• A reported decline in claims of strong or intense religiosity over the last year may well be due to changes in survey methods because of the pandemic rather than an actual weakening of religious faith. In a paper presented at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Los Angeles, Landon Schnable reported that findings on “intense religiosity” in the 2021 General Social Survey (GSS) showed huge drops compared to previous years in such categories as biblical literalism, prayer, and claiming evangelical identity. Schnable attributed these unusual declines to how the GSS was fielded in 2021 as a web survey rather than in-person survey as in previous years. The response rate decreased from 70 percent to 17 percent in 2021.

        Source: Parade.

    Schnable examined how this change in survey method created significant changes in response rates by looking at a subset of the 2021 GSS data, finding that phone responses to questions about intense religiosity registered a 45 percent response rate compared to only 25 percent in web surveys. The lower response on intense religiosity was also related to how response categories had changed under the web method, for instance, allowing for an answer of “somewhat strong” religiosity that was not provided in previous surveys. He further examined this change by using data panels from 2016, 2020, and three months in 2020–2021 to identify survey-takers, finding that those considered to be among the “disillusioned, disadvantaged, disinformed, and disconnected” in surveys are the ones who tend not to finish web surveys, creating a drop-out effect for 2021. Taking this effect into account, there was actually no decrease in intense religiosity for 2021, and indeed the rate even went up a little from previous years.


  • Just as there are food deserts in poor neighborhoods, African Americans attending universities often face “church deserts” that present them with a dearth of compatible religious institutions. In a paper presented at the August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Los Angeles, attended by RW, Richard Pitt of the University of California at San Diego looked at how African Americans (outside of those attending historically black colleges) face particular challenges in finding faith communities near their colleges. Pitt pointed out that many Americans live in religion deserts, with 32 percent of all Americans and 59 percent of blacks living over 16 minutes away from their places of worship. In looking at 80 non-sectarian liberal arts colleges across the country, Pitt found that more than half (52 percent) did not have a historically black denominational church (such as the Church of God in Christ or African American Episcopal Church) within their vicinity, while one-quarter had just one historically black denominational church nearby.

        Source: Pinterest.

    He estimated that 40 percent of the black students at these schools could be said to live in religion deserts, while another 20 percent have just one of these kind of churches to attend. This is in contrast to other religious minorities, such as Jews (with 60 percent having a nearby synagogue to attend), Latino Catholics (80 percent having a Catholic church nearby), and Muslims (11 percent having a nearby mosque). That leaves many African American Christians to attend alternative black religious organizations on campus, such as religious Greek letter organizations, parachurch organizations, such as InterVarsity or Cru, denominational student ministries, or performing arts groups, such as gospel choirs. Pitt concludes that these religion deserts may be a reason why many blacks drop off from religious involvement during these years of their lives.


  • Two different analyses of data on unchurched American Southerners come to opposing conclusions about the residual effects of faith on moral and political questions. In Christianity Today (August 2), Daniel K. Williams addresses this matter in relation to the Pew Research Center’s finding in their Religious Landscape Survey that 30 percent of Southern Baptists “seldom” or “never” attend church. “The southern Bible Belt is quickly becoming a region of unchurched or lapsed Protestants who may still hang onto their evangelical identity to some extent but who don’t think going to church is necessary,” Williams writes. He adds that these de-churched Protestants “are not adopting the political views of de-churched Catholics in the northeast. Instead, they remain strongly individualistic Republicans who still oppose abortion, even if some of their other views differ from those of their churched counterparts.” In an analysis of data from the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), he finds that white Protestants in the South who do not attend church anymore are still “generally fundamentalistic when it comes to the Bible, and they’re still strong law-and-order, pro-military Republicans who believe in a Southern civil religion where people are free to pray in schools but not get abortions.” These respondents still identify as Protestant Christians, but their positions lack “grace and [have] left behind a deeply suspicious individualism, where law and order and self-defense are paramount.”

    Source: Historical Rural Churches / John Kirkland.

    This “conservative individualism without trust” is apparent in relation to questions such as whether most people try to take advantage of others. A majority of 54 percent in the survey agreed, and 58 percent said that people are looking out for themselves. The responses from white Southern Protestants who attended church every week, on the other hand, were almost the direct opposite. Sixty-two percent said that most people would “try to be fair” rather than take advantage of them, and 57 percent said that most of the time, people “try to be helpful.” Those who attended church weekly were also more likely to vote than those who hardly ever attended. “When people leave church, they retain that moralism—at least insofar as it pertains to other people—but lose the sense of self-sacrifice and trust in others. They keep their Bible, their gun, their pro-life pin, and their MAGA hat, but also pick up a condom and a marijuana joint and lose whatever willingness they had to care for other people in community,” Williams concludes. But in the blog Religion in Public (August 27), political scientists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe question Williams’ analysis. They do not find that Southerners who attend church once a year or less are as pro-life as frequent attenders. Instead, low attenders across regions “appear to be more supportive of gun control, abortion rights, removing Trump, and other liberal positions,” they write.


  • Canada’s Jews, numbering 380,000, were the most targeted religious minority for hate crimes reported to police in 2021, according to Statistics Canada. Comprising only about one percent of the population, Jewish victims represented 14 percent of reported hate crimes last year. Jews saw a 47 percent rise in reported hate crimes compared to 2020, according to the bureau. Only black Canadians, who make up about 3.5 percent of the country’s population, reported more hate crimes. Overall, 1.3 Canadian Jews in every 1,000 reported being victims of hate crime in 2021. Statistically, Canadian Jews were more than 10 times more likely than any other Canadian religious minority to report being the target of hate crime.

    Source: The Atlantic Jewish Council.


  • While religious and ethnic minorities that are more religious than their host population tend to be more socially and economic disadvantaged than the majority, a new study finds that the Swedish minority in Finland represents something of an anomaly. In a paper presented at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Los Angeles, which RW attended, Weiqian Xia of Stockholm University looked at Finland’s population register data from 1971 to 2020. He found trends similar to those in other parts of Scandinavia, including declining rates of affiliation with the main Lutheran church, a growth in minority denominations and religions, including Mormons, and secularization by cohort age. But unexpectedly, Xia found a higher rate of affiliation with the Church of Finland among the Swedish-speaking minority than among Finns. The Swedish-speaking Finns had a lower rate of secularization while being wealthier and more highly educated than other Finns. Xia found that they had a more cohesive community and greater social capital than Finnish people in general, preserving a stronger sense of community and culture. He concluded that the Lutheran church serves as a source of identity more than a religion for this minority.