American religion

Splicing and dicing American religion today: How about a seven-party Pew typology?

Splicing and dicing American religion today: How about a seven-party Pew typology?

U.S. religious categories were never as simple as indicated in “Protestant, Catholic, Jew,” Will Herberg’s tripartite classic from 1956.

What kind of Jew? Protestants, ever complicated, have become ever moreso. Catholics, too, are more of a checkerboard these days. With the 1965 immigration law, Islam and Asian religions came to the fore. Recently, “nones” with no religious affiliation emerged as a major category.

Now the ubiquitous Pew Research Center is splicing and dicing its survey data to discern a new seven-party system,  what the title of its latest report calls “The Religious Typology: A New Way to Categorize Americans By Religion.” That’s “the” typology, not merely “a” new concept, which seems presumptuous and yet intriguing.  

Journalists who saw news in this August 29 release have already written about it. But The Religion Guy recommends that beat specialists spend quality time reading or re-reading the full 98-page version (.pdf here), to provoke fresh thinking about the complex U.S. religious landscape.

Pew asked 16 questions and applied “cluster analysis” to sort Americans into the seven categories based upon broad religious attitudes and reported behavior across the traditional lines of formal membership or self-identification. Pew labels 40 percent of U.S. adults as “highly religious," sharing traditional belief in the God of the Bible and looking upon faith fondly, segmented into these three groups. 

(1) “Sunday Stalwarts” (17 percent of the Americans surveyed) -- These devout folks are weekly worshipers of whatever faith who mostly read the Bible daily, pray often, and consider religion their most important source of meaning and helpful for society. They’re also the most active in non-religious community causes and charities and – notably – lean Republican and are the most likely to vote in local elections.

(2) “God-and-Country Believers” (12 percent) -- This group stands out as the only one expressing majority approval for President Donald Trump’s performance.

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Want high-level religion journalism? Then back high-level religion literacy education -- period

Want high-level religion journalism? Then back high-level religion literacy education -- period

If you read GetReligion, chances are great you attach major importance to the need for religious literacy among those who practice journalism. And not just to excel as a designated religion writer.

Given the role religion plays today in global affairs, you probably also feel strongly that a basic competency about religion is necessary in the coverage of just about any journalistic subject -- domestic politics, business, entertainment, and sports, among them.

Additionally, if you've been a university-level religion journalism professor (or an adjunct professor, as in my case), I'll bet you also think that the level of religious literacy exhibited by your students was disappointing, which was my experience.

(If your experience was better, I'd be delighted to hear about it. Might even lift some of my cynicism and lower my blood pressure. Use the comment section below.)

Religious literacy is on my mind this week for a couple of reasons.

One, was the media's confusion in trying to label the faith of San Bernardino terror attack victim Nicholas Thalasinos. This episode made clear the gaps in journalists' understanding of religious terminology -- and probably the public's as well, though that's much harder to gauge because of the public's dependence on what the press tells them. (I'll get back to this below.)

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The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

The papal encyclical: Challenging coverage and advancing the story

Remember Joseph Stalin's nasty and dismissive line, one version of which goes, "The pope? How many divisions does he have?”? Or maybe he actually said, “How many divisions does the pope of Rome have?”

Hard to say. Both versions are floating around the Internet.

No matter. The implication is clear in both instances. The Vatican long ago lost a considerable portion of its worldly power that once allowed it to impose its will not only on the preponderance of Roman Catholics, but on much of non-Catholic humanity.

This should be obvious to GetReligion readers. Should you require evidence, however, the recent vote legalizing same-sex marriage in once staunchly traditional, Catholic Ireland should serve as a clincher.

The Vatican's diminished influence is also obvious in much of the general media's coverage of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, Laudato Si -- notwithstanding all the headlines it generated. 

Francis emphasized the moral challenge he believes is key to slowing human-influenced climate change and to furthering a sustainable global environmental policy that fosters economic justice. His moral argument -- a harsh critique of rapacious capitalist practices and unbridled consumerism -- warned of the negative consequences of current policies for all the world, but, in particular, for the poor and powerless. 

But get past the lede of most renditions of the story -- most prominently in the follow up coverage -- and you find that the Vatican's message was not the dominate theme.

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Flashback to George Gallup, Jr., and very early roots of the tmatt trio

Flashback to George Gallup, Jr., and very early roots of the tmatt trio

It's an experience that most journalists have had, at one time or another. You have just interviewed someone who is really interesting and, perhaps, an important leader in their field. The interview eventually turns into a conversation, usually about the topics linked to the topic being discussed or the details of the person's work.

I had several chances -- over the space of a decade or two -- to talk to the late pollster George Gallup, Jr. It is not surprising that he enjoyed talking about trends in American religion. Me too. He enjoyed talking about interesting questions linked to religious issues. Me too.

This brings us, of course, to the "tmatt trio" -- the three basic doctrinal questions I have long used to probe fault lines among Christian leaders and their followers. The goal is to ask the questions and then listen to the content of the answers, which are almost always highly nuanced and are often revealing.

Gallup and I discussed these questions on several occasions.

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