Religion in the United States: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article primarily covers the current status of religion in the United States. For information about the historical role of religion, see History of religion in the United States.

Religion in the United States is remarkable both in its high adherence level compared to other developed countries as well as its diversity. The First Amendment to the country's Constitution prevents the government from having any authority in religion, and guarantees the free exercise of religion. A majority of Americans report that religion plays a "very important" role in their lives, a proportion unusual among developed nations, though similar to other nations in the Americas.[1] Many faiths have flourished in the United States, including imports spanning the country's multicultural heritage as well as those founded within the country, and have led the United States to become the most religiously diverse country in the world.[2]

The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians (76%), while non-Christian religions (including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and others) collectively make up about 4% of the adult population.[3] Another 15% of the adult population identified as having no religious affiliation.[4] According to the American Religious Identification Survey, religious belief varies considerably across the country: 59% of Americans living in Western states (the "Unchurched Belt") report a belief in God, yet in the South (the "Bible Belt") the figure is as high as 86%.[5][6]

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., is the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States.

Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by English settlers who wished to practice their own religion without discrimination: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by Puritans, Pennsylvania by Quakers, and Maryland by Roman Catholics. Although some individual states retained established churches well into the nineteenth century, the United States was the first nation to have no official religion.[7] Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the framers of the Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the federal government any power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. The decision was mainly influenced by Reformation ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent them.[8]


Main religious preferences of Americans

Religious groups in the United States

According to a 2007 Pew Research Center survey,[9] the following is the order of religious preferences in the United States:

More recent studies show that the overall percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christians is sliding. Christianity in the United States has become more polarized with the numbers of evangelical Christians increased which, according to the studies, also contributed to the increasing numbers of Americans who are rejecting religion completely.[10] Around half of American adults leave the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether.[11]



The largest religion in the US is Christianity, practiced by the majority of the population (76% in 2008[5]). Roughly 51.3% of Americans are Protestants, 23.9% are Catholics, and 1.7% are Mormons (the name commonly used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and 1.6% to various other Christian denominations.[12] Christianity was introduced during the period of European colonization.

By the 2009 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches of the National Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single denomination with a membership of 67,117,016, and Southern Baptist Convention ranks second at 16,266,920. Due to its large population, the United States has more Christians than any other country in the world. However, other countries have higher percentages of Christians out of their total populations.

A Christian cross of German roots (at Mount Ecclesia), planted by American forerunners in the early 20th century, marks the rebirth of this Christian path in an entirely new locality, the United States.[13]

The Hispanics/Latinos, Irish, Italians, Polish, French, Spanish, Hungarians, German, and Lebanese brought Catholicism, while Northern European peoples introduced Protestantism. Among Protestants, adherents to Anglicanism, Baptism, Calvinism, Puritanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Quakerism, Amish, Methodism and Moravian Church were the first to settle to the US, spreading their faith in the new country. Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and South Indian immigrants brought Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy to the United States. These branches of Christianity have since spread beyond the boundaries of ethnic immigrant communities and now include multi-ethnic membership and parishes.

Since then, American Christians developed in their own path. During the Great Awakenings interdenominational evangelicalism, Pentecostalism and Christian fundamentalism emerged, along with new Protestant denominations such as Adventism, and non-Protestant movements such as the Restoration Movement (which over time separated into the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)), the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commonly referred to as Jehovah's Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also commonly referred to as Mormonism. Today, with 16.6 million adherents (5.3% of the total population), Southern Baptist is the largest of more than 200[14] distinctly named Protestant denominations.[15] Of the total population, Evangelicals comprise 26.3%, and Mainline Protestants 16%.[16] The strength of various sects varies greatly in different regions of the country, with rural parts of the South (except Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and the Hispanic community, which both consist mainly of Catholics), having many evangelicals but very few Catholics, while urbanized areas of the north Atlantic states and Great Lakes, as well as many industrial and mining towns, are heavily Catholic, though still quite mixed, especially due to the heavily Protestant African-American communities. As of 1990, nearly 72% of the population of Utah was Mormon, as well as 26% of neighboring Idaho.[17] Lutheranism is most prominent in the Upper Midwest, with North Dakota having the highest percentage, 35% according to a 2001 survey.[18]

Despite its status as the most widespread and influential religion in the US, Christianity is undergoing a continuous relative decline in demographics. While the absolute number of Christians rose from 1990 to 2008 as the overall population increased, the actual percentage of Christians dropped from 86.2% to 76.0%.[5] A nationwide telephone interview of 1,002 adults conducted by The Barna Group found that 70% of American adults believe that God is "the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today," and that 9% of all American adults and 0.5% young adults hold to what the survey defined as a "biblical worldview."[19]

No religion

A 2001 survey directed by Dr. Ariela Keysar for the City University of New York indicated that, amongst the more than 100 categories of response, "no religious identification" had the greatest increase in population in both absolute and percentage terms. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, deists, and others with no theistic religious beliefs or practices. Figures are up from 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, representing a proportionate increase from 8% of the total in 1990 to 15% in 2008.[5] Another nation-wide study puts the figure of unaffiliated persons at 16.1%.[20]

A study at the London School of Economics and Political Science based on a U.S. sample, showed that Americans who are atheist and liberal tend to have higher IQs than average. In addition atheist, liberal American men are more likely to be sexually exclusive than average.[21]

In a 2006 nationwide poll, University of Minnesota researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who rated them below Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society". They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism.[22][23]

However, the same study also reported that, “The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation--with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.”[24]


After Christianity and no-religion, Judaism is the third-largest religious affiliation in the US, though this identification is not necessarily indicative of religious beliefs or practices.[5] Jews have been present in what is now the US since the 17th century, though large scale immigration did not take place until the 19th century, largely as a result of persecutions in parts of Eastern Europe. The CIA Fact Book estimates 1% of Americans belong to this group.[3] Approximately 25% of this population lives in New York City.[25]

A significant number of people identify themselves as American Jews on ethnic and cultural grounds, rather than religious ones. For example, 19% of self-identified American Jews believe God does not exist, notwithstanding God's existence to be integral to Jewish religious beliefs.[26] The 2001 ARIS study projected from its sample that there are about 5.3 million adults in the American Jewish population: 2.83 million adults (1.4% of the U.S. adult population) are estimated to be adherents of Judaism; 1.08 million are estimated to be adherents of no religion; and 1.36 million are estimated to be adherents of a religion other than Judaism.[27][28]

According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey,[29] 4.3 million American Jews have some sort of strong connection to the Jewish community, whether religious or cultural. Jewishness is generally considered an ethnic identity as well as a religious one. Among the 4.3 million American Jews described as "strongly connected" to Judaism, over 80% have some sort of active engagement with Judaism, ranging from attendance at daily prayer services on one end of the spectrum to as little as attending Passover Seders or lighting Hanukkah candles on the other. Of these 4.3 million strongly connected Jews, 46% belong to a synagogue. Among those who belong to a synagogue, 38% are members of Reform synagogues, 33% Conservative, 22% Orthodox, 2% Reconstructionist, and 5% other types. The survey also discovered that Jews in the Northeast and Midwest are generally more observant than Jews in the South or West. Reflecting a trend also observed among other religious groups, Jews in the Northwestern United States are typically the least observant.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable trend of secular American Jews, called baalei teshuva ("returners", see also Repentance in Judaism), returning to a more religious, in most cases, Orthodox, style of observance. It is uncertain how widespread or demographically important this movement is at present.

The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe, and their US-born descendants. There are, however, small numbers of older (and some recently arrived) communities of Sephardi Jews with roots tracing back to 15th century Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and North Africa).

There are Mizrahi Jews (from the Middle East, Caucasia and Central Asia), as well as much smaller numbers of Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, Kaifeng Jews and others from various smaller Jewish ethnic divisions.


Hsi Lai Temple (lit. Coming West Temple), a Buddhist monastery in Los Angeles, California.

Buddhism entered the US during the 19th century with the arrival of the first immigrants from Eastern Asia. The first Buddhist temple was established in San Francisco in 1853 by Chinese Americans.

During the late 19th century Buddhist missionaries from Japan came to the US. Simultaneously to these processes, US intellectuals started to take interest in Buddhism.

The first prominent US citizen to publicly convert to Buddhism was Henry Steel Olcott. An event that contributed to strengthen Buddhism in the US was the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893, which was attended by many Buddhist delegates sent from India, China, Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

The early 20th century was characterized by a continuation of the tendencies with roots in the 19th century. The second half, by contrast, saw the emergence of new approaches, and the move of Buddhism into the mainstream making itself a mass and social religious phenomenon.

Many foreign associations and teachers - such as Soka Gakkai and Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama (for Tibetan Buddhism) - started to organize missionary activities, while US converts established the first Western-based Buddhist institutions, temples and worship groups.

Estimates of the number of Buddhists in the United States vary between 0.5%[5] and 0.9%[3][30].


The Islamic Center of Washington in the nation's capital is a leading American Islamic Center.

According to some sources, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States,[31][32][33] with 20,000 converting each year, mainly among African Americans.[34]

American Islam effectively began with the arrival of African slaves. It is estimated that about 10% of African slaves transported to the United States were Muslim.[35] Among them was Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim Scholar and trader, known for authoring many slave narratives documenting African Islam, the turmoil of integration into a foreign culture, life in Africa, and life as a slave in the Americas.

The Muslim population has increased greatly in the last one hundred years. Much of the growth has been driven by immigration, a comparatively high birth rate, and conversion. Up to one-third of American Muslims are African Americans who have converted to Islam during the last seventy years, most of whom first joined the Nation of Islam, though the majority later transitioned into mainstream Sunni Islam.[36] Prominent Muslim converts include, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, both were members of the Nation of Islam and then converted to Sunni Islam.[37] Siraj Wahhaj was the first Muslim who had offered an invocation to the United States House of Representatives in 1991,[38] and Warith Deen Mohammed was the first Muslim to give an invocation in the U.S. Senate in 1992.[39] The first Muslim to have been elected in Congress was Keith Ellison in 2006,[40] followed by Andre Carson in 2008.[41]

The Islamic Center of America located in Michigan, is the largest mosque in the United States

Research indicates that Muslims in the US are generally more assimilated and prosperous than Muslims in Europe.[42][43] Surveys also suggest, however, that they are less assimilated than other American subcultural and religious communities, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.[34] Like other subcultural and religious communities, the Islamic community has generated its own political organizations and charity organizations.

Muslim immigration is rising as in 2005 alone more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent US residents than in any year in the previous two decades.[44][45] The number of Muslims in the US is somewhat controversial. The highest, generally-accepted estimate of Muslims (including children) in the United States is 2.35 million (0.6% of the total population).[46][47] Some sources mention estimates as high as 6-7 million.[48][49] This would make Islam the second most popular religion in the US after Christianity. Such estimates were accepted by media for some time, but any empirical basis for these higher numbers is not documented.[50][51] President Obama in a 2009 speech in Egypt, stated that there were nearly 7 million Muslims in the US.[52]


The first time Hinduism entered the US is not clearly identifiable. However, large groups of Hindus immigrated from India and other Asian countries since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. During the 1960s and 1970s Hinduism exercised fascination contributing to the development of New Age thought. During the same decades the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (a Vaishnavite Hindu reform organization) was founded in the US.

According to recent surveys, estimates for Hindus in the US suggest they number nearly 800 thousand people or about 0.4% of the total population[20][28] .

Hindu religion is growing in the US. Hinduism is expanding in popularity and influence on the public life.[53] In 2004 the Hindu American Foundation - a national institution protecting rights the Hindu community of US - was founded.


Sikhs have been a part of the American populace for more than 130 years. Around 1900, the state of Punjab of British India was hit hard by British practices of mercantilism. Many Sikhs emigrated to the United States, and began arriving to work on farms in California. They traveled via Hong Kong to Angel Island, California, the western counterpart to Ellis Island in New York.[54]

"Some Sikhs worked in lumber mills of Oregon or in railroad construction and for some Sikhs it was on a railway line, which allowed other Sikhs who were working as migrant laborers to come into the town on festival days."[55]

"The first Sikh Gurdwara was built in Stockton, California; the Gurdwara was created in 1912 with joint efforts of Sardar Vasakha Singh and Bhai Jawala Singh. It was in September 1912 when land was purchased on South Granth Street in Stockton for the use of the Gurdwara. A small frame house that was already standing on the lot was used as the main building of the Gurdwara. This building still stands still where a library is now implemented. A Nishan Sahib was also hoisted for the first time at the Gurdwara. Baba Vasakha Singh and Baba Jawala Singh Thathian of Amritsar Sahib were appointed as the first Granthi Singh Jis of the Gurdwara."[56]

Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism (UUism) came into existence as a unique religion when the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was founded in 1961 as a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America. Unitarian Universalism is a theologically liberal religious movement characterized by its support of a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal religion. Members do not share a creed; rather they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.

Being historically derived from Unitarianism and Universalism, Unitarian Universalism traces its roots to Christian Protestantism, however, the theological significance of both Unitarianism and Universalism had significantly expanded beyond the traditional understanding prior to their decision to combine their efforts at the continental level as Unitarian Universalists. Many UUs appreciate and value aspects of Islamic, Christian and Jewish spirituality, but the extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one's personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with Unitarian Universalism's creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development.

As a result of these historical roots, Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions such as Sunday worship that includes a sermon and singing of hymns, despite the fact that they do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians.

According to the 2007 survey published by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 0.3% of U.S. adults or approximately 340,000 individuals identified themselves as Unitarian Universalist.[57]

Native American religious practice

No particular religion or religious tradition is hegemonic among Native Americans in the United States. Most Native Americans, as well as those of Native American heritage, claim adherence to some form of Christianity, some of these being cultural and religious syntheses unique to the particular tribe.[citation needed] Traditional Native American spiritual rites and ceremonies are maintained by many Native Americans.[citation needed] These spiritualities may accompany adherence to another faith, or can represent a person's primary religious identity. While much Native American spiritualism exists in a tribal-cultural continuum, and as such cannot be easily separated from tribal identity itself, certain other more clearly-defined movements have arisen among "Traditional" Native American practitioners, these being identifiable as "religions" in the clinical sense.

The Midewiwin Lodge is a traditional medicine society inspired by the oral traditions and prophesies of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) and related tribes. Traditional practices include the burning of sacred herbs (tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, etc.), the sweatlodge, fasting (paramount in "vision quests"), singing and drumming, and the smoking of natural tobacco in a ceremonial pipe. Traditional Native American spiritual practices take place in the context of family and community, and are led by those with many years of training in the traditions.

Another significant religious body among Native peoples is known as the Native American Church. It is a syncretic church incorporating elements of Native spiritual practice from a number of different (usually Plains) tribes as well as symbolic elements from Christianity. Its main rite is the peyote ceremony. Prior to 1890, traditional religious beliefs included Wakan Tanka.

In the American Southwest, especially New Mexico, a syncretism between the Catholicism brought by missionaries and the native religion is common; the religious drums, chants, and dances of the Pueblo people are regularly part of Masses at Santa Fe's Saint Francis Cathedral.[58] Native American-Catholic syncretism is also found elsewhere in the United States. (e.g., the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, New York and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York).

The use of eagle feathers, or the feathers of other protected species, is a traditional part of some ceremonies. The eagle feather law (Title 50 Part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations) stipulates that only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious use. Native Americans and non-Native Americans have contested the value and validity of the eagle feather law, charging that the law is laden with discriminatory racial preferences and infringes on tribal sovereignty. The law prohibits Native Americans from giving eagle feathers to non-Native Americans.


Many other religions are represented in the United States, including Jainism, Shintoism, Taoism, Caodaism, the Bahá'í Faith, Wicca, Germanic paganism, Neopaganism, Zoroastrianism, Jediism and many forms of New Age spirituality.

Denominations and sects founded in the U.S.

Belief in God

The phrase "In God We Trust" first appeared on a U.S. coin on the 2-cent piece of 1864, and has been on all coins and paper bills since 1957. It was declared the national motto by Congress in 1956. The one dollar Federal Reserve Note of October 1957 was the first U.S. paper money with the motto.[59] The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was modified in 1954 to add the phrase "under God". Various polls have been conducted to determine Americans' actual beliefs regarding God:

  • A 2006 online Harris Poll of 2,010 U.S. adults (18 and older)[60] found that 73% of those surveyed said that they believed in a God, 11% said they believed there was no God, and 16% said that they were not sure whether or not there was a God. The believers in God included 58% of respondents who said they were "absolutely certain", and 15% who said they were "somewhat certain" that there is a God. The believers in no God included 6% who were "absolutely certain", and 6% who were "somewhat certain" that there is no God. About 29% believed that God "controls what happens on Earth", while a plurality (44%) believed that God "observes but does not control what happens on Earth". The poll also showed that an "absolute certain" belief in God is correlated to age: only 43%-45% of those aged 18–29 were "absolutely certain" that God exists, while 54% of those aged 30–39 were "absolutely certain" that God exists, and 63%-65% of those aged 40 and older were "absolutely certain" that God exists.
  • A 2006 CBS News Poll of 899 U.S. adults found that 82% of those surveyed believed in God, while 9% believed in "some other universal spirit or higher power", 8% believed in neither, and 1% were unsure.[citation needed]
  • A 2004 Newsweek Poll of 1,009 U.S. adults, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, found that 82% of those surveyed believed that Jesus was God or the Son of God.[citation needed]
  • A 2000 Newsweek Poll of 752 U.S. adults, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, found that 94% of those surveyed believed in God, while 4% did not and 2% were unsure.[citation needed]
  • A 1998 Harris Poll of 1,011 U.S. adults found that 94% of those surveyed believed in God.[citation needed]

Church attendance

Gallup International indicates that 41%[61] of American citizens report they regularly attend religious services, compared to 15% of French citizens, 10% of UK citizens,[62] and 7.5% of Australian citizens.[63]

However, these numbers are open to dispute. states:

"Church attendance data in the U.S. has been checked against actual values using two different techniques. The true figures show that only about 21% of Americans and 10% of Canadians actually go to church one or more times a week. Many Americans and Canadians tell pollsters that they have gone to church even though they have not. Whether this happens in other countries, with different cultures, is difficult to predict."[61]

In, a 2006 online Harris Poll of 2,010 U.S. adults (18 and older) found that only 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 9% went "once or twice a month", 21% went "a few times a year", 3% went "once a year", 22% went "less than once a year", and 18% never attend religious services. An identical survey by Harris in 2003 found that only 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 11% went "once or twice a month" 19% went "a few times a year", 4% went "once a year", 16% went "less than once a year", and 25% never attend religious services.

By state

Church or synagogue attendance by state. Data is unavailable for Alaska and Hawaii.

Church attendance varies a lot by state and region. In a 2006 Gallup survey, 42% of Americans said that they attended church or synagogue once a week or almost every week. The figures ranged from 58% in Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina to 24% in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Church Attendance by State [3]
Rank State Percent
National average 42%
1 Alabama 58%
1 Louisiana 58%
1 South Carolina 58%
4 Mississippi 57%
5 Arkansas 55%
5 Utah 55%
7 Nebraska 53%
7 North Carolina 53%
9 Georgia 52%
9 Tennessee 52%
11 Oklahoma 50%
12 Texas 49%
13 Kentucky 48%
14 Kansas 47%
15 Indiana 46%
15 Iowa 46%
15 Missouri 46%
15 West Virginia 46%
19 South Dakota 45%
20 Minnesota 44%
20 Virginia 44%
22 Delaware 43%
22 Idaho 43%
22 North Dakota 43%
22 Ohio 43%
22 Pennsylvania 43%
22 Wisconsin 43%
28 Illinois 42%
28 Michigan 42%
30 Maryland 41%
30 New Mexico 41%
32 Florida 39%
33 Connecticut 37%
34 Wyoming 36%
35 Arizona 35%
35 Colorado 35%
37 Montana 34%
37 New Jersey 34%
39 District of Columbia 33%
39 New York 33%
41 California 32%
41 Oregon 32%
41 Washington 32%
44 Maine 31%
44 Massachusetts 31%
46 Rhode Island 28%
47 Nevada 27%
48 New Hampshire 24%
48 Vermont 24%

Religion and politics

The U.S. guarantees freedom of religion and some churches in the U.S. take strong stances on political subjects.

Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning, and many churches and religious figures are highly politically active. However, to keep their status as tax-exempt organizations they must not officially endorse a candidate. There are Christians in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, but evangelical Christians tend to support the Republican Party whereas more liberal Christians and secular voters[64] tend to support the Democratic Party.

Every President and Vice President,[citation needed] with the exception of the present president, Barack Obama,[65][66] was raised in a family with affiliations with Christian religions. Only former President John F. Kennedy, and current Vice President Joe Biden were raised in Roman Catholic families. Two former presidents, Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover, were raised as Quakers. All the rest were raised in families affiliated with Protestant Christianity. However, many presidents have themselves had only a nominal affiliation with churches, and some never joined any church.

Only three presidential candidates for major parties have been Catholics[67], all for the Democratic party:

  • Alfred E. Smith -- Smith, the Governor of New York, secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1928. A contributing factor to Smith's defeat in the presidential election of 1928 was his Roman Catholic faith.
  • John F. Kennedy—Kennedy, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy faced accusations that as a Roman Catholic President he would do as the Pope would tell him to do, a charge that Kennedy managed to subdue considerably.
  • John Kerry -- Kerry, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. In the 2004 election, there was discussion about whether Kerry's beliefs as a Catholic would be relevant to the national debate on abortion, but there was no implication that his being a Roman Catholic per se made him an undesirable candidate among pro-choice voters. Kerry himself was pro-choice, while the Catholic Church staunchly opposes abortion.

Joe Biden is the first Catholic vice president [68].

There has never been a Jewish President or Vice-President. The only Jewish major party candidate for either of those offices was Joe Lieberman in the Gore-Lieberman campaign of 2000 (although John Kerry and Barry Goldwater both had Jewish ancestry). Lieberman's faith is Orthodox Judaic. Some sources indicate that Jews constitute only 1.4% of the U.S. population, although others indicate that Jews comprise as much as 2.1% of the population (a significant decline from over 3% in the 1950s, chiefly due to the relatively low birthrate among Jewish Americans and high rates of out-marriage to non-Jews).

In the 2004 Presidential election, George W. Bush, a Methodist, earned a slim victory over John Kerry, with voters who cited "moral values" (a commonly used term among religiously-inclined voters) playing a crucial part in the election [69].

In 2006 Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to the federal government, as the representative of Minnesota's 5th congressional district. When re-enacting his swearing-in for photos, he used the copy of the Qur'an once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

A Gallup Poll released in 2007[70] indicated that 53% of Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist as president, up from 48% in 1987 and 1999.

Religious bodies

The table below is based mainly on selected data as reported to the United States Census Bureau. It only includes the voluntary self-reported membership of religious bodies with 60,000 or more. The definition of a member is determined by each religious body. A growing sector of the population, currently 14%, does not identify itself as a member of any religion.([71])

Religious body Year Reported Places of Worship Reported Membership
Number of Ministers
African Methodist Episcopal Church 1999 0-sm=n 2,500 7,741
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 2002 3,226 1,431 3,252
American Baptist Association 1998 1,760 275 1,740
American Baptist Churches USA 1998 3,800 1,507 4,145
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America 1998 220 65 263
Armenian Apostolic Church 1998 28 200 25
Assemblies of God 1998 11,937 2,526 18,148
Baptist Bible Fellowship International 1997 4,500 1,200 -
Baptist General Conference 1998 876 141 -
Baptist Missionary Association of America 1999 1,334 235 1,525
Buddhism 2001 - 1,082 -
Christian and Missionary Alliance, The 1998 1,964 346 1,629
Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) 1997 1,150 100 -
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1997 3,818 879 3,419
Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ 1998 5,579 1,072 5,525
Christian Congregation, Inc., The 1998 1,438 117 1,436
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church 1983 2,340 719 -
Christian Reformed Church in North America 1998 733 199 655
Church of God in Christ 1991 15,300 5,500 28,988
Church of God of Prophecy 1997 1,908 77 2,000
Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) 1998 2,353 234 3034
Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 1995 6,060 753 3,121
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 2006 13,010 5,779 39,030
Church of the Brethren 1997 1,095 141 827
Church of the Nazarene 1998 5,101 627 4,598
Churches of Christ 1999 15,000 1,500 14,500
Conservative Baptist Association of America 1998 1,200 200 -
Community of Christ 1998 1,236 140 19,319
Coptic Orthodox Church 2003 200 1,000 200
Cumberland Presbyterian Church 1998 774 87 634
Episcopal Church 1996 7,390 2,365 8,131
Evangelical Covenant Church, The 1998 628 97 607
Evangelical Free Church of America, The 1995 1,224 243 1,936
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 1998 10,862 5,178 9,646
Evangelical Presbyterian Church 1998 187 61 262
Free Methodist Church of North America 1998 990 73 -
Full Gospel Fellowship 1999 896 275 2,070
General Association of General Baptists 1997 790 72 1,085
General Association of Regular Baptist Churches 1998 1,415 102 -
U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches 1996 368 82 590
Grace Gospel Fellowship 1992 128 60 160
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1998 523 1,955 596
Hinduism 2001 - 766 -
Independent Fundamental Churches of America 1999 659 62 -
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel 1998 1,851 238 4,900
International Council of Community Churches 1998 150 250 182
International Pentecostal Holiness Church 1998 1,716 177 1,507
Islam 2001 - 1,104 -
Jehovah's Witnesses 1999 11,064 1,040 -
Judaism 2001 - 2,831 -
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, The 1998 6,218 2,594 5,227
Mennonite Church USA 2005 943 114 -
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches 1998 416 67 534
National Association of Free Will Baptists 1998 2,297 210 2,800
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 1987 2,500 3,500 8,000
National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. 1992 33,000 8,200 32,832
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 1992 - 2,500 -
Old Order Amish Church 1993 898 81 3,592
Orthodox Church in America 1998 625 28 700
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1998 1,750 1,500 4,500
Pentecostal Church of God 1998 1,237 104 -
Presbyterian Church in America 1997 1,340 280 1,642
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1998 11,260 3,575 9,390
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1995 2,000 2,500 -
Reformed Church in America 1998 902 296 915
Religious Society of Friends (Conservative) 1994 1,200 104 -
Roman Catholic Church 2002 19,484 66,404 -
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate 1996 37 65 37
Salvation Army, The 1998 1,388 471 2,920
Serbian Orthodox Church 1986 68 67 60
Seventh-day Adventist Church 1998 4,405 840 2,454
Sikhism 1999 244 80 -
Southern Baptist Convention 1998 40,870 16,500 71,520
Unitarian Universalism 2001 - 629 -
United Church of Christ 1998 6,017 1,421 4,317
United Methodist Church, The 1998 36,170 8,400 -
Wesleyan Church, The 1998 1,590 120 1,806
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod 1997 1,240 411 1,222

ARIS findings

Plurality of religious preference by state, 2001. Data is unavailable for Alaska and Hawaii.
Percentage of religion against average, 2001.
Percentage of state populations that identify with a religion rather than "no religion", 2001.

The United States government does not collect religious data in its census. The survey below, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008, was a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 54,461 American residential households in the contiguous United States. The 1990 sample size was 113,723; 2001 sample size was 50,281.

Adult respondents were asked the open-ended question, "What is your religion, if any?" Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. The religion of the spouse or partner was also asked. If the initial answer was "Protestant" or "Christian" further questions were asked to probe which particular denomination. About one third of the sample was asked more detailed demographic questions.

Religious Self-Identification of the U.S. Adult Population: 1990, 2001, 2008[5]
Figures are not adjusted for refusals to reply; investigators suspect refusals are possibly more representative of "no religion" than any other group.

Source:ARIS 2008[5]
x 1,000
x 1,000
x 1,000

as %
of 1990
% of
% of
% of
in % of
Adult population, total 175,440 207,983 228,182 30.1%
Adult population, Responded 171,409 196,683 216,367 26.2% 97.7% 94.6% 94.8% -2.9%
Total Christian 151,225 159,514 173,402 14.7% 86.2% 76.7% 76.0% -10.2%
Catholic 46,004 50,873 57,199 24.3% 26.2% 24.5% 25.1% -1.2%
non-Catholic Christian 105,221 108,641 116,203 10.4% 60.0% 52.2% 50.9% -9.0%
Baptist 33,964 33,820 36,148 6.4% 19.4% 16.3% 15.8% -3.5%
Mainline Christian 32,784 35,788 29,375 -10.4% 18.7% 17.2% 12.9% -5.8%
Methodist 14,174 14,039 11,366 -19.8% 8.1% 6.8% 5.0% -3.1%
Lutheran 9,110 9,580 8,674 -4.8% 5.2% 4.6% 3.8% -1.4%
Presbyterian 4,985 5,596 4,723 -5.3% 2.8% 2.7% 2.1% -0.8%
Episcopalian/Anglican 3,043 3,451 2,405 -21.0% 1.7% 1.7% 1.1% -0.7%
United Church of Christ 438 1,378 736 68.0% 0.2% 0.7% 0.3% 0.1%
Christian Generic 25,980 22,546 32,441 24.9% 14.8% 10.8% 14.2% -0.6%
Christian Unspecified 8,073 14,190 16,384 102.9% 4.6% 6.8% 7.2% 2.6%
Non-denominational Christian 194 2,489 8,032 4040.2% 0.1% 1.2% 3.5% 3.4%
Protestant - Unspecified 17,214 4,647 5,187 -69.9% 9.8% 2.2% 2.3% -7.5%
Evangelical/Born Again 546 1,088 2,154 294.5% 0.3% 0.5% 0.9% 0.6%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 5,647 7,831 7,948 40.7% 3.2% 3.8% 3.5% 0.3%
Pentecostal - Unspecified 3,116 4,407 5,416 73.8% 1.8% 2.1% 2.4% 0.6%
Assemblies of God 617 1,105 810 31.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.4% 0.0%
Church of God 590 943 663 12.4% 0.3% 0.5% 0.3% 0.0%
Other Protestant Denominations 4,630 5,949 7,131 54.0% 2.6% 2.9% 3.1% 0.5%
Churches of Christ 1,769 2,593 1,921 8.6% 1.0% 1.2% 0.8% -0.2%
Jehovah's Witness 1,381 1,331 1,914 38.6% 0.8% 0.6% 0.8% 0.1%
Seventh-Day Adventist 668 724 938 40.4% 0.4% 0.3% 0.4% 0.0%
Mormon/Latter-Day Saints 2,487 2,697 3,158 27.0% 1.4% 1.3% 1.4% 0.0%
Total non-Christian religions 5,853 7,740 8,796 50.3% 3.3% 3.7% 3.9% 0.5%
Jewish 3,137 2,837 2,680 -14.6% 1.8% 1.4% 1.2% -0.6%
Eastern Religions 687 2,020 1,961 185.4% 0.4% 1.0% 0.9% 0.5%
Buddhist 404 1,082 1,189 194.3% 0.2% 0.5% 0.5% 0.3%
Muslim 527 1,104 1,349 156.0% 0.3% 0.5% 0.6% 0.3%
New Religious Movements & Others 1,296 1,770 2,804 116.4% 0.7% 0.9% 1.2% 0.5%
None/ No religion, total 14,331 29,481 34,169 138.4% 8.2% 14.2% 15.0% 6.8%
Agnostic+Atheist 1,186 1,893 3,606 204.0% 0.7% 0.9% 1.6% 0.9%
Did Not Know/ Refused to reply 4,031 11,300 11,815 193.1% 2.3% 5.4% 5.2% 2.9%


  1. The ARIS 2008 survey was carried out during February-November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.
  2. The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.
    • 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.
    • The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001.
    • The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
  3. 34% of American adults considered themselves "Born Again or Evangelical Christians" in 2008.
  4. The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every seven Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.
    • The "Nones" (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.
    • Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.
  5. One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
  6. Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
  7. America's religious geography has been transformed since 1990. Religious switching along with Hispanic immigration has significantly changed the religious profile of some states and regions. Between 1990 and 2008, the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% and in New York it fell from 44% to 37%, while it rose in California from 29% to 37% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.
  8. Overall the 1990-2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.


The table below shows the religious affiliations among the ethnicities in the United States, according to the Pew Forum 2007 survey.[72] People of Black ethnicity were most likely to be part of a formal religion, with 85% per cent being Christians. Protestant denominations make up the majority of the Christians in the ethnicities.

Religion White Black Asian Other/Mixed Latino
Christian 78% 85% 45% 69% 84%
Protestant 53% 78% 27% 51% 23%
Catholic 22% 5% 17% 14% 58%
Mormon 2% 0% 1% 2% 1%
Jehovah's Witness 0% 1% 0% 1% 1%
Orthodox 1% 0% 0% 1% 0%
Other 0% 0% 0% 1% 0%
Other Religions 5% 2% 30% 9% 2%
Jewish 2% 0% 0% 1% 0%
Muslim 0% 1% 4% 1% 0%
Buddhist 1% 0% 9% 1% 0%
Hindu 0% 0% 14% 1% 0%
Other world religions 0% 0% 2% 0% 0%
Other faiths 1% 0% 1% 5% 0%
Unaffiliated 17% 13% 25% 22% 15%

See also


  1. ^ "U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion". Pew Global Attitudes Project. Retrieved 1 January 2007. 
  2. ^ Eck, Diana (2002). A New Religious America : the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. HarperOne. pp. 432. ISBN 978-0060621599. 
  3. ^ a b c "CIA Fact Book". CIA World Fact Book. 2002. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  4. ^ "Studies on Agnostics and Atheists in Selected Countries". Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009). "AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION SURVEY (ARIS) 2008" (PDF). Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Trinity College. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 10 ("For the first time in recorded history, they designed a government with no established religion at all.")
  8. ^ Marsden, George M. 1990. Religion and American Culture. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp.45-46.
  9. ^ "Religious Composition of the U.S.". U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  10. ^ "America becoming less Christian, survey finds". CNN. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  11. ^ "Survey: Americans switching faiths, dropping out". Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  12. ^ "US religious identity is rapidly changing".  Boston Globe
  13. ^ in Rays from the Rose Cross, vol.88, nº4, July/August 1996, p.38
  14. ^ Gaustad 1962.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Microsoft Word - Religious Landscape 2004.doc
  17. ^ "Largest Latter-day Saint Communities (Mormon/Church of Jesus Christ Statistics)". 2005-04-12. 
  18. ^ "American Religious Identification Survey". Exhibit 15. The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Retrieved 2006-11-24. 
  19. ^ "Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years". The Barna Group. 2009-03-06. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^ [Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ]
  22. ^ "Atheists Are Distrusted". May 3, 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  23. ^ Paulos, John Allen (April 2, 2006). "Who's Counting: Distrusting Atheists". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  24. ^ "Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study". UMN News. Retrieved 2006-03-22. 
  25. ^ "Jewish Community Study of New York" (PDF). United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York. 2002. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  26. ^ While Most Americans Believe in God, Only 36% Attend a Religious Service Once a Month or More Often
  27. ^ "RELIGION AND IDENTITY: HISPANICS & JEWS". Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  28. ^ a b "American Religious Identification Survey". Retrieved 2007-12-25. 
    Kosmin, Mayer & Keysar (2001-12-19). "American Identification Survey, 2001" (PDF). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Retrieved 2007-12-25. 
  29. ^ "2001 National Jewish Population Survey". 
  30. ^ Religious Freedom Page
  31. ^ CoNexus Press-SourceBook Project (1995). A sourcebook for earth's community of religions. pp. 60.
  32. ^ New World Library (2000). Sourcebook of the world's religions: an interfaith guide to religion and spirituality. pp. 74.
  33. ^ Greenwood Publishing Group (2007). Voices of Islam: Voices of change. pp. 54.
  34. ^ a b Muslim Americans Pew Research Center. Retrieved on 2009-07-03.
  35. ^ Tweed, Thomas A.. "Islam in America: From African Slaves to Malcolm X". National Humanities Center. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Jacob Neusner. World Religions in America: An Introduction. Westminster John Knox Press (2003). pp. 180-181. ISBN 978-0-664-22475-2.
  38. ^ Imam Siraj Wahhaj IRF. Retrieved on 2009-11-22.
  39. ^ The Black Muslims in America, Third Edition, C. Eric Lincoln, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, page 265, 1994
  40. ^ First Muslim Elected to Congress CBS News. Retrieved on 2009-11-22.
  41. ^ Second Muslim elected to Congress Reuters. Retrieved on 2009-11-22.
  42. ^ Zogby phone survey
  43. ^ "America's Muslims after 9/11". Voice of America. 
  44. ^ Muslim immigration has bounced back
  45. ^ Migration Information Source - The People Perceived as a Threat to Security: Arab Americans Since September 11
  46. ^
  47. ^ Pew Research Center: Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream
  48. ^ Ilyas Ba-Yunus (1997), Muslim of Illinois: A Demographic Report, Chicago: East-West University, pp. p 9, "William B. Milam the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan states that there are seven million Muslims in America" 
  49. ^
  50. ^ Muslim Statistics for the U.S. / Number of Muslims in America
  51. ^ Smith, Tom W.. "Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States". Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  52. ^ "White House Press Office Release Presiden't Address at Cairo University". Whitehouse. .
  53. ^ Baptist Press - Hinduism influence on the rise - News with a Christian Perspective
  54. ^ The Pioneers, America, "A historical perspective of Americans of Asian Indian origin 1790-1997" 31 October, 2006
  55. ^ Sikhism in North America, America, "Sikhs in North America" 31 October 2006
  56. ^ Stockton Gurdwara,America, "Stockton California" 31 October 2006
  57. ^ [1] U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
  58. ^ A Brief History of the Native American Church by Jay Fikes. URL accessed on February 22, 2006.
  59. ^ Deisher, Beth and William Gibbs, eds., Coin World Almanac, Sidney, Ohio: Amos Press, 2000.
  60. ^ "The Harris Poll #80". Harris Interactive. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2007-12-25. 
  61. ^ a b "How many people go regularly to weekly religious services?". Religious Tolerance website. 
  62. ^ "'One in 10' attends church weekly". BBC News. 3 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  63. ^ NCLS releases latest estimates of church attendance, National Church Life Survey, Media release, 28 February 2004
  64. ^ Pew Forum: Religion and the 2006 Elections
  65. ^ "Barack Obama's Religious Beliefs & Background". Retrieved 2009-11-26. 
  66. ^ Obama, Barack, The Audacity of Hope, "I was not raised in a religious household. For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness. However, in her mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology." 
  67. ^ "History of Catholic presidential nominees". Retrieved 1 January 2007. 
  68. ^
  69. ^ Exit poll - Decision 2004 -
  70. ^ Jeffrey M. Jones (2007-02-20). "Some Americans Reluctant to Vote for Mormon, 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidates. Strong support for black, women, Catholic candidates". Gallup News Service. Retrieved 2007-12-25. 
  71. ^ [2] tables 67-69
  72. ^ U.S.Religious Landscape Survey Pew Forum (February 2008). Retrieved on 2009-01-02.


  • Miguel A. De La Torre, "Encyclopedia on Hispanic American Religious Culture," Volume 1 & 2, ABC-CLIO Publishers, 2009.
  • Gaustad, Edwin (1962), Historical atlas of religion in America, New York, New York: Harper & Row .
  • David G. Dalin and Alfred J. Kolatch, The Presidents of the United States & the Jews, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc, 2000, ISBN 0-8246-0428-8.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address