The Demographics of Faith
The United States is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. Indeed, with adherents from all of the world’s major religions, the United States is truly a nation of religious minorities. Although Protestantism remains the dominant strain of Christianity in the United States, the Protestant tradition is divided into dozens of major denominations, all with unique beliefs, religious practices, and histories. Furthermore, Protestant Christianity’s dominance in the United States has waned in recent years. In fact, a recent public opinion survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country for the first time in its history. The number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51 percent, down from more than 60 percent in the 1970s and 1980s.
Roman Catholics account for about a quarter of U.S. adults, and members of other Christian faiths account for an additional 3.3 percent. Overall, nearly eight in 10 adults report belonging to various forms of Christianity. Other world religions – including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism – now have followers among about 5 percent of the U.S. adult population. Almost one in six adults are not affiliated with any particular religion, a population that has been growing in recent decades.
Religious diversity in the United States is driven by many factors, including immigration. America’s religious diversity also reflects the protections afforded to the free practice of religion under the U.S. Constitution. Not only do immigrants feel free to bring their religious beliefs and practices with them, but many Americans decide to change their religious affiliation at least once in their lives. Indeed, according to the Forum survey conducted in mid-2007, more than a quarter of American adults have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all – and that does not include changes in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another.
This article was written by Brian J. Grim, Senior Research Fellow in Religion and World Affairs, and David Masci, Senior Research Fellow in Religion and Law, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. It was published by the U.S. State Department in the August 2008 edition of eJournal USA, “Freedom of Faith,” available at www.america.gov. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.