Religion declines among Americans as spirituality rises

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More Americans report experiencing feelings of spiritual peace, yet religiosity is declining in the U.S., according to a new Pew Research Center post published Thursday.

In recent years, more Americans have described themselves as “spiritual but not religious” in Pew surveys, and fewer say they belong to a particular religion. The nonprofit research organization has attempted to quantify that vague phrase, looking at religious affiliation and behavior.

Although it is difficult for pollsters to categorize vague terms like “religious” and “spiritual,” Pew researchers David Masci and Michael Lipka compared survey data from 2007 and 2014 to find that religious behavior, like attending church services or organized prayer, has decreased. But they say the declines are mostly among those who aren’t affiliated with a particular religion and who attend a service infrequently, if at all.

Those who are labeled as religiously unaffiliated fall into categories of atheist, agnostic and those who say they don’t identify with any specific religion and are often nicknamed as “nones.”

“The growth of the unaffiliated population and their decreasing religiosity have been the main factors behind the emergence of a less-religious public overall,” Masci and Lipka say in the study.

At the same time, they chart a rise in feelings of spiritual peace – to 64 percent in 2014 among those who identify as religious, from 56 percent in 2007, and to 40 percent among the unaffiliated, from 35 percent in 2007.

There are more individuals who “feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe” at least weekly, the researchers said. For Christians, the proportion jumped 7 percentage points to 45 percent in 2014 from 2007, and for the “nones,” the ratio climbed 8 points to 47 percent over the same period.

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