A Political Explanation for Increased Religious Non-Affiliation

Sociologist Bradley Wright teaches at the University of Connecticut.  His work has been mentioned on my blog on several occasions, including reviews of his two most recent books: Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World (2011 – my review here) and  Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media (2010 – my review here).

Wright recently wrote about the connection between the dramatic increase in those who label themselves as religiously non-affiliated (“nones”) and politics.  During the 1990s “the percentage of Americans who did not affiliate with any religion more than doubled” from 7% to 14%.  That percentage has continued to rise, and now stands at 17%.

Wright considers the work of two Berkley sociologists (Michael Hout and Claude Fischer) that links the rise in religious non-affiliation in the 1990s to politics.  Their research finds that the increased role of the Religious Right in the 1980s and into the 1990s “politicized Christianity” and “repelled people who accepted Christianity but not the Republican party” (especially those who held only marginal affiliation previously).

So What?

I have contributed a dozen or so blog posts to the growing body of literature around the increase in religious non-affiliation.  Most of the literature recognizes the trend and either goes on to either (1) predict whether the rate of increase will surge or slow in coming years or (2) explain what this increase really means (especially whether or not the increase is a real increase or primarily a shift enabling those who previously had no deep affiliation to state that they were non-affiliated rather than feeling socially constrained to pick an affiliation with which they or their family had an historical tie).  Very little is being written about why the growth was as rapid as it was in the 90s or why it has continued at a much slower rate since.

  • Were you already aware of the current rate (around 17%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans and the growth pattern (doubling in the 90s but growing only two percentage points since) or is this new information for you?
  • Assuming that Hout and Fischer are correct, the Religious Right played a significant role in reducing the roll of those who label themselves as Christian by approximately 6.5 million during the 1990s (assuming they accounted for roughly half of the total loss).   How did the Religious Right impact your faith and/or that of those closest to you during that decade?
  • During the current decade (2010s) do you expect the number of religiously non-affiliated to decrease significantly, decrease somewhat, remain stable, increase somewhat, or increase significantly? Why?

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