Second Largest Religious Tradition by State

Second Largest Religious Tradition by State Fair Use

The other day the Washington Post posted an amazing map showing the second most populous religious tradition in each of the 50 states. Imagine, after Christianity it’s Baha’is in South Carolina, Hindus in Arizona and Delaware, and Muslims in Florida and Illinois.

The only trouble is that none of the above is true.

How do I know this? The map comes from the 2010 U.S. Religious Census taken by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The Religious Census is based on self-reporting by religious bodies, a means of data collection that, depending on the body, ranges from highly accurate to wildly conjectural and self-serving. It is, in the aggregate, far less accurate than large random phone surveys that ask individuals to give their religious identity.

Thus, in 2008, Pew’s Religious Landscape Study showed more than twice as many Jews as “Other World Religions” (Sikhs, Jains, and others as well as Baha’is) in South Carolina. It showed more than four times as many Jews as Hindus in Delaware, and more than twice as many Jews and twice as many Buddhists as Hindus in Arizona. It showed over six times as many Jews as Muslims in Florida and over four times as many in Illinois.

And so on. Altogether, Jews come in second in at least half the states (not 15); Muslims, in at most a dozen (not 20), and Buddhists, in the remainder (throughout most of the West). The reason for the principal discrepancy (between Jews and Muslims) is that the U.S. Religious Census relies on reports of actual synagogue membership, and many self-identified Jews don’t belong to synagogues; while the reporting Muslim bodies provide estimates of mosque membership.

In any case, it’s worth bearing in mind how small a place the non-Christian traditions occupy in American society as a whole — less than five percent in toto. Two percent are Jews, with the rest ranging from one percent down.

By far the largest non-Christian group in American society is composed of those who disclaim any religious identity. These self-identified Nones now represent roughly 20 percent of the adult population.

Categories: Institutions

Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

45 Comments

  1. Lynne Newington

    And I’m sure the American Bishops Conference had a big role to play, like they did in the John Jay Report, opening their cheque book to have their finger in the pie.

  2. Gosh….for a guy who writes a blog on religion you sure do love bring up them “Nones”….its almost like you have some sort of alternative….A..g..e..n..d..a…Or may this is some sort of reflexive psychological reaction that happens when someone falls away from a revealed religion with absolute truths…reflexively…you have to go around and attack everyone else’s attempt to be faithful to the truth. Turning the golden rule on its head….by proclaiming “tolerance” for others people’s sins…..you excuse yourself.

    • TZ: your accusations of if Dr Silk has an ‘agenda’ is irrelevant to what he has posited here. For whatever reason, you haven’t seen the forest for the wood: he is making a valid point regarding data collection. The data used to generate the map is invalid.

      As you have brought-up the word ‘agenda,’ let’s use it, shall we? If I want to use scientific methods to gather valid data, a person would be less inclined to do things like taking a poll of people at the IHOP to find out how many people in America like to eat pancakes for breakfast, or for that matter, polling people on the doorstep of a church to ask them how regular their attendance is. You might be thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous, Jason. Who would poll people at the IHOP about their pancake-eating habits?!” And you would be right to think this. Unfortunately, it’s what has been done by the group with the agenda (sorry, but I had to drop that in there…) in order to prove their point.

      There are far more reliable and less-skewed methods of collecting and reporting data. Dr Silk’s blog is showing that Homer Simpson was right: “But, Marge, I know it’s right because the TV said so.” Or, to take it from British satire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

      • Jason, as you noted, I wasn’t commenting on the particulars of the post but rather the bias of the poster. The perfect data collection methodology in the world is of little use when the “statistician” is only interested in confirming his own biases to promote a preconceived narrative. This is not a dispassionate observer, honestly producing experiments and following the facts. The fix is in. It is the exact opposite of the scientific method you so rightfully praise.

        • Jason D Heap

          TZ, are you seriously claiming the ability to prove Dr Silk’s mindset and motivation to this “preconceived narrative” of which you speak? Good luck.

          • i never said anything about proving anything. Besides, even your perfect sampling process is subject to confidence levels.

        • Jason D Heap

          TZ, Anonymity or knowing the name/face of the person posting something doesn’t necessarily ‘prove’ anything, and I don’t think that Lynn is making that assertion. However, it does provide empirical evidence for the discussion. I am who my name says it to be. I am openly Humanist, and by saying this is the person, they are a Humanist, it follows that you will know at least the basic starting points of where this person is coming from (just as I would know the basic assumptions, beliefs, etc. if I was to hold a conversation with someone such as, say, His Grace, Justin Welby).

          The psychology of anonymity is a fascinating one to read, and the comment made by Lynne is directly related to the sensation a person can feel if they may pass judgment on someone, knowing that their anonymity gives them a certain sense of protection and power over their accused/judged. In this case, Dr. Silk has been judged by someone he hasn’t met, seen, etc., who has then disappeared behind a shroud of anonymity. For all we know, it could be a high-profile scholar who has said these things about Dr. Silk, or it could be Jimmy Hoffa resurfacing after all these years of playing hide-and-seek (and doing a bloody good job of it, I might add).

          • You claim to be a lover of empirical evidence but you can only make your case by knowing my name while I can make my case by engaging the facts. If you were a true lover of empirical evidence you wouldn’t want to know anyone’s name so the facts could stand for them self.

          • Jason D Heap

            TZ, I’m afraid that I am not following you on your previous posts, as you reverse directions and your flow of thought is lacking. Your biases are clear through your own statements in this blog, regardless of the advantage that you have over me of knowing who I am and with it, my assumptions, and probably the logic I use to come to conclusions.

            What exactly, are you trying to say here? Is it that Dr Silk should not be writing a blog on religion that draws focus to those of us–like myself–who are self-proclaimed “nones”? This is the impression that I am getting from your earliest reply, but I could be wrong. Likewise, I am unsure as to the purpose of deploying the list of historical figures below: what point were you trying to illustrate with them? (As for myself, I will happily admit using certain instances within the history of Christianity to show that, in the name of Jesus and Christianity, some inhumane acts were committed. And yes, it was flavoured with sarcasm…)

            Curious about the use of jargon, if I may: what do you mean by ‘confidence levels’? I’m well aware, as a social scientist, that there is no such thing as bias-free data collection, etc. Every question asked has some form of motivation behind it–intentional or unintentional.

          • Lynne Newington

            Good on the Humanists:
            It was the International Humanist and Ethical Union who brought us to account before the United Nations for not coming up to scratch in relation to the heinious crimes commited against OUR Catholic children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  3. Not only are more Americans giving up religion, more Americans are willing to admit they do not believe in a god of any kind.

    Church life is increasingly becoming little more than a social occasion.
    As attendees lose interest in doctrine they appear to be seeking more effective ways to improve the world.

    Religion’s influence on society
    has been seen as disastrous in most cases.

      • Jason D Heap

        Actually, Hitler admitted his Roman Catholicism in ‘Mein Kampf’. (Roman Catholicism is huge in Bayern/Bavaria and in Austria…) The ‘Reichskirche’ is a Nazified washing over RCC.

        If memory serves me correctly, Pol Pot was a Buddhist….so was Chairman Mao (I lived in China for a while).

        Stalin…well, he openly spoke of his Greek Orthodox beliefs.

        Now, let’s see….during something like The Crusades, who was king and who was Pope? And who was responsible for the diaspora of the Ashkenazi Jews? The historical list could go on and on if we want it to, or we can agree to disagree and say that different religious groups have, at times, under the name of their religion, done some unethical things to other human beings. Hopefully we’ve learnt from this? Maybe…http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/paying-for-terrorism-where-does-boko-haram-gets-its-money-from-9503948.html (tit for tat Christians vs. Muslims, just like it was in Nigeria’s history about 40–50 years ago).

        • Yawn….by your logic…the 1980s was the apex on liberal ideals because after all Ronald Reagan was a Democrat in the 50s. If you are a humanist and want the future morals and ethics to be determined by the whims of your intelligence please spend more time thinking ans less time responding.

          • Jason D Heap

            Wow, TZ. Have I struck a nerve? :-)

            Please explain how you came up with a major hermeneutical leap of Ronald Reagan in the 1950s and liberal ideals of the 1980s. I would enjoy reading this….and thinking about your response.

      • Lynne Newington

        Don’t forget the Vatican’s penchant for dicators…….recently by the present pope, not even touching on his and John Paul 11, [recently made an intercessor for all Catholics elevated to sainthood], during military rule in Argentina, the church financially supported and as Jorje Bergolio received the cardinals hat, now protected from any public accountability as Vicar of Christ.

        • Jason D Heap

          Lynne: Lord John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton himself was a HIGHLY loyal Roman Catholic, and all he wanted was to have a look around the Vatican’s archives during Vatican I because he had some historical ‘hunches’ that he wanted to clear-up for himself. So, when he–the author of the first Cambridge Modern History and eminent scholar at The University of Cambridge–was denied access into the archives, he could not help but wonder what was being hidden from his eyes.

          I owe a lot to Acton, as his writing influenced me greatly, especially two particular quotes that stay at the forefront of my research of and for life:
          “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
          and
          “Be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others; have no favourites.”

          For the most part, we know of Acton because of his maxim: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

          Always fun when peeling beyond the top layer…

          • Lynne Newington

            An John Cornwall a Catholic was offered archives on Pius X11 too, just to get the records straight on how the church saved the Jews during the Holocaust, as they marched “Under His Very Windows” {Susan Zuccotti} on the way to the extermination camps at Auschwitz……

    • Lynne Newington

      And as for atheists; Australia’s first woman prime minister, barren, living in sin and atheist , not necessarily in that order that the henchman of the present day government classed as “unfit’ to hold down the position, setting another precedent , calling for a Royal Commssion in to sex-abuse which highlights corruption again with connections to the Holy See.
      Post Script:
      We now have an idiot, an ex-seminarian running the country like a bull in a china shop with srtong ties to the same institution.

  4. Mark Silk

    For what it’s worth, the reason I introduced Nones into this discussion was to make clear the size of the gap between self-identified Christians and all other religious groups in America today. It’s 75 percent Christians, 20 percent Nones, and five percent everyone else.

    • Dr Silk,

      And with the number of ‘nones’ on the increase, what is to be done? An interesting book I read at Brite, with its title mimicking that of Martin Luther’s classic work: “The Babylonian Captivity of the Mainline Church”. Processes in life are in a constant state of flux, evolution, change, whatever word one wishes to describe it. Societies change and with it, habits, rituals, values. When we watch “Back to the Future,” the school, the education system, the curriculum, even the very ethos within the school of Marty McFly’s father is different than what Marty experienced in the 1985…and look at the changes made in the past 30 years since that film was made. Change is inevitable (at least the philosopher Henri Bergson thought so), whether or not the ostrich chooses to remove its head from the sand. “Nones” can either be neglected and relegated to the fringe, or acknowledged and welcomed into the greater discussion.

      What I object to is select groups viewing the “nones” as a field ripe for harvest.

      J

    • Mark, I suppose it’s “okay” or “understandable” if you introduce “Nones” into a discussion about this map/census, but the fact is: this map/census is not about Nones – the correlation is not religious vs. non-religious; it’s religious vs. religious. (I use the term “vs.,” loosely, not literally.) So, while you may have some thoughtful comments about Nones, your comments stray from the point of the WaPo report on the map/study, which (I think) diminishes meaningful discourse on the actual WaPo article/map/census.

      • Mark Silk

        I beg to differ, kellcsmith. Without taking note of the Nones, there’s no way to understand just how little difference coming in second makes compared to who’s in first. But in any event, the main point of my post was to point out the inaccuracy of the data the Post relied on.

      • I’m not following your reasoning. When looking at religious affiliation, how is it more illuminating (rather than less) to ignore those who say they are not affiliated with any major religion, especially when they make up about 1/5 of the population (and growing)? You say “the correlation is not religious vs. non-religious; it’s religious vs. religious.” What correlation are you talking about? This is a simple ranking exercise.

  5. To me, this Religion News Service article is the equivalent of someone plugging their ears with their index fingers, and loudly repeating, “LaLaLaLaLa!!; I can’t HEEEAAAAR YOU!”

    • Kellcsmith: That’s what it feels like to be in the “none” category when dealing with the majority. Reminds me of playing with children: just because a person has their hand over their eyes and says, “You can’t see me”, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

      Welcome to life on the fringe, second-class…it’s easier to feel it when you aren’t actually allowed to play on the ‘level playing field': http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/religious-rights/208889-overturn-the-ruling-against-a-humanist-chaplain

  6. I am a librarian who works at a private Catholic university in New England. As part of my job I teach information literacy. Part of that involves encouraging students to evaluate their sources, looking for impartiality or bias (who compiled the data and for what purpose), whether in print or on a website, and also to verify the facts by checking other reputable websites. Of course an individual’s own bias will direct what he/she believes is reputable. Too many people will glibly accept too much of what is passed around on the web if it fits what they already believe.

    • Lynne Newington

      Well said, especially with the contradictions from more than one Vatican voice claiming this and another claiming that. To get the truth there is no mere feat and students would never get to the bottom in a lifetime, unless they have a good memory.

    • Bev,

      I just wanted to jump on the FoxNews thing on what you’ve mentioned here. I will firstly admit, that we really get AlJazeera out here, or when I’m back in the UK, I’ll watch the BBC. But being in the US last month, I had access one night to FoxNews. What I saw shocked me…it shocked me mostly because it is ALLOWED to be aired, and then it shocked me because people just accept what’s a bit of, as is said in the UK, “jiggery-pokery” in front of their own eyes. I remember some person showing two bar charts and making some reference to them to show some ‘trend,’ etc. Neither of the charts were of the same scale, so when you look at Bar 1 and it is massive in comparison to Bar 2, it would cause alarm (perhaps what they wanted in the first place?). But if the two bars are both drawn to the same scale, then it’s not such a big deal after all.

      My wife is a science teacher, and has been providing middle school students with basic skills and competencies they’ll need to tackle high-stakes tests like the British IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education). One of the first things that the Year 7 (11 years old) students must understand and show knowledge and understanding of is simple charts and graphs, and how to handle and display data properly. Come on, American consumers of knowledge: please don’t let 11-year-old students be more savvy.

      Jase

  7. Bev, and from the UK’s Daily Mail….talk about consumers of information and information literacy:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2250096/You-wouldnt-believe-atheism-worlds-biggest-faith-Christianity-Islam.html

    I think this just goes back to the point Dr Silk had made when this blog was posted.

    Kindest regards,

    Jase

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  9. The post written here is not evidence that the primary article is wrong, the post written by Mr Silk is merely an arguement supposing that one incomplete set of data collected in X manner is inferior to a different incomplete data set that was collected in Y manner. The fact that anyone believes they are reading evidence of anything but the conflicting outcomes of Polls, is laughable.

    A good arguement is not positive evidence that a position is correct, a bad arguement is not positive evidence a position is incorrect.
    When both sides of an arguement are based on incomplete data it is asinine to believe you can draw a sound enough conclusion to call the otherside “Wrong”.

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  11. Arthur Williams

    Professor Silk,
    I cannot dispute your point that the ‘survey’ was inaccurate. Nor do I want to, for refutations such as yours are absolutely necessary if America’s changing religious demographics are to be taken seriously. Facts are essential to any investigative process.

    However, your counter-analysis stopped completely short of addressing certain questions, such as “Why is America’s religious ‘face’ changing so suddenly?” Or, “What is the Baha’i Faith? How could it make such inroads into this country’s religious life when most people of your readers have never heard of it (or taken it seriously) until now.”

    The latter series of questions have particular importance. If the Baha’i Faith is generally unknown, then its standards and sense of integrity are as well. In this case, was its most accurate data used for reporting its membership to the Census?

    The Encyclopedia Britannica states that the Baha’i Faith is already the most widespread in the world after Christianity. Thus, unless you know the answer to the latter question, it is inappropriate to explain away Census data as it pertains to the Baha’i Faith.

    The world is now undergoing a major paradigm shift in human consciousness and, thus, religious belief. Surveys show that belief in traditional organized religion is waning, while belief in a higher Being continues to hold sway. So if you can accept that 68 percent of U.S. adults now fall into the ‘NONE’ category, why the difficulty in accepting showing a significant acceptance of a ‘new’ religion in South Carolina (and elsewhere)?

    We must strive to be fair. Truth has a way of taking care of itself.

    No survey is completely accurate; many factors explain why. include it among other religions who may simply ‘guess’ the size of their membership, unless you actually know this has been done.

  12. Do these polls distinguish between religious and secular/cultural Jews? That seems important, if you want to rank the prevalence of religions. I’m an atheist but I don’t wish to ignore the fact that our family was Jewish going as far back as I’m aware, and they came to the U.S. over 100 years ago to escape religious persecution.

    If you were to ask my mother what her religion is, she’d say Jewish. If you have a religious discussion with her, you’d find she’s actually agnostic.
    I wonder what the poll question(s) were, specifically. It would affect how the results are skewed.

    • Mark Silk

      Some do, such as the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), by differentiating between those who identify their religion as Jewish and those who identify their ethnicity as such. Your mother’s answer would put her into the first camp, but then, so would a lot of other self-identified religious adherents. Even from the standpoint of some religions, disbelief in God does not exclude you from the community. In the case of Judaism, it’s traditionally enough to have a Jewish mother. As a Jewish friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t care whether I believe in him.”

  13. When it comes to my folks, the Jews the data is often skewed because there are lots of Jews who are not religious as anyone would define that term but who culturally and ethnically define themselves as Jews. So the data suggesting there are many Jews not being counted here may in fact be correct insofar as one is counting the ones like those of my mother’s side who do not practice the religious tradition as such and never darken the door of the shul. But if asked if they were Jews would so indicate.

    So to what extents doe the difference in data arise from that issue?

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