Current Research: August 2016

The percentage of Americans believing that churches and other religious institutions contribute to solving social problems has dropped significantly in recent years, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey finds that while a majority of Americans still say religious institution contribute either a “great deal” (19 percent) or “some” (38 percent) to solving important social problems, the combined figure of 58 percent is lower than when the same question was asked in 2012 (65 percent). In 2008, fully three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) said that religious institutions contributed “a great deal” or “some” in this way. This decrease is not necessarily just the result of the increase of non-affiliated Americans; the decrease in this view is also found among those who are affiliated with religions, though the “nones” and white Catholics showed the biggest drops (of around 18 percent from 2008 to 2016).

(Pew Research Center,


The high Jewish intermarriage rates in the U.S. contrast significantly with the situation in the UK and may indicate that the Jewish community in Britain generates greater loyalty and remains more intact than in the U.S., according to a new survey reported in The Economist’s “Erasmus” blog (July 9).  The new survey on the Jewish community in Britain, which is found to be about 290,000 strong, finds that among Jews who had married since 2010, about 26 percent had found non-Jewish spouses. That figure is less than half the U.S. Jewish intermarriage rate. While the argument has been made that the higher intermarriage rate could be a sign of Jewish vitality, bringing outsiders into the religion, by several indicators, including Sabbath observance and keeping a kosher diet, the “in-married” couples were found to be closer to the Jewish tradition than the mixed couples.


Nominal affiliation combined with moral disaffiliation has been on the increase in Ireland after the clerical sexual abuse scandals, while the non-religious identification is growing in a country where the level of religious practice remains comparatively high by European standards, reported Hugh Turpin (Queen’s University Belfast) at the conference “Approaching Nonreligion” in Zurich (July 7–9), which RW attended. His research in progress is based on qualitative methods, with fieldwork focused on two Dublin parishes. In 2012, 89 percent of the Irish population still identified as Catholics. But such a high figure only tells part of the story: 1 in 6 self-identified Catholics report no belief in God, while atheism is on the rise. Turpin does not attribute such changes only to the clerical sexual abuse scandals; gradual separation from Christian orthodoxy started in the 1960s, with a sharp acceleration in the 1990s. The scandals created an abrupt collapse in the church’s moral stature [see the review of the book Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland in the Findings & Footnotes section]. There was a parallel decline in Mass attendance and institutional trust, with more people going to Mass less frequently. The moral pressure to attend as well as the respect to moral constraints diminished, with the scandals invoked as a reason for less attachment. This withdrawal from practice may also have long-term effects by weakening generational transmission of orthodox Catholicism, Turpin said.

Still, even fully atheistic reactions usually remain accompanied by a strong, lingering ethnic national affiliation as Catholics. This segment of “reluctant Catholics” complicates the identification of the category of nonreligion in the Irish context. For those with a non-religious identity, there appears to be a strong overlay with anti-Church sentiment. This contrasts with UK data, where non-religious identity may be merely apathetic. Turpin finds an increasing sense of need to justify overt religiosity, in contrast with the 1950s or even the 1980s. Unquestioning commitment to the church may even come to be seen as morally suspect.