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The Pew Forum's measurement of the size of religious communities in the U.S.

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The public opinion poll:

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is a project of the Pew Research Center. It "...gathers and disseminates objective information through polls and reports on topics related to religion and public provides a neutral venue....for discussions of important issues where religion and politics intersect."

The Bliss Institute at the University of Akron conducted a National Survey of Religion and Politics in the spring of 2004 for the Pew Forum. A sampling of the Americans was conducted from March to May, and was completed well in advance of the 2004-NOV elections. They collected data from 4,000 adults over the age of 18 who were grouped into 18 distinct religious communities.

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Makeup of religious communities in the U.S.:

In the past, most polls simply attempted to identify American adults by denomination and religion. They counted the number of Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, etc. in their sample and estimated the number of followers that each had across the U.S.  The ARIS Study is one example. This poll attempted to study religious communities, such as the conservative wing of Evangelical Christianity, the liberal wing of Mainline Protestantism, Latino Catholics, and fifteen other groups. These communities cross denominational boundaries and include:

bullet Evangelical Protestantism: This consists of the conservative, mainline and liberal wings of Fundamentalist, other Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations. This includes such denominations as: the Assemblies of God; the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod; the Presbyterian Church in America; the Southern Baptist Convention, many smaller conservative faith groups, and a very large number of nondenominational -- often Fundamentalist -- churches.
bullet Mainline Protestantism: This consists of the left, center and liberal wings of the Episcopal Church, USA; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, and smaller denominations with similar beliefs.

In order to capture the diversity of belief among Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants and Catholics, each was subdivided into three groups:

bullet Traditionalists: This includes Individual conservative believers with:
bullet High levels of orthodox belief in God, Satan, life after death, the Bible, creation science, and the truth -- or lack of it - within the world's religions), and
bullet Heavy religious involvement (attendance, financial support, prayer, scripture reading, small group participation), and
bullet A desire to hold fast to their beliefs and practices and resist pressures for change coming from society as a whole.
bullet Modernists: These are believers at the other end of the scale -- those with liberal tendencies: a high level of heterodox belief, relatively low level of religious involvement, and a desire to accommodate change.
bullet Centrists: These are church members whose beliefs and practices are intermediate between the Traditionalists and Modernists.

Finally, they tabulated membership data from the major categories -- Evangelical Protestantism, Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism -- by ethnicity and/or race.

They found the following 18 religious communities, and established the size of each. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 2%. This means that if the survey were repeated twenty times with different random samplings of American adults, any given result would be within 2% of the value shown here, for nineteen times out of twenty repeat polls:

They found:

54.7% of American adults identify themselves as Protestants. Of these:

bullet 12.6% are Traditionalist Evangelicals
bullet 10.8% Centrist Evangelicals
bullet 02.9% Modernist Evangelicals
bullet Making a total of 26.3% for white and non-Latino Evangelical Protestants
bullet 04.3% Traditionalist Mainliners
bullet 07.0% Centrist Mainliners
bullet 04.7% Modernist Mainliners
bullet Making a total of 16.0% for white and non-Latino Mainline Protestants
bullet 02.8% Latino Protestants
bullet 09.6% Black Protestants

22.0% are Roman Catholics:

bullet 04.4% Traditionalist Catholic
bullet 08.1% Centrist Catholic
bullet 05.0% Modernist Catholic
bullet 04.5% Latino Catholic

12.6% are followers of one or more religions not otherwise specified:

bullet 02.7% Other Christian, including Christian Scientists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, O (the Mormons), Orthodox Churches, etc.
bullet 01.9% Jewish
bullet 02.7% Other religions, including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, New Agers.
bullet 05.3% Unaffiliated believers -- persons with no religious affiliation.

10.7% do reject the beliefs of established religions:

bullet 07.5% Secularists -- persons with no religious affiliation who have few or no religious beliefs or practices.
bullet 03.2% Atheists & Agnostics -- non-theistic beliefs.

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Some observations:

bullet Religious transition: It appears that America is poised to go through its second major religious transition. Prior to 1492 CE, the entire population of the U.S. was composed of about 500 tribes of Native Americans following an Aboriginal form of spirituality. After 1492, with the influx of Europeans, the balance shifted, and the area became predominately Protestant. Within a few years, a second shift will probably occur, placing Protestants in the minority. More details.
bullet Belief in God: Table 30 of the survey 3 shows that:
bullet Marginally more Americans regard God as a spirit or impersonal force (41%) than believe in a personal God (40%). However, this plurality is not statistically significant at this time.
bullet "Other Christians," and Traditionalists among the Evangelicals, Mainline denominations, and Catholics have a strong belief in the personhood of God (63%, 78%, 61%, 65%).
bullet Among Modernists in Evangelical, Mainline, and Catholic denomination, those who believe that God is a spirit or impersonal force (42%,62%,66%) outnumber those who believe that God is a person (30%, 3%, 3%).
bullet If we define the religion of a person by the God that they believe it, it can be argued that Traditionalists and Modernists among Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic denominations in the U.S. are actually following different religions.
bullet The importance of cultural matters: When asked what was the most important problem facing the U.S. at this time:
bullet More than 40% of American adults mentioned an economic issue (unemployment, lack of health care, poverty...);
bullet Fewer than one in three mentioned a foreign policy issue (Iraqi war, terrorism, the UN...).
bullet Twenty percent mentioned a cultural matter (abortion, crime, public disorder...).
bullet Less than 10% mentioned a political process issue (media bias, campaign finance reform...).

Only Traditionalist Evangelicals ranked cultural matters as their main concern, at about 40%.

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  1. "American religious landscapes and political attitudes," The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, at:
  2. John C Green, "American religious landscapes and political attitudes: A baseline for 2004," Pew Forum, at: You may need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:

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Copyright 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Written: 2004-SEP-20

Last updated: 2004-SEP-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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