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.