April 25, 2007

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and Pew Hispanic Center Release

Landmark survey documents distinctive religious practices among fast-growing population and explores how Latinos’ religious beliefs affect their political thinking

Hispanics are transforming the nation’s religious landscape, especially the Roman Catholic Church, not only because of their growing numbers but also because they are practicing a distinctive form of Christianity. A study released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center explores the distinctive characteristics of Hispanics’ religious beliefs and practices, and examines how these are related to the political views of Latinos of all faiths.

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“The major findings in this study leave little doubt that a detailed understanding of religious faith among Latinos is essential to fully appreciating the evolving nature of religion in the United States and of the role Latinos will likely play in the country’s politics and public life,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum.

To explore the complex nature of religion among Latinos, the Pew Forum and the Pew Hispanic Center collaborated on a series of bilingual public opinion surveys that totaled more than 4,600 interviews, constituting one of the largest data collection efforts conducted on this subject. The study examines the growth of evangelical and pentecostal Christianity among Latinos, paying special attention to Catholics, both those who retain their identification with the church and those who convert to evangelical churches. The survey includes large numbers of respondents in all the major country-of-origin segments of the Hispanic population, allowing for detailed analysis of results by this important variable.

The research team also examined data from a large body of surveys previously conducted by both projects, including the latest of the Pew Forum’s extensive surveys of religious belief and behavior in the general population. These offer various comparisons between Hispanics and non-Hispanics on many points.

The study documents how Latinos:

Have distinctive religious practices: Religious expressions associated with the pentecostal and charismatic movements are a key attribute of worship for many Hispanics in all the major religious traditions – far more so than among non-Latinos. Renewalist Christianity, which places special emphasis on God’s ongoing, day-to-day intervention in human affairs through the person of the Holy Spirit, appears to be much more prevalent among Hispanics than among their non-Latino counterparts.

Are transforming the Catholic Church: More than half of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatics, compared with only an eighth of non-Hispanic Catholics. While remaining committed to the church and its traditional teachings, many of these Latino Catholics report familiarity with supernatural experiences, such as divine healings and speaking in tongues, that are more typical of Protestant renewalist movements.

Attend houses of worship that have distinctly ethnic characteristics: Two-thirds of Latino worshipers attend churches that have Latino clergy, where services are offered in Spanish, and where most other worshippers are Latino. While Latino-oriented worship is most prominent among the foreign born and Spanish speakers, ethnic churches also are prevalent among native-born and English-speaking Latinos.

See religion as a moral compass to guide their political thinking: Two-thirds of Hispanics say that their religious beliefs are an important influence on their political thinking. More than half say churches and other houses of worship should address the social and political questions of the day. By nearly a two-to-one margin, Latinos say there has been too little expression of religious faith by political leaders rather than too much.

Combine religious and political affiliation: The study also sheds new light on the role religious affiliation plays on party identification among Hispanics. Latinos who are evangelicals are twice as likely as those who are Catholics to identify with the Republican Party. Latino Catholics, on the other hand, are much more likely than Latino evangelicals to identify with the Democratic Party. These differences rival, and may even exceed, those found in the general population.

Both the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center are projects of the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based, nonpartisan research organization that seeks to provide timely information, free of any advocacy, on issues, attitudes and trends that are shaping America and the world.

The study is now available at pewforum.org/surveys/hispanic.