Massachusetts communities of faith become more diverse

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Religion in Massachusetts
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BOSTON – Reflecting waves of 19th century immigration, Massachusetts has long held a reputation for having among the highest concentrations of Catholics in the nation, only beat out by Rhode Island.

Lately, however, just over a third of Bay State residents are Catholic, according to a Pew Research Center study released in February 2014 – yet that is still significantly more than the 21 percent national average.

Among other Christian denominations, 21 percent said they were Protestants, or less than half of the nationwide proportion, the Pew data show, citing 2013 surveys.

Massachusetts has a greater percentage of residents who practice non-Christian religions, as well as a greater percentage of those who aren’t affiliated with any faith, than compared with the nation as a whole. Almost a third, or 32 percent, say they aren’t tied to any religion, according to the study, compared with 23 percent nationwide.

Pew said 3 percent of Massachusetts residents are Jews, while about 1 percent each are Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. Self-professed atheists made up 5 percent of the population and 7 percent said they were agnostic.

Other studies have also found relatively high proportions of adherents to world religions, such as Muslims and Hindus.

For years, researchers at Harvard University’s Pluralism Project have examined the growth of religious communities in Greater Boston by recording the changing numbers of buildings used as faith centers. The researchers focus on the changing religious and ethnographic landscape, including Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains and Sikhs both in the Boston metro area and nationwide.

Their research has found that less widely held faiths, like Sikhism – a monotheistic religion originating in South Asia – have grown. There are now five Sikh centers in the state. Meanwhile, an estimated 350 Massachusetts families follow the Indian philosophy of Jainism, worshiping in two separate local centers.

The Public Religion Research Institute confirmed the diversity, finding that Massachusetts ranked as the second most religiously diverse in the nation, only behind New York.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.