religious or spiritual in some way, while Christianity is the most widely professed religion in the United States, with Protestantism being the most common form of Christianity in the country. According to Gallup, 58% and 17% report praying often or sometimes, respectively, and 46% and 26% report that religion plays a very important or fairly important role, respectively, in their lives. However, the majority of Americans do not regularly attend religious services and have low confidence in religious institutions, with the country rapidly secularizing since the 1990s. According to the 2017 World Values Survey, the U.S. is more secular than the median country. A large variety of faiths have historically flourished within the country.
The U.S. has the world's largest Christian population and, more specifically, contains the largest Protestant population in the world. Christianity is the largest religion in the United States at 63% of the population, with the various Protestant Churches having the most adherents. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, religiously unaffiliated adults rose to 29%. When consolidating all Christian denominations into one grouping, Judaism is the second-largest religion in the U.S., practiced by 2% of the population, followed by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, each with 1% of the population.Mississippi is the most religious state in the country, with 63% of its adult population described as very religious, saying that religion is important to them and attending religious services almost every week, while New Hampshire, with only 20% of its adult population described as very religious, is the least religious state.
Ever since its early colonial days, when some Protestant dissenter English and German settlers moved in search of religious freedom, America has been profoundly influenced by religion. Throughout its history, religious involvement among American citizens has grown since 1776 from 17% of the US population to 62% in 2000. That influence continues in American culture, social life, and politics. Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by settlers who wished to practice their own religion within a community of like-minded people: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by English Puritans (Congregationalists), Pennsylvania by British Quakers, Maryland by English Catholics, and Virginia by English Anglicans. Despite these, and as a result of intervening religious strife and preference in England the Plantation Act 1740 would set official policy for new immigrants coming to British America until the American Revolution. While most settlers and colonists during this time were Protestant, a few early Catholic and Jewish settlers also arrived from Northwestern Europe into the colonies; however, their numbers were very slight compared to the Protestant majority. Even in the "Catholic Proprietary" or colony of Maryland, the vast majority of Maryland colonists were Protestant by 1670.
The text of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It guarantees the free exercise of religion while also preventing the government from establishing a state religion. However, the states were not bound by the provision, and as late as the 1830s Massachusetts provided tax money to local Congregational churches. Since the 1940s, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as applying the First Amendment to state and local governments.
President John Adams and a unanimous Senate endorsed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797 that stated: "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
Expert researchers and authors have referred to the United States as a "Protestant nation" or "founded on Protestant principles", specifically emphasizing its Calvinist heritage.
According to a 2002 survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that religion plays an important role in their lives, compared to 33% in Great Britain, 27% in Italy, 21% in Germany, 12% in Japan, and 11% in France. The survey report stated that the results showed America having a greater similarity to developing nations (where higher percentages say that religion plays an important role) than to other wealthy nations, where religion plays a minor role.
In 1963, 90% of U.S. adults claimed to be Christians while only 2% professed no religious identity. In 2016, 73.7% identified as Christians while 18.2% claimed no religious affiliation.
Freedom of religion
The United States federal government was the first national government without official state-endorsed religion.
However, some states established religions until the 1830s.
Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the framers of the Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the federal government any power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise, thus protecting any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference. The decision was mainly influenced by European Rationalist and Protestant ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent them.
Independent polling results on religion are generally questionable due to numerous factors:
polls consistently fail to predict political election outcomes, signifying consistent failure to capture the actual views of the population
very low response rates for all polls since the 1990s
biases in wording or topic affect how people respond to polls
polls categorize people based on limited choices
polls often generalize broadly
polls have shallow or superficial choices, which complicate capturing complexity of religious beliefs and practices
poll interviewer and respondent fatigue is very common
Researchers note that an estimated 20-40% of the population changes their self-reported religious affiliation/identity over time due to numerous factors and that usually it is their answers on surveys that change, not necessarily their religious practices or beliefs.
Researchers advise caution when looking at the "Nones" demographics on surveys because different surveys systematically have discrepancies that amount to 8% and growing of estimates, part of it being that the respondents on surveys are not consistent and also the questions asked are worded differently, generating consistent discrepancies in responses.
According to Gallup there are variations on the responses based on how they ask questions. They routinely ask on complex things like belief in God since the early 2000s in 3 different wordings and they constantly receive 3 different percentages in responses.
The Southern Baptist Convention, with over 16 million adherents, is the largest of more than 200 distinctly named Protestant denominations. In 2007, members of evangelical churches comprised 26% of the American population, while another 18% belonged to mainline Protestant churches, and 7% belonged to historically black churches.
A 2015 study estimates some 450,000 Christian believers from a Muslim background in the country, most of them belonging to some form of Protestantism. In 2010 there were approximately 180,000 Arab Americans and about 130,000 Iranian Americans who converted from Islam to Christianity. Dudley Woodbury, a Fulbright scholar of Islam, estimates that 20,000 Muslims convert to Christianity annually in the United States.
The private schools and colleges established by the mainline Protestant denominations, as a rule, still want to be known as places that foster values, but few will go so far as to identify those values as Christian.... Overall, the distinctiveness of mainline Protestant identity has largely dissolved since the 1960s.
While the Puritans were securing their Commonwealth, members of the Catholic church in England were also planning a refuge, "for they too were being persecuted on account of their religion." Among those interested in providing a refuge for Catholics was the second Lord of Baltimore, George Calvert, who established Maryland, a "Catholic Proprietary", in 1634, more than sixty years after the founding of the Spanish Florida mission of St. Augustine. The first US Catholic university, Georgetown University, was founded in 1789. Though small in number in the beginning, Catholicism grew over the centuries to become the largest single denomination in the US, primarily through immigration, but also through the acquisition of continental territories under the jurisdiction of French and Spanish Catholic powers. Though the European Catholic and indigenous population of these former territories were small, the material cultures there, the original mission foundations with their canonical Catholic names, are still recognized today (as they were formerly known) in any number of cities in California, New Mexico and Louisiana. (The most recognizable cities of California, for example, are named after Catholic saints.)
While Catholic Americans were present in small numbers early in United States history, both in Maryland and in the former French and Spanish colonies that were eventually absorbed into the United States, the vast majority of Catholics in the United States today derive from unprecedented waves of immigration from primarily Catholic countries and regions (Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom until 1921 and German unification didn't officially occur until 1871) during the mid-to-late 19th and 20th century. Irish, Hispanic, Italian, Portuguese, French Canadian, Polish, German, and Lebanese (Maronite) immigrants largely contributed to the growth in the number of Catholics in the United States. Irish and German Catholics, by far, provided the greatest number of Catholic immigrants before 1900. From 1815 until the close of the Civil War in 1865, 1,683,791 Irish Catholics immigrated to the US. The German states followed, providing "the second largest immigration of Catholics, clergy and lay, some 606,791 in the period 1815-1865, and another 680,000 between 1865 and 1900, while the Irish immigration in the latter period amounted to only 520,000." Of the four major national groups of clergy (early and mid-19th century)—Irish, German, Anglo-American, and French—"the French emigre priests may be said to have been the outstanding men, intellectually." As the number of Catholics increased in the late 19th and 20th century, they built up a vast system of schools (from primary schools to universities) and hospitals. Since then, the Catholic Church has founded hundreds of other colleges and universities, along with thousands of primary and secondary schools. Schools like the University of Notre Dame is ranked best in its state (Indiana), as Georgetown University is ranked best in the District of Columbia. 12[which?] Catholic universities are also ranked among the top 100 universities in the US.
The strength of various sects varies greatly in different regions of the country, with rural parts of the South having many evangelicals but very few Catholics (except Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and from among the Hispanic community, both of which consist mainly of Catholics), while urbanized areas of the north Atlantic states and Great Lakes, as well as many industrial and mining towns, are heavily Catholic, though still quite mixed, especially due to the heavily Protestant African-American communities. In 1990, nearly 72% of the population of Utah was Mormon, as well as 26% of neighboring Idaho. Lutheranism is most prominent in the Upper Midwest, with North Dakota having the highest percentage of Lutherans (35% according to a 2001 survey).
The largest religion, Christianity, has proportionately diminished since 1990. While the absolute number of Christians rose from 1990 to 2008, the percentage of Christians dropped from 86% to 76%. A nationwide telephone interview of 1,002 adults conducted by The Barna Group found that 70% of American adults believe that God is "the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today", and that 9% of all American adults and 0.5% young adults hold to what the survey defined as a "biblical worldview".
After Christianity, Judaism is the next largest religious affiliation in the US, though this identification is not necessarily indicative of religious beliefs or practices. The Jewish population in the United States is approximately 6 million. A significant number of people identify themselves as American Jews on ethnic and cultural grounds, rather than religious ones. For example, 19% of self-identified American Jews do not believe God exists. The 2001 ARIS study projected from its sample that there are about 5.3 million adults in the American Jewish population: 2.83 million adults (1.4% of the U.S. adult population) are estimated to be adherents of Judaism; 1.08 million are estimated to be adherents of no religion; and 1.36 million are estimated to be adherents of a religion other than Judaism. ARIS 2008 estimated about 2.68 million adults (1.2%) in the country identify Judaism as their faith. According to a 2017 study, Judaism is the religion of approximately 2% of the American population. According to a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center, the core American Jewish population is estimated at 7.5 million people, this includes 5.8 million Jewish adults. According to study by Steinhardt Social Research Institute, as of 2020, the core American Jewish population is estimated at 7.6 million people, this includes 4.9 million adults who identify their religion as Jewish, 1.2 million Jewish adults who identify with no religion, and 1.6 million Jewish children.
Jews have been present in what is now the US since the 17th century, and specifically allowed since the British colonial Plantation Act 1740. Although small Western European communities initially developed and grew, large-scale immigration did not take place until the late 19th century, largely as a result of persecutions in parts of Eastern Europe. The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe. There are, however, small numbers of older (and some recently arrived) communities of Sephardi Jews with roots tracing back to 15th century Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and North Africa). There are also Mizrahi Jews (from the Middle East, Caucasia and Central Asia), as well as much smaller numbers of Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, Kaifeng Jews and others from various smaller Jewish ethnic divisions. Approximately 25% of the Jewish American population lives in New York City.
According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies newsletter published March 2017, based on data from 2010, Jews were the largest minority religion in 231 counties out of the 3143 counties in the country. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, 1.7% of adults in the U.S. identify Judaism as their religion. Among those surveyed, 44% said they were Reform Jews, 22% said they were Conservative Jews, and 14% said they were Orthodox Jews. According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, 38% of Jews were affiliated with the Reform tradition, 35% were Conservative, 6% were Orthodox, 1% were Reconstructionists, 10% linked themselves to some other tradition, and 10% said they are "just Jewish".
This way, the American Jews' majority continue to identify themselves with Jewish main traditions, such as Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Judaism. But, already in the 1980s, 20–30 percent of members of largest Jewish communities, such as of New York City, Chicago, Miami, and others, rejected a denominational label.
According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, 4.3 million American Jewish adults have some sort of strong connection to the Jewish community, whether religious or cultural. Jewishness is generally considered an ethnic identity as well as a religious one. Among the 4.3 million American Jews described as "strongly connected" to Judaism, over 80% have some sort of active engagement with Judaism, ranging from attendance at daily prayer services on one end of the spectrum to attending Passover Seders or lighting Hanukkah candles on the other. The survey also discovered that Jews in the Northeast and Midwest are generally more observant than Jews in the South or West.
The Jewish American community has higher household incomes than average, and is one of the best educated religious communities in the United States.
Islam is probably the third largest religion in numbers in the United States, after Christianity and Judaism, followed, according to Gallup, by 0.8% of the population in 2016. Hinduism and Buddhism follow it closely in numbers (in 2014 the large scale Religious Life Survey found Islam with 0.9% and the other two with 0.7% each). According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies newsletter published in March 2017, based on data from 2010, Muslims were the largest minority religion in 392 counties out of the 3143 counties in the country. According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in 2018, there are approximately 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States, with 2.05 million adults, and the rest being children. Across faith groups, ISPU found in 2017 that Muslims were most likely to be born outside of the US (50%), with 36% having undergone naturalization. American Muslims are also America's most diverse religious community with 25% identifying as black or African American, 24% identifying as white, 18% identifying as Asian/Chinese/Japanese, 18% identifying as Arab, and 5% identifying as Hispanic. In addition to diversity, Americans Muslims are most likely to report being low income, and among those who identify as middle class, the majority are Muslim women, not men. Although American Muslim education levels are similar to other religious communities, namely Christians, within the Muslim American population, Muslim women surpass Muslim men in education, with 31% of Muslim women having graduated from a four-year university. 90% of Muslim Americans identify as straight.
Islam in America effectively began with the arrival of African slaves. It is estimated that about 10% of African slaves transported to the United States were Muslim. Most, however, became Christians, and the United States did not have a significant Muslim population until the arrival of immigrants from Arab and East Asian Muslim areas. According to some experts, Islam later gained a higher profile through the Nation of Islam, a religious group that appealed to black Americans after the 1940s; its prominent converts included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The first Muslim elected to Congress was Keith Ellison in 2006, followed by André Carson in 2008.
Out of all religious groups surveyed by ISPU, Muslims were found to be the most likely to report experiences of religious discrimination (61%). That can also be broken down when looking at gender (with Muslim women more likely than Muslim men to experience racial discrimination), age (with young people more likely to report experiencing racial discrimination than older people), and race, (with Arab Muslims the most likely to report experiencing religious discrimination). Muslims born in the United States are more likely to experience all three forms of discrimination, gender, religious, and racial.
Research indicates that Muslims in the United States are generally more assimilated and prosperous than their counterparts in Europe. Like other subcultural and religious communities, the Islamic community has generated its own political organizations and charity organizations.
ISPU also conducted a series of impact reports on Muslim Americans in both Michigan and New York City. 22.3% of Muslims live in New York City, the home of more mosques (285 total) than any other American city. Though just shy of 9% of the NYC population, Muslims make up over 12% of the city's pharmacists, lab technicians, and over 9% of all doctors. They make up 11.3% of all engineers, and are engaged at every level of civic life in the city, from senior adviser to the city government to directing outreach at the city council level. Nearly 10,000 NYC teachers are Muslim. Looking at NYC, it is evident that Muslim Americans are engaged and active in important sectors of American life. That level of engagement and dynamic interaction with the communities around them is further highlighted through the Michigan case study as well.
World wide, the religion has grown faster than the rate of population growth over the 20th century, and has been recognized since the 1980s as the most widespread minority religion in the countries of the world. Similarly, by 2020, the religion was the largest minority religion in about half of the counties. Since about 1970 the state with the single largest Baháʼí population was South Carolina. From 2010 data the largest populations of Baháʼís at the county-by-county level are in Los Angeles, CA, Palm Beach, FL, Harris County, TX, and Cook County, IL. However, estimates of the total number of Baháʼís varies widely from around 500,000 to 175,000.
Members of the Druze faith face the difficulty of finding a Druze partner and practicing endogamy; marriage outside the Druze faith is strongly discouraged according to the Druze doctrine. They also face the pressure of keeping the religion alive because many Druze immigrants to the United States converted to Protestantism, becoming communicants of the Presbyterian or Methodist churches.
Hinduism is the fourth largest faith in the United States, representing approximately 1% of the population in 2010s. In 2001, there were an estimated 766,000 Hindus in the US, about 0.2% of the total population.
According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies newsletter published March 2017, based on data from 2010, Hindus were the largest minority religion in 92 counties out of the 3143 counties in the country.
American Hindus have one of the highest rates of educational attainment and household income among all religious communities, and tend to have lower divorce rates. Hindus also have higher acceptance towards homosexuality (71%), which is higher than the general public (62%).
During the late 19th century Buddhist missionaries from Japan traveled to the US. During the same time period, US intellectuals started to take interest in Buddhism.
The early 20th century was characterized by a continuation of tendencies that had their roots in the 19th century. The second half, by contrast, saw the emergence of new approaches, and the move of Buddhism into the mainstream and making itself a mass and social religious phenomenon.
According to a 2016 study, Buddhists are approximately 1% of the American population. According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies newsletter published March 2017, based on data from 2010, Buddhists were the largest minority religion in 186 counties out of the 3143 counties in the country.
Adherents of Jainism first arrived in the United States in the 20th century. The most significant time of Jain immigration was in the early 1970s. The United States has since become a center of the Jain Diaspora. The Federation of Jain Associations in North America is an umbrella organization of local American and Canadian Jain congregations to preserve, practice, and promote Jainism and the Jain way of life.
Sikhism is a religion originating from the Indian subcontinent which was introduced into the United States when, around the turn of the 20th century, Sikhs started emigrating to the United States in significant numbers to work on farms in California. They were the first community to come from India to the US in large numbers. The first Sikh Gurdwara in America was built in Stockton, California, in 1912. In 2007, there were estimated to be between 250,000 and 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States, with the largest populations living on the East and West Coasts, with additional populations in Detroit, Chicago, and Austin.
The United States also has a number of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.
Native American religions historically exhibited much diversity, and are often characterized by animism or panentheism. The membership of Native American religions in the 21st century comprises about 9,000 people.
Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are among the most liberal of all religious denominations in America. The shared creed includes beliefs in inherent dignity, a common search for truth, respect for beliefs of others, compassion, and social action. They are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a result of that search and not obedience to an authoritarian requirement. UUs have historical ties to anti-war, civil rights, and LGBT rights movements, as well as providing inclusive church services for the broad spectrum of liberal Christians, liberal Jews, secular humanists, LGBT, Jewish-Christian parents and partners, Earth-centered/Wicca, and Buddhist meditation adherents. In fact, many UUs also identify as belonging to another religious group, including atheism and agnosticism.
A 2001 survey directed by Dr. Ariela Keysar for the City University of New York indicated that, amongst the more than 100 categories of response, "no religious identification" had the greatest increase in population in both absolute and percentage terms. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no stated religious preferences. Figures are up from 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, representing an increase from 8% of the total population in 1990 to 15% in 2008. A nationwide Pew Research study published in 2008 put the figure of unaffiliated persons at 16.1%, while another Pew study published in 2012 was described as placing the proportion at about 20% overall and roughly 33% for the 18–29-year-old demographic.
In a 2006 nationwide poll, University of Minnesota researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who trusted them less than Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society". They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as amorality, criminal behavior, rampant materialism and cultural elitism. However, the same study also reported that "The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one's exposure to diversity, education and political orientation – with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts." Some surveys have indicated that doubts about the existence of the divine were growing quickly among Americans under 30.
On March 24, 2012, American atheists sponsored the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., followed by the American Atheist Convention in Bethesda, Maryland. Organizers called the estimated crowd of 8,000–10,000 the largest-ever US gathering of atheists in one place.
Belief in the existence of a god
Various polls have been conducted to determine Americans' actual beliefs regarding a god:
A 2021 Pew Research Center Survey found that 91% of American believe in a higher power.
A 2018 Pew Research Center Survey found that 90% of American believe in a higher power.
In 2014 the Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study showed 63% of Americans believed in God and were "absolutely certain" in their view, while the figure rose to 89% including those who were agnostic.
A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll showed that 5% of Americans considered themselves "convinced" atheists, which was a fivefold increase from the last time the survey was taken in 2005, and 5% said they did not know or else did not respond.
A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that doubts about the existence of a god had grown among younger Americans, with 68% telling Pew they never doubt God's existence, a 15-point drop in five years. In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God's existence.
A 2011 Gallup poll found 92% of Americans said yes to the basic question "Do you believe in God?", while 7% said no and 1% had no opinion.
A 2010 Gallup poll found 80% of Americans believe in a god, 12% believe in a universal spirit, 6% don't believe in either, 1% chose "other", and 1% had no opinion. 80% is a decrease from the 1940s, when Gallup first asked this question.
A late 2009 online Harris poll of 2,303 U.S. adults (18 and older) found that "82% of adult Americans believe in God", the same number as in two earlier polls in 2005 and 2007. Another 9% said they did not believe in God, and 9% said that they were not sure. It further concluded, "Large majorities also believe in miracles (76%), heaven (75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (73%), in angels (72%), the survival of the soul after death (71%), and in the resurrection of Jesus (70%). Less than half (45%) of adults believe in Darwin's theory of evolution but this is more than the 40% who believe in creationism..... Many people consider themselves Christians without necessarily believing in some of the key beliefs of Christianity. However, this is not true of born-again Christians. In addition to their religious beliefs, large minorities of adults, including many Christians, have "pagan" or pre-Christian beliefs such as a belief in ghosts, astrology, witches and reincarnation.... Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated."
A 2008 survey of 1,000 people concluded that, based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification, 69.5% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12.3% of Americans are atheist or agnostic, and another 12.1% are deistic (believing in a higher power/non-personal God, but no personal God).
Mark Chaves, a Duke University professor of sociology, religion and divinity, found that 92% of Americans believed in God in 2008, but that significantly fewer Americans have great confidence in their religious leaders than a generation ago.
According to a 2008 ARIS survey, belief in God varies considerably by region. The lowest rate is in the West with 59% reporting a belief in God, and the highest rate is in the South at 86%.
"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) is self-identified stance of spirituality that takes issue with organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth. Spirituality places an emphasis upon the wellbeing of the "mind-body-spirit", so holistic activities such as tai chi, reiki, and yoga are common within the SBNR movement. In contrast to religion, spirituality has often been associated with the interior life of the individual.
One fifth of the US public and a third of adults under the age of 30 are reportedly unaffiliated with any religion, however they identify as being spiritual in some way. Of these religiously unaffiliated Americans, 37% classify themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Unitarian Universalist Association- founded in 1961 from the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. Historically Christian denominations, the UUA is no longer Christian and is the largest Unitarian Universalist denomination in the world.
The U.S. Census does not ask about religion. Various groups have conducted surveys to determine approximate percentages of those affiliated with each religious group.
Sources: Based on Pew Center Research, especially editions 2007-2014 and 2019, CID-Gallup Center since 1948, Public Religion Research Institute, Christianity Today 1900-1950:Religious Trends in the United States, The Database of Religious History, and Historical information sources.
Graphs are temporarily unavailable due to technical issues.
Change in religious identification, 1950–2020
Percentage of Americans by religious identification (1950 – 2020)
Graphs are temporarily unavailable due to technical issues.
Public Religion Research Institute data (2020)
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has made annual estimates about religious adherence in the United States every year since 2013, and they most recently updated their data in 2020. Their data can be broken down to the state level, and data has also been made available of several large metro areas. Data is collected from roughly 50,000 telephone interviews conducted every year.
Their most recent data shows that approximately 70% of Americans are Christians (down from 71% in 2013), with about 46% of the population professing belief in Protestant Christianity, and another 22% adhering to Catholicism. About 23% of the population adheres to no religion, and 7% more of the population professes a Non-Christian religion (such as Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism).
Religion in the United States according to the American Values Atlas published by the PRRI (2020)
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) surveyed congregations for their memberships. Churches were asked for their membership numbers. Adjustments were made for those congregations that did not respond and for religious groups that reported only adult membership. ARDA estimates that most of the churches not responding were black Protestant congregations. Significant difference in results from other databases include the lower representation of adherents of 1) all kinds (62.7%), 2) Christians (59.9%), 3) Protestants (less than 36%); and the greater number of unaffiliated (37.3%).
Percentage of religion against average, 2001
Plurality of religious preference by state in 2014.
Number in year 2010
% in year 2010
Total US pop year 2010
other – including Mormon & Christ Scientist
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon, LDS)
The table below shows the religious affiliations among the ethnicities in the United States, according to the Pew Forum 2014 survey. People of Black ethnicity were most likely to be part of a formal religion, with 80% percent being Christians. Protestant denominations make up the majority of the Christians in the ethnicities.
Adult respondents were asked the open-ended question, "What is your religion, if any?" Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. The religion of the spouse or partner was also asked. If the initial answer was "Protestant" or "Christian" further questions were asked to probe which particular denomination. About one third of the sample was asked more detailed demographic questions.
Religious Self-Identification of the U.S. Adult Population: 1990, 2001, 2008 Figures are not adjusted for refusals to reply; investigators suspect refusals are possibly more representative of "no religion" than any other group.
The ARIS 2008 survey was carried out during February–November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.
The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian, but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.
86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.
The historic mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines, while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward, particularly since 2001.
The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
34% of American adults considered themselves "Born Again or Evangelical Christians" in 2008.
The U.S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every seven Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.
The "Nones" (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.
Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.
One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
America's religious geography has been transformed since 1990. Religious switching along with Hispanic immigration has significantly changed the religious profile of some states and regions. Between 1990 and 2008, the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% and in New York fell from 44% to 37%, while it rose in California from 29% to 37% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.
Overall the 1990–2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.
Gallup survey data found that 73% of Americans were members of a church, synagogue or mosque in 1937, peaking at 76% shortly after World War II, before trending slightly downward to 70% by 2000. The percentage declined steadily during the first two decades of the 21st century, reaching 47% in 2020. Gallup attributed the decline to increasing numbers of Americans expressing no religious preference.
In a 2009 Gallup survey, 41.6% of American residents stated that they attended a church, synagogue, or mosque once a week or almost every week. This percentage is higher than other surveyed Western countries.Church attendance varies considerably by state and region. The figures, updated to 2014, ranged from 51% in Utah to 17% in Vermont.
When it comes to mosque attendance specifically, data collected by a 2017 poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) shows that American Muslim women and men attend the mosque at similar rates (45% for men and 35% for women). Additionally, when compared to the general public looking at the attendance of religious services, young Muslim Americans attend the mosque at closer rates to older Muslim Americans. Muslim Americans who regularly attend mosques are more likely to work with their neighbors to solve community problems (49 vs. 30 percent), be registered to vote (74 vs. 49 percent), and plan to vote (92 vs. 81 percent). Overall, "there is no correlation between Muslim attitudes toward violence and their frequency of mosque attendance".
In August 2010, 67% of Americans said religion was losing influence, compared with 59% who said this in 2006. Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (79%), white mainline Protestants (67%), black Protestants (56%), Catholics (71%), and the religiously unaffiliated (62%) all agreed that religion was losing influence on American life; 53% of the total public said this was a bad thing, while just 10% see it as a good thing.
Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning, and fundamentalists and black Protestants are highly politically active. However, to keep their status as tax-exempt organizations they must not officially endorse a candidate. Historically Catholics were heavily Democratic before the 1970s, while mainline Protestants comprised the core of the Republican Party. Those patterns have faded away—Catholics, for example, now split about 50–50. However, white evangelicals since 1980 have made up a solidly Republican group that favors conservative candidates. Secular voters are increasingly Democratic.
Only four presidential candidates for major parties have been Catholics, all for the Democratic party:
Alfred E. Smith in presidential election of 1928 was subjected to anti-Catholic rhetoric, which seriously hurt him in the Baptist areas of the South and Lutheran areas of the Midwest, but he did well in the Catholic urban strongholds of the Northeast.
John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In the 1960 election, Kennedy faced accusations that as a Catholic president he would do as the Pope would tell him to do, a charge that Kennedy refuted in a famous address to Protestant ministers.
Joe Biden, a Catholic, won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and then won the 2020 presidential election, becoming the second Catholic president, after John F. Kennedy. Biden was also the first Catholic vice president.
Joe Lieberman was the first major presidential candidate that was Jewish, on the Gore–Lieberman campaign of 2000 (although John Kerry and Barry Goldwater both had Jewish ancestry, they were practicing Christians). Bernie Sanders ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary of 2016. He was the first major Jewish candidate to compete in the presidential primary process. However, Sanders noted during the campaign that he does not actively practice any religion.
A Gallup poll released in 2007 indicated that 53% of Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist as president, up from 48% in 1987 and 1999. But then the number started to drop again and reached record low 43% in 2012 and 40% in 2015.
^Pearce, Lisa D.; Gilliland, Claire C. (2020). Religion in America. Sociology in the Twenty-First Century, 6. Oakland, Ca: University of California Press. p. 5. ISBN9780520296411. Most people in the United States, however, identify as spiritual and religious.
^Chaves, Mark (2017). American Religion: Contemporary Trends. Princeton, NJ; London: Princeton University Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN9780691177564. The vast majority of people — approximately 80 percent — describe themselves as both spiritual and religious. Still, a small but growing minority of Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, as figure 3.4 shows. In 1998, 9 percent of Americans described themselves as at least moderately spiritual but not more than slightly religious. That number rose to 16 percent in the 2010s.
^Hout, Michael (November 2017). "American Religion, All or Nothing at All". Contexts. 16 (4): 78–80. doi:10.1177/1536504217742401. S2CID67327797. Irregular religious attendance was the norm in the U.S., even in the 1960s. The GSS data show that a majority, between 50 and 55%, of Americans attended services irregularly through the mid-1980s. Since then, irregular attendance dropped about six percentage points to 45% in 2016 (still a plurality of Americans). Some churches are emptying, but that is due to the demographic and geographic turnover of the population, not disaffiliation. New churches in growing cities and suburbs offset the closing of churches in declining neighborhoods.
^ abCampbell, David; Layman, Geoffrey; Green, John Clifford (2020). "Introduction". Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-1-108-92334-7. OCLC1237630231. American society is rapidly secularizing–a radical departure from its historically high level of religiosity–and politics is a big part of the reason. Just as, forty years ago, the Religious Right arose as a new political movement, today secularism is gaining traction as a distinct and politically energized identity. This book examines the political causes and political consequences of this secular surge, drawing on a wealth of original data. The authors show that secular identity is in part a reaction to the Religious Right.
^ abThompson, Derek (September 26, 2019). "Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 2, 2022. ...when it comes to religion, Americans really are exceptional. No rich country prays nearly as much as the U.S, and no country that prays as much as the U.S. is nearly as rich... Stubbornly pious Americans threw a wrench in the secularization thesis. Deep into the 20th century, more than nine in 10 Americans said they believed in God and belonged to an organized religion, with the great majority of them calling themselves Christian. That number held steady—through the sexual-revolution '60s, through the rootless and anxious '70s, and through the "greed is good" '80s. But in the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn't associate with any established religion (also known as "nones") had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size. History does not often give the satisfaction of a sudden and lasting turning point. History tends to unfold in messy cycles—actions and reactions, revolutions and counterrevolutions—and even semipermanent changes are subtle and glacial. But the rise of religious non-affiliation in America looks like one of those rare historical moments that is neither slow, nor subtle, nor cyclical. You might call it exceptional.
^Burge, Ryan (February 24, 2021). "Most 'Nones' Still Keep the Faith". Research. Christianity Today. What I discovered was that while many people have walked away from a religious affiliation, they haven't left all aspects of religion and spirituality behind. So, while growing numbers of Americans may not readily identify as Christian any longer, they still show up to a worship service a few times a year or maintain their belief in God. The reality is that many of the nones are really "somes."...The center of the Venn diagram indicates that just 15.3 percent of the population that are nones on one dimension are nones on all dimensions. That amounts to just about 6 percent of the general public who don't belong to a religious tradition and don't attend church and hold to an atheist or agnostic worldview.
^Johnson, Todd; Zurlo, Gina (2016). "Unaffiliated, Yet Religious: A Methodological and Demographic Analysis". In Cipriani, Roberto; Garelli, Franco (eds.). Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion: Vol. 7: Sociology of Atheism. Leiden: Brill. pp. 58–60. ISBN9789004317536. While much of the media - as well as non-religious advocacy groups - honed on the fact that "unaffiliated" category was growing, Pew stressed their finding that most unaffiliated adults had religious and spiritual leanings. According to the Pew survey, 68% of the unaffiliated said they believed in God; more than a third described themselves as "spiritual but not religious"; and 21% said they prayed every day. This report provided evidence that that people who check "nothing in particular" are not uniformly non-religious; many are individuals who are unaffiliated with traditional religious structures like churches or synagogues but still engage in religious practices and hold religious beliefs.
^Drescher, Elizabeth (2016). Choosing our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America's Nones. New York. pp. 21–26. ISBN9780199341221.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
^"Key findings about Americans' belief in God". Pew Research Center. April 25, 2018. Finally, among those who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated – also known as "nones" – 72% say they believe in a higher power of some kind.
^Blankholm, Joseph (2022). The Secular Paradox: On the Religiosity of the Not Religious. New York University Press. pp. 3, 8. ISBN9781479809509. Secular people's efforts to avoid religion and the creative ways in which they embrace it generate the diversity in American secularism. This book makes sense of secular people's strange ambivalence toward religion. Though being secular means being not religious, it also means participating in a secular tradition and sharing ways of life with other secular people. The secular paradox is the tension between what secular people do not share and what they have in common between avoiding religion and embracing something like it...all secular people live with the secular paradox." & "Each chapter of this book examines a different aspect of religion: belief, community, ritual, conversion, and tradition. Because secular people struggle to simply remove all of these religion-like elements from their lives, they affirm them in part or entirely, sometimes uncritically but more often quite carefully and not without reservations.
^Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (Yale UP, 2nd ed. 2004) ISBN0-300-10012-4
^Finke, Roger; Stark, Rodney (2006). The Churching of America, 1776–2005: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 22, 23. ISBN978-0813535531.
^Kevin M. Schultz, and Paul Harvey, "Everywhere and Nowhere: Recent Trends in American Religious History and Historiography", Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March 2010, Vol. 78 Issue 1, pp. 129–162
^Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. 10 ("For the first time in recorded history, they designed a government with no established religion at all.")
^Marsden, George M. 1990. Religion and American Culture. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp. 45–46.
^Diamant, Jeff; Leppert, Rebecca (April 12, 2023). "Why the U.S. census doesn't ask Americans about their religion". Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 14, 2023. Census forms in the United States don't ask about religion, but relatively few U.S. adults (25%) know this, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted shortly before census forms were mailed out in 2020. Indeed, while the Census Bureau has long collected troves of data on Americans' income, employment, race, ethnicity, housing and other things, the decennial census, held since 1790, has never directly asked Americans about their religion.
^Wuthnow, Robert (2015). "8. Taking Stock". Inventing American Religion: Polls Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation's Faith. Oxford University Press. ISBN9780190258900.
^Johnson, Byron; Stark, Rodney; Bradshaw, Matt; Levin, Jeff (2022). "Are Religious "Nones" Really Not Religious?: Revisiting Glenn, Three Decades Later". Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. 18 (7).
^Saad, Lydia; Hrynowski, Zach (June 24, 2022). "How Many Americans Believe in God?". Gallup.com. Gallup. The answer to how many Americans believe in God depends on how the question is asked. Gallup has measured U.S. adults' belief in God three different ways in recent years, with varying results.
^Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A religious history of the American people (1976) pp. 121-59.
^McKinney, William. "Mainline Protestantism 2000." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 558, Americans and Religions in the Twenty-First Century (July 1998), pp. 57-66.
^Harriet Zuckerman, Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States New York, The Free Press, 1977, p.68: Protestants turn up among the American-reared laureates in slightly greater proportion to their numbers in the general population. Thus 72 percent of the seventy-one laureates but about two thirds of the American population were reared in one or another Protestant denomination-)
^ abcW. Williams, Peter (2016). Religion, Art, and Money: Episcopalians and American Culture from the Civil War to the Great Depression. University of North Carolina Press. p. 176. ISBN9781469626987. The names of fashionable families who were already Episcopalian, like the Morgans, or those, like the Fricks, who now became so, goes on interminably: Aldrich, Astor, Biddle, Booth, Brown, Du Pont, Firestone, Ford, Gardner, Mellon, Morgan, Procter, the Vanderbilt, Whitney. Episcopalians branches of the Baptist Rockefellers and Jewish Guggenheims even appeared on these family trees.
^Irving Lewis Allen, "WASP—From Sociological Concept to Epithet," Ethnicity, 1975 154+
^Princeton University Office of Communications. "Princeton in the American Revolution". Archived from the original on June 14, 2007. Retrieved May 24, 2011. The original Trustees of Princeton University "were acting in behalf of the evangelical or New Light wing of the Presbyterian Church, but the college had no legal or constitutional identification with that denomination. Its doors were to be open to all students, 'any different sentiments in religion notwithstanding.'"
^Hochstedt Butler, Diana (1995). Standing Against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford University Press. p. 22. ISBN9780195359053. Of all these northern schools, only Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania were historically Anglican; the rest are associated with revivalist Presbyterianism or Congregationalism.
^Khalaf, Samir (2012). Protestant Missionaries in the Levant: Ungodly Puritans, 1820-1860. Routledge. p. 31. ISBN9781136249808. Princeton was Presbyterian, while Columbia and Pennsylvania were Episcopalian.
^"Duke University's Relation to the Methodist Church: the basics". Duke University. 2002. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2010. Duke University has historical, formal, on-going, and symbolic ties with Methodism, but is an independent and non-sectarian institution ... Duke would not be the institution it is today without its ties to the Methodist Church. However, the Methodist Church does not own or direct the University. Duke is and has developed as a private nonprofit corporation which is owned and governed by an autonomous and self-perpetuating Board of Trustees
^W.L. Kingsley et al., "The College and the Church," New Englander and Yale Review11 (Feb 1858): 600. accessed 2010-6-16Archived April 13, 2017, at the Wayback Machine Note: Middlebury is considered the first "operating" college in Vermont as it was the first to hold classes in Nov 1800. It issued the first Vermont degree in 1802; UVM followed in 1804.
^Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity, The First Three Thousand Years, (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 670, 837.
^The Catholic Priest in the United States: Historical Investigations, John Tracey Ellis, editor (Collegeville: St. John's University Press, 1971), 31. Ellis notes: Between 1850-1900,"the net German Catholic population reached a total of 1,134,887, not to mention the additional thousands of German-speaking immigrants during the same years among the 42,289 Catholics from Switzerland, and the 443,230 who came from Austria-Hungry."
^Michael V. Gannon, "Before and After Moderism: the Intellectual Isolation of the American Priest," in The Catholic Priest in the United States: Historical Investigations, ed. by John Tracy Ellis (Collegeville: St. John's University Press, 1971), 300.
^"The most and least educated U.S. religious groups," and "how income varies among U.S. religious groups" in Pew Research Center: 26% and 19% of 75 million Catholics are college graduates and high income earners, respectively. No religious community can match those numbers
^Ira M. Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky, University of Miami and University of Connecticut (2009). "Jewish Population of the United States, 2009"(PDF). Mandell L. Berman North American Jewish Data Bank in cooperation with the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry and the Jewish Federations of North America. Archived from the original(PDF) on September 12, 2012. The authors concluded the 6,543,820 figure was an over-count, due to people who live in more than one state during a year.
^Kosmin, Mayer & Keysar (December 19, 2001). "American Identification Survey, 2001"(PDF). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York New York. pp. 8–9. Archived(PDF) from the original on January 3, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
^"Jewish Americans in 2020". Pew Research Center. May 11, 2021. In absolute numbers, the 2020 Jewish population estimate is approximately 7.5 million, including 5.8 million adults and 1.8 million children (rounded to the closest 100,000).
^"Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
^"Quick Facts and Stats". Official website of the Baha'is of the United States. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. June 11, 2014. Archived from the original on June 11, 2014. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
^A. Kayyali, Randa (2006). The Arab Americans. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 21. ISBN9780313332197. Many of the Druze have chosen to deemphasize their ethnic identity, and some have officially converted to Christianity.
^Hobby, Jeneen (2011). Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. University of Philadelphia Press. p. 232. ISBN9781414448916. US Druze settled in small towns and kept a low profile, joining Protestant churches (usually Presbyterian or Methodist) and often Americanizing their names..
^Kosmin, Mayer & Keysar (December 19, 2001). "American Identification Survey, 2001"(PDF). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York New York. p. 13. Archived(PDF) from the original on January 3, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
^"Key findings about Americans' belief in God". Pew Research Center. April 25, 2018. The vast majority of Americans (90%) believe in some kind of higher power, with 56% professing faith in God as described in the Bible and another 33% saying they believe in another type of higher power or spiritual force. Only one-in-ten Americans say they don't believe in God or a higher power of any kind.
^Eddy, Richard (1884). Universalism in America. New York: Universalist Publ. House.
^George D. Chryssides (2001). The A to Z of New Religious Movements. Oxford, UK: Scarecrow Press. p. 298. Emanating from the Radhosoami Satsang (q.v.) background, which is a synthesis of Hinduism and Sikhism (qq.v.), Eckankar teaches a form of surat sabda yoga ...
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