Current Research May 2017

Even though evangelical support for Donald Trump did not stop at the voting booth, it may not be the case that such pro-Trump sentiment will drive away members from these churches, writes political scientist Paul Djupe in the blog Religion in Public (April 11). As an example of continuing evangelical support for Trump, Djupe finds that from May 2016 to February 2017, every religious group has become less supportive of temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country except for white evangelical Protestants; the gap between evangelicals and nones on this issue grew from 28 to 41 percentage points. For several years the narrative has been that religious nones dropped out because of Religious Right influence in the churches. Djupe writes, “To us, it makes little sense that political liberals would leave religiously liberal churches—where a large portion of ‘nones’ come from—because of a conservative political movement.” Of church attenders surveyed in the post-election season, 14 percent reported leaving by the post-election period, “a number right in line with several of our previous estimates from surveys in the 2000s. ‘Leavers’ were distributed across the religious population, including 10 percent of evangelicals, 18 percent of mainline Protestants, and 11 percent of Catholics. This represents an enormous amount of churn in the religious economy.”

Those who believe politics is divisive were more likely to leave political churches, and the leavers over Trump were more specifically concerned over his candidacy than over the Christian Right’s influence. Researchers found that those who perceived disagreement with their congregation over Trump were the most likely to report leaving their house of worship by November. Those who felt very warmly toward Trump and perceived very little support for Trump from their clergy were more likely to leave than those who felt cool toward Trump and perceived considerable support from Trump from their clergy. “The estimates diverge quickly from their convergence in the middle, which suggests that feelings about Trump were quite salient in evangelical congregations. This finding might help us explain why evangelical clergy appear to have had little to say about Trump in their churches this fall—they were sensitive to these possibilities.” The members most affected by political disagreements tend to be marginal, infrequent attenders.

(Religion in Public,

The increasingly negative portrayals of religion in the media has a greater effect on marginal believers than more committed ones, according to recent research. In his blog Ahead of the Trend (April 11), David Briggs reports on research led by Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University that looked at the relationship between mental health and negative media portrayals based on data from the Baylor Religion Survey. The analysis of 1,714 respondents found that two-thirds say they had been offended by negative portrayals of religion on television, but those less active in their faith reported more adverse reactions. Stroope and colleagues found that “highly religious people were not the ones most affected” by such portrayals of religion, as low levels of congregation attendance, personal prayer, and Bible reading were associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. But these conditions decreased with higher levels of religious participation and devotion. The highly religious were able to nullify the effects of negative media portrayal, possibly because of the support such believers received in their congregations as well as other protective factors such as a stronger self-image, an expectation of “tribulation” and opposition, and a more forgiving nature.

(Ahead of the Trend,

While intermarriage across generations has reduced the likelihood that children of such marriages will be raised Jewish, Millennial children of intermarriage are substantially more likely than their older counterparts to be raised as Jews and to have received a Jewish education, according to a study in the journal Contemporary Jewry (April). Researchers Theodore Sasson, Janet Krasner Aronson, and Fern Chertok analyze the 2013 Pew Research Center’s survey of Jewish Americans and find that the increase in self-identification is not reflected in higher levels of Jewish behavior among Millennial children of intermarriage in comparison to the behavior of their older counterparts. The authors attribute the increased tendency of intermarried parents to raise Jewish children to increased outreach by Jewish organizations and a more welcoming approach by Jewish communities to intermarried families.

(Contemporary Jewry,

An analysis from the Pew Research Center shows that higher levels of education are linked with lower levels of religious commitment by some measures, including the belief in God, how often people pray, and how important they say religion is to them. Yet Americans with college degrees report attending religious services as often as Americans with less education. While most religions showed this correlaton between these lower measures of religion and higher rates of education, it did not hold for Christians. The analysis found that Christians with higher levels of education appear to be just as religious as those with less schooling, on average. In fact, highly educated Christians are more likely than less-educated Christians to say they are weekly churchgoers. Among all U.S. adults, college graduates are considerably less likely than those who have less education to say religion is “very important” in their lives: fewer than half of college graduates (46 percent) say so, compared with nearly six-in-ten of those with no more than a high school education (58 percent).

(This report can be downloaded at:

Although the “hookup culture,” marked by no-strings-attached sexual activity, is reported to have influenced Catholic colleges, the situation is more complicated than that according to a new study. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 31) cites the new book Faith with Benefits: Hookup Culture on Catholic Campuses, by Jason King, as challenging the previous findings that Catholic colleges have yielded to this trend and show little difference from secular institutions. King conducted surveys at 26 Catholic campuses, with more in-depth interviews carried out at six of them, and found a spectrum of responses to hookup culture. Students on these campuses did feel the pressure of this new college norm, weighing their own romantic and sexual activities against these expectations. But the Catholic students tended to see their “hooking up” veering more toward casual kissing than sexual intercourse, according to King.

In classifying campuses’ Catholic identity as “very,” “mostly,” or “somewhat” Catholic, King found that only at “mostly” Catholic schools did students come close to acting out hookup culture. At “very” Catholic institutions, where a countervailing culture of “Catholic evangelicalism” holds sway, students by and large resisted hookup culture; at “somewhat” Catholic campuses, which tend to be nominally Catholic and attract the working class and poor, students also attempted to steer clear of behavior that might jeopardize their progress after graduating. King did not find that there was widespread doubt about the moral authority of church leaders among these students, even with the after-effects of the sexual abuse crisis.

For the first time in three years, government restrictions and social hostilities regarding religion increased in 2015, according to Pew Research Center’s most recent annual study on religious freedom. The study found that countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions—in the form of laws, actions, and policies that restrict religious beliefs and practices—moved up from 24 percent in 2014 to 25 percent in 2015. The rise in countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities against religion by either private individuals or organizations jumped from 23 percent to 27 percent during that same time. When looking at both measures, 40 percent of countries had high or very high levels of restrictions and hostilities against religion. The increase in hostilities reflected such factors as the growth of mob violence related to religion and assaults against individuals. For instance, 17 countries in Europe reported incidents of religion-related mob violence in 2015, up from nine in the previous year. Sub-Saharan Africa saw a spread of violence to enforce religious norms. Meanwhile, government restrictions were marked by state harassment and use of force against religion, with growth on these two measures in four of the five regions analyzed in the report—the Middle East and North Africa, Asia and the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe.

(This report can be downloaded at:

There has been a sharp growth of the religiously non-affiliated population in Ireland, but, like everywhere else where this phenomenon has emerged, there is considerable uncertainty about what this trend may mean for belief and religious identity. In the Irish Catholic newspaper (April 13), David Quinn reports that the “nones” in the Census of Ireland numbered 270,000 in 2011 but jumped to 468,000 by 2016—a 73 percent increase. The non-affiliated share of the population is now just under 10 percent, while the people who chose the “Catholic” box declined from 84 percent to 78 percent in five years. The census, which was released in early April, shows that about one-quarter of the nones are immigrants. Quinn writes that the increase shows the growing number of Irish who don’t practice a religion and are now more likely to say they don’t belong to a religion than in the past. Yet like nones elsewhere, the majority—two-thirds— say they believe in God. Quinn concludes that just as there are a la carte Catholics who pick and choose their beliefs and practices, the nones may likewise adopt beliefs and practices that are far removed from atheism.

(Irish Catholic,

Muslim refugees are drawn to churches as social centers and as an opportunity of cultural learning, but there have been few conversions to Christianity, according to a study of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In the Journal of Contemporary Religion (32:2), Kathryn Kraft writes that conversions that do take place among the refugees she studied are more part of a process that involves religious exploration rather than singular decisions or events that will result in a large number of people who will identify as converts. Kraft based her study on six mainly evangelical churches and NGOs and clergy, staff workers, and 21 Syrian beneficiaries of such ministries in 2014. When the churches opened social ministries to refugees, they also witnessed a sharp growth of Muslim refugees attending church services. Kraft found that some attended for social reasons, such as to ensure that they would receive aid, but several reported finding spiritual value in the services, claiming that they did not find support and comfort in mosques.

There was a minority of refugees who made full-fledged conversions to the church and Christianity. But even those who did not formally convert and remained Muslim told stories that resembled accounts of conversion. The beneficiaries wanted to learn more about Christianity on a cultural level and found seeing women in leadership in the services especially empowering. Refugees saw churches as “safe spaces” and community centers to such an extent that staffers themselves began to describe congregations in such a manner or hold their social services outside of church buildings. Kraft concludes that although few of the refugees in the study “will ever call themselves Christian, many may to some extent be described as anonymous Christians or people who have somehow experienced a lasting change in their hearts, even though their engagement with Christianity is only a passing aspect of their wider experience of displacement and their loyalty remain with their Muslim community.”

(Journal of Contemporary Religion,