ISR News & Events

Are Religious “Nones” Really Not Religious?: Revisiting Glenn, Three Decades Later

Author: Jeff Levin, Ph.D., M.P.H., Matt Bradshaw, Ph.D., Byron R. Johnson, Ph.D., Rodney Stark, Ph.D. (Baylor University)

To examine the extent to which religious “nones” are actually not religious in their personal lives, data were analyzed from five recent U.S. population surveys—the 2018 General Social Survey, 2017 Values and Beliefs of the American Public Survey, 2012 Portrait of American Life Study, 2017-2020 World Values Survey, and 2018 Chapman Survey of American Fears. Consistent with some previous studies but contrary to widely-held assumptions, many individuals who report no religious affiliation or check “none” on surveys (as well as atheists and agnostics) display a wide variety of religious and spiritual practices and beliefs. Many attend religious services, pray, meditate, believe in God or a higher power, have religious experiences, and believe in heaven, hell, and miracles. Even though a growing proportion of people in the U.S. appear to be reporting no religious affiliation on surveys, there are many measurement-related, conceptual, and methodological reasons to question the assumption that these people are not religious, and scholars need to look more closely at the actual practices and beliefs of so-called nones. Further, use of phrases like religious none, no religion, and not religious to describe this group of individuals is inappropriate, inaccurate, and misleading since they may simply be institutionally unaffiliated or indeed affiliated but not with any of the list of categories provided. More focused research is needed before we will fully understand who the nones are, and whether religion is actually declining in the U.S., as well as around the world.

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