Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The fastest-growing religion?

The notion that Wicca is America's fastest-growing religion has achieved meme status. Everyone says it, but who started it?

Thanks to Jim Lewis, I have been looking at some of the data collected by the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted at CUNY, and comparing sociological changes in American religious populations between 1991 and 2001.

Just a few observations from the "key findings" section:

Religious identification is down: "In 1990, 90 percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. In 2001, such identification has dropped to 81 percent."

"The proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian has declined from 86 in 1990 to 77 percent in 2001"

"Although the number of adults who classify themselves in non-Christian religious groups has increased from about 5.8 million to about 7.7 million, the proportion of non-Christians has increased only by a very small amount."

"The top three 'gainers' in America's vast religious market place appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion."

Data on Wiccans and other Pagans seems a little shakey, because comparative numbers from the 1991 survey are mostly missing. Also, although the summary does not address this issue, I suspect that many contemporary Pagans are still shy about naming their affiliation to some stranger doing a survey.

Wicca: 1991--84,000
Wicca: 2001--134,000

Druids: 1991--not reported
Druids: 2001--33,000

Santeristas: 1991--not reported
Santeristas: 2001--22,000

Non-specific Pagans: 1991--not reported
Non-specific Pagans: 2001- 140,000

That is a 160-percent increased in the self-reported number of Wiccans. By comparison, the self-reported number of Muslims rose 208 percent, from 53,000 in 1991 to 1,104,000 in 2001. Things don't look so good for the meme, do they?

Another factoid: "As in 1990 so too in the current study, the Buddhist and Muslim population appears to have the highest proportion of young adults under age thirty, and the lowest percentage of females."

There is much more -- have a look.


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