News & Insights

This month Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, released its new American Religious Identification Survey report. The report is garnering headlines in major publications like the Washington Post and USA Today

Christian T-shirtThe statistic that is getting the most attention is the number of nonreligious people -- 14.2 percent of Americans now say they have no religion, as opposed to just 8.2 percent in a similar 1990 report.

Within the population that describes itself as Christian, there has been a sharp drop in those identifying with the label Protestant, or with one of the mainline Protestant denominations. In 2001, 17.2 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestants, compared with just 12.9 percent today. On the other hand, the number of those who identify themselves as "Christian," "Evangelical/Born Again," or "non-denominational Christian" rose from 8.5 percent of the population (in 2001) to 11.8 percent today. Of mainline Protestants, 38.6 percent now also identify themselves as evangelical or born again.

As is the case with most self-reported religious labels, the numbers are somewhat confusing and difficult to parse. Mark Silk, who supervised the survey, told the Washington Post: "If people call themselves 'evangelical,' it doesn't tell you as much as you think it tells you about what kind of church they go to. It deepens the conundrum about who evangelicals are."

Nevertheless, this confirms my sense that religious labels are increasingly slippery and unimportant for North American Christians. And it hints that those seminaries that are named after places or even theological concepts (like a city name or "Trinity") may have an easier time marketing themselves than those with specifically denominational names.

The full report is available online here (PDF). USA Today has beautiful interactive charts here

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