The end of summer is rapidly approaching, which means I’ve been catching up on my Internet movie watching (a luxury that classes and lab work don’t afford!). The last piece I watched was the most recent Issac Asimov Memorial debate. Asimov is best known for his science fiction novels- remember I, Robot, the 2004 Will Smith movie? That film was based on an Asimov story. But he was also an incredible scientist and thinker. A true polymath, Asimov wrote on everything from astronomy to Shakespeare, from chemistry to the Bible. If that wasn’t cool enough, he even has an asteroid named after him. Okay, that ends my Asimov shout-out.
The Memorial debate is hosted by the American Museum of Natural History in honor of Asimov.* The purpose is to debate pressing questions at the scientific frontier. This year the debate was about the concept of nothing. Neil deGrasse Tyson** lead a panel of physicists, philosophers, and other thinkers in a discussion about the beginnings of the universe and how to think about nothing.
I began the series on religious statistics by asking the question: is religion disappearing? Okay, I didn’t ask it that explicitly, but it’s the question at the heart of secularization. And the question keeps intriguing me because it’s so difficult to answer. In America alone there are increasing numbers of religiously unaffiliated, but among those ranks, religion is still described as important to their daily lives. How do we explain that? Worldwide, the picture becomes even more complex.
One of the most difficult things to figure out is why most industrial nations show a decline in religious affiliation, but worldwide the number of people holding strong religious beliefs is at an all time high. How do we juggle these seemingly opposed trends? Continue reading
Last week I wrote about the rise of the Nones. The Pew Forum on Religion documented a rise in the religiously unaffiliated over the last five years. Many interpret this as a decline in religious authority, saying religion no longer holds the power it once had. Others see it merely as a shifting religious landscape, not necessarily a decline. You could take either side of the debate with good reasons, but the question is too complex to be resolved by any one set of statistics. So we turn to another set of data to gain a different perspective on the American religious landscape.
If you’re arguing with a friend about how religion is changing (do other people do this?), the Baylor Religion Surveys are a great resource to have in your back pocket. Beginning around 2004, a team of sociologists, religion scholars, and other researchers began a twenty-year process of tracking religious belief in America. Each wave of results focuses on different aspects of religious life. The first wave, published in 2006, sheds light on last week’s topic. In the latest wave, they didn’t just collect data on people’s individual beliefs, but also on how those beliefs impact their well-being, their entrepreneurial spirit, their belief in the American Dream, their sense of control… the list goes on, giving a fascinating picture of how deeply religion is interwoven with other parts of our lives.