Current Research October 2017

A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reports a significant decline in whites claiming an evangelical identity—and also shows how difficult it is to measure such identity. The PRRI survey, based on 101,000 interviews, finds that there has been a six-point drop in those claiming a white evangelical identity since 2006 (down to 17 percent). Without much delay, the Religion in Public blog questioned the PRRI findings. Political scientists Andrew Lewis and Ryan Burge combine two different approaches to measuring evangelicals—affiliation with specific denominations and self-identification with evangelicalism (which PRRI used). “The clear finding is that there are only slight differences in the estimates of the evangelical population, no matter how you classify them, over the ten-year period. There is no evidence of a 6 percentage point drop,” they conclude.

In a follow up article by PRRI researchers featured on the Religion in Public blog, Daniel Cox and Robert Jones argue that their finding of decreasing evangelical identity is confirmed by previous surveys, such as Pew studies, which found the percentage dropping from a high point of 27 percent in the 1990s down to 18 percent in 2012 (the most recent Pew data on evangelical identity). Cox and Jones cite other data on the declining membership of the Southern Baptist Convention and previous PRRI data on the underrepresentation of evangelical young people to support their thesis on evangelical decline. In citing the recent PRRI data on evangelical youth in his blog Spiritual Politics (September 9), Mark Silk sees mainline millennials as possibly having a brighter future than evangelical and Catholic youth. While evangelical and Catholic youth constitute 11 percent of their respective traditions, mainline millennials came in at 14 percent. Silk adds that among all millennials, eight percent are white mainliners, eight percent are evangelicals, and six percent are white Catholics. Among Americans 50 and older, white evangelicals outnumber both white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. “Bottom-line: While mainline Protestantism continues to shed white adherents, it is doing a better job of keeping and/or attracting young white adults than either evangelicalism or Catholicism,” Silk concludes.

(Religion in Public,

A recent survey by YouGov, commissioned by Newman University in Birmingham, has found a wide gap of understanding between Britain’s religious and growing non-religious populations on religion and science. The survey found that 72 percent of atheists polled believe that someone who is religious would not accept evolutionary science. In fact, only 19 percent of religious respondents in the poll rejected Darwinian thinking in favor of a literal reading of the book of Genesis. The research finds that nearly two-thirds of British—as well as nearly three-quarters of atheists—think Christians have to accept the assertion in Genesis that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Only 16 percent of believers accept the creation myth holding that “humans and other living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form.” Of all British, only 9 percent reject evolutionary theory. “In a society that is increasingly non-religious, this mismatch in perception could be seen as a form of prejudice towards religious or spiritual groups,” said Fern Elsdon Baker, who led the research, and that may be one of the contributing factors in the widely popular view that there is a conflict between science and religion.

Recent surveys suggest a hardening of attitudes toward Muslims in Europe, partly due to the actions of terrorism in these countries. The Economist (September 1) reports on a series of surveys in the UK, Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland, focusing more on native-born Muslims rather than refugees. But still, negative attitudes toward these Muslims have increased or held steady, while tolerance in other areas has expanded. In a study by Germany’s Bertelsman Foundation of these northern European countries, 20 percent of respondents said they would not want a Muslim as a neighbor. The latest study published by Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremist lobby group, found that half of the population of the UK thought that “Islam posed a threat to Western Civilization,” while a quarter regarded Islam as a “dangerous” religion because of its capacity to generate violence. In Germany, a poll last year found that half of the population held that Islam does not belong in their country. But in these studies, attitudes were less stringent toward Muslim people than Islam as a religion. For instance, a clear majority said that it is wrong to blame an entire religion for a few extremists. Nevertheless, the Economist article adds that these hardening attitudes may be fulfilling the hopes of extremists who seek to create divisions in Western society through their attacks.

Having children significantly increases the likelihood of women wearing the head veil in Turkey, according to a study in the journal Sociological Science (September). Sociologist Ozan Aksoy of University College London analyzed Turkey’s Demographic and Health Survey (2013) and finds that among married women, those having a single child as opposed to no children are more likely to wear a veil by five percentage points. The researcher also found that having a son rather than a daughter increases the likelihood of Islamic veiling by 2.2 percentage points. The article finds that neither having a child nor the sex of the child had similar effects on religiosity and holding traditional values. Aksoy argues that veiling serves a “signaling” function that enhances their family reputation as mothers. This kind of linking of piety and family in Turkey likely increased with the nation’s recent Muslim resurgence.

(Sociological Science,

A qualitative study of Christian, Muslim, and traditional religion believers in five African countries finds that they share a belief and practice in divination while holding to a strong work ethic informed by their spirituality. The unique study is based on content analysis of sermons and religious media, in-depth interviews with 80 clergy (though only four imams and traditional religious leaders), and 250 members of these religions in Ghana, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, by a team of African Christian researchers. Among the findings in this study, which produced 7,750 pieces of data, was the prevalence of divination, with 43.6 percent saying they had consulted diviners and 87 percent knowing of someone who consults such spiritualists. The percentage of those practicing divination “is remarkably high, considering that the majority of respondents came from the two major monotheistic religions in Africa,” writes Anthony Balcomb in the International Bulletin of Mission Research (online September). When asked how they would succeed in business, at the top of the list was prayer, followed by hard work, putting God first, respect, and discipline. Researchers explored environmental concern through questions about the value of cutting down a tree considered sacred on their property. As might be expected, all of the adherents of traditional religion said they would not cut down the tree. Only 16 of the 40 Muslims would cut down the tree, but the majority of Christians would do so, although accompanied by prayer.

(International Bulletin of Missionary Research,