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Secular but Spiritual: Understanding Religious “Nones”. Patricia O’Connell Killen Department of Religion Pacific Lutheran University Mark A. Shibley Department of Sociology and Anthropology Southern Oregon University. We will explore four themes:.

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Secular but spiritual understanding religious nones

Secular but Spiritual: Understanding Religious “Nones”

Patricia O’Connell Killen

Department of Religion

Pacific Lutheran University

Mark A. Shibley

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Southern Oregon University


We will explore four themes
We will explore four themes:

  • Nationwide, the proportion of Americans who identify with a religious tradition is declining.

  • There are regional differences in religious identity, particularly the proportion of Nones.

  • Most Americans who don’t identify religiously nonetheless cultivate spiritual lives.

  • This “secular spirituality” is consequential for public life, sometimes in surprisingways.


Theme 1 national picture a sharp increase in religious nones
Theme 1 -- National Picture: A Sharp Increase in Religious “Nones”

  • The proportion of Americans who reported no religious preference doubled from 7 to 14 percent in the 1990s.

  • Both the General Social Survey (GSS) and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) find this pattern.

    (Key reference: Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer. 2002. “Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations.” American Sociological Review 67:165-90.)


Trend data general social survey 1973 2000 hout and fischer 2002
Trend DataGeneral Social Survey, 1973-2000(Hout and Fischer, 2002)


Why are nones increasing
Why are “Nones” increasing?

Hout and Fischer test three hypotheses:

  • Secularization (progressive loss of belief)

  • Demographic (generational shift away from religious tradition)

  • Political (liberals are leaving church in reaction to Christian Right ascendance)


A Fourth Hypothesis: Traditional religious institutions increasingly fail to help individuals encounter the sacred and construct meaningful lives.

  • Hout and Fischer assume that political sentiment precedes religious conviction.

  • This causal assumption led many scholars and journalists to view the growing popularity of evangelical Protestantism over the last quarter century as fueled by the cultural politics the Christian Right. In fact, evangelical Protestantism grew because evangelical congregations more effectively than other institutions met the social, psychological and spiritual needs of individuals, not because it was politically conservative.

    (Mark A. Shibley. 1996. Resurgent Evangelicalism in the U.S.: Mapping Cultural Change Since 1970. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.)

  • People join religious communities for fundamentally religious reasons (i.e., transcendence, meaning and belonging), and it follows that they do not join, or they leave, when those institutions are religiously ineffective.


Theme 2 regional variation fewer people in the west identify or belong
Theme 2—Regional Variation: Fewer people in the West identify or belong

  • Identity—Northwesterners are twice as likely as people living in the Bible Belt to claim no religious preference. (ARIS)

  • Belonging—The Pacific Northwest is the only region of the country where a majority of the population does not affiliate with a religious congregation. (NARA)

  • About one-quarter of all Americans identify but do not affiliate with a religious tradition. More than one-third of all Northwesterners are in this “gap” group.

    Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk. 2004. Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.


Regional variation in religious identification
Regional Variation in Religious Identification identify or belong

Table 1 Percentage of the Population Claiming No Religious Preference

in 2001, Rank Ordered by Region

_________________________________________________________________

Rank Region % of Population

_____________________________________________________________________

1 Pacific Northwest 25

2 Pacific Southwest 19

3 Rocky Mountain West 18

4 New England 15

5 Midwest 14

6 Mid-Atlantic 13

7 Southern Crossroads 12

8 South 11

Nationwide 14

_________________________________________________________________

Source: Barry A. Kosmin, Egon Mayer and Ariela Keysar, American Religious Identification Survey (New York: The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 2001).


Regional variation in religious affiliation

Table 2 Religiously Unaffiliated as a Percentage of the Total Population in 2000, Rank-ordered by Region

____________________________________________________________________

Rank Region Unaffiliated as % of Population

_________________________________________________________________

1 Pacific Northwest 63

2 Rocky Mountain West 48

3 Pacific Southwest 47

4 Midwest 41

5 South 41

6 New England 39

7 Mid-Atlantic 34

8 Southern Crossroads 33

Nationwide 41

____________________________________________________________________

Source: Dale E. Jones et al., Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States 2000: An Enumeration by Region, State and County Based on Data Reported by 149 Religious Bodies (Nashville, TN: Glenmary Research Center, 2002). North American Religion Atlas, The Polis Center, <http://www.religionatlas.org> (August 19, 2003).

Regional Variation in Religious Affiliation


Why are there more nones in the west than in other regions
Why are there more “Nones” in the West than in other regions?

  • Most people do not participate in religious institutions and never have.

  • Successive waves of immigrants and economic fortunes shape the religious story.

  • There is no dominant religious reference group as conventionally understood.

  • Idiosyncratic backwater or bellwether region?


Theme 3 secular but spiritual many nones cultivate spiritual lives
Theme 3—Secular but Spiritual: regions?Many “Nones” Cultivate Spiritual Lives

  • While “Nones” are on the rise, there is no corresponding drop in the percent of the population believing in God or afterlife.

    (Hout and Fischer 2002)

  • According to ARIS data, “Nones” are spiritually open even if they don’t identify with a religious tradition.

  • We identified three specific clusters of secular spirituality in the Pacific Northwest.


Nones are spiritually open
“Nones” are Spiritually Open regions?

Table 3 Percentage of Nones Nationwide with Spiritual Inclinations

Secularism Item Percent

____________________________________________________________________________

“Do you agree or disagree that God exists?”

Percent answering agree somewhat or agree strongly 66

“Do you agree or disagree that God helps me?”

Percent answering agree somewhat or agree strongly 53

“When it comes to your outlook, do you regard yourself as….?”

Percent answering somewhat religious or religious 36

_________________________________________________________________

Source: Barry A. Kosmin, Egon Mayer and Ariela Keysar, American Religious Identification Survey (New York: The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 2001). Produced for the Religion by Region Project.


Clusters of secular spirituality in the pacific northwest
Clusters of “Secular Spirituality” in regions?the Pacific Northwest

In the “None Zone,” many people cultivate spiritual lives outside official religious institutions.

- New spirituality

- Apocalyptic, anti-government millennialism

- Nature religion

Over time, this unconventional spiritual activity takes on institutional form; it is far more than the private explorations of individual seekers.


A side note what do we mean by the terms religion and spirituality
A side note: What do we mean by the terms “religion” and “spirituality”?

  • Religion is a cultural system (shared beliefs and practices) that makes human life meaningful by facilitating transcendent experience (encounters with the sacred) and binding individuals to one another.

  • Popular distinction between religion and spirituality is problematic.

  • Officialvs. non-official religion. The degree to which religious beliefs and practices are institutionalized and regulated by dominant groups.

  • This look at “secular spirituality” is really an exploration of non-official (folk) religion.


New spirituality metaphysics paganism channeling spirituality literature
New Spirituality and “spirituality”?(Metaphysics, Paganism, Channeling, Spirituality literature)

  • Exemplary groups, events and leaders:

    • Eckhart Toll, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Vancouver, B.C.

    • Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Everett, WA

    • J.Z. Knight channels the 35,000 year old spirit warrior Ramtha, Yelm, WA

    • Annual Northwest Fall Equinox Festival in the woods outside Portland, OR

    • Living Enrichment Center, Wilsonville, OR

    • Women in Conscious Creative Action (WICCA) in Eugene, OR

    • Neale Donald Walcsh, Conversations with God, Ashland, OR

    • The Harmonic Convergence, Mt. Shasta, CA


New spirituality cont metaphysics paganism channeling spirituality literature
New Spirituality, cont. and “spirituality”?(Metaphysics, Paganism, Channeling, Spirituality literature)

  • Beliefs and practices regarding the sacred:

    • To nurture religious experience, practice is valued over doctrine.

    • Underlying the hodge-podge of spiritual practices is a coherent worldview: the self is sacred, “Everyone is God. Everyone.”

    • Read from Heelas (1996) and Walsch on New Age and New Spirituality

    • This worldview is dualistic and millennial, as are the views of many religious movement in times of rapid social change.

  • Questions: To what extent is New Spirituality becoming more than an individual quest for self-authentication? As this form of non-official religion becomes more communal, more church-like, what will be the consequence for public life?


Nature Religion and “spirituality”?(Secular Environmental Movement, Regional Literature, Native American Traditions, neo-Paganism)

  • Exemplary groups, movements, events and leaders:

    • Artic National Wildlife Refuge, “Oil Field or Sanctuary?”

    • “Simple Living: The Newsletter of Voluntary Simplicity,” Seattle, WA

    • Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter on the Columbia River

    • Ted Strong, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

    • Peter Illyn, Green Cross (born-again tree-hugger)

    • Native Forest Council, Eugene, OR (secular but spiritual)

    • Regional writers: W.Stafford; B.Lopez; G.Snyder; T.Tempest Williams; U.LeGuin; S.Tisdale

    • David James Duncan (quintessential Northwest nature writer & prophet)

    • Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument


Nature Religion, and “spirituality”?Cont.(Secular Environmental Movement, Regional Literature, Native American Traditions, neo-Paganism)

  • Beliefs and practices regarding the sacred:

    • In the secular environmental movement, nature is sacred. Read “Stop the Chainsaw Massacre,” NFC

    • Simple Living movement is the ritualization of daily life.

    • Underlying worldview tends toward dualism and millennialism and is reflected (and created) in regional literature. Read Duncan.

  • Questions: To what extent is nature religion becoming institutionalized (official as well as non-official religion)? How does this folk religion shape public debate over natural resource management?


Theme 4 spiritual politics how secular spirituality matters in public life
Theme 4--Spiritual Politics: How secular spirituality matters in public life

  • “Nones” are less likely than PCJ to vote, but if they vote, they are more likely to be liberal.

  • Two examples of secular spirituality in politics and public life:

    • New spirituality and progressive politics

    • Nature religion and conflict over natural resource management


Nones for nader religion in the 2000 presidential election
“Nones” for Nader: Religion in the 2000 Presidential Election

Table 4: Voting Behavior in the 2000 Presidential Election, by Religious Group

___________________________________________________________________

Protestant Catholic Jewish None

____________________________________________________

Voted 70% 69% 82% 58%

Didn’t Vote 25 27 5 38

Ineligible 2 4 13 5

Bush 57% 54% 22% 30%

Gore 41 44 72 57

Nader 1 1 6 12

Other 1 1 0 2

___________________________________________________________________

General Social Survey, 2002. National Opinion Research Center. University of Chicago.


New spirituality and progressive national politics
New Spirituality and ElectionProgressive National Politics

  • Anti-establishment religion correlates positively with anti-establishment politics.

  • The case of Neale Donald Walsch—turning personal transformation into political renewal.

    • “Re-igniting the Spirit of America Summit on Values, Spirituality and Politics” (2000)

    • The New Revelations (2002)

    • Humanity’s Team (2003)

    • Tomorrow’s God (2004)

  • Secular Left is much smaller and less well organized than the Christian Right.


Nature religion and environmental politics in god s country
Nature religion and Environmental Politics in God’s Country

Conflict over how to manage the natural environment is a struggle over core values and what is sacred to people in the region.

  • The prophetic voice (Duncan)

  • The sacred in the secular (NFC)

  • No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth

  • “The Sacred Tree” (Chant Thomas)

  • Nature religion as civil religion in the State of Jefferson

    Nature religion plays a role in legislative politics and, through the courts, government administration of natural resources.


Concluding thoughts on religious nones and public life
Concluding thoughts on religious “Nones” and public life Country

  • Broadening the focus…

    • “Extravasation of the sacred.”

    • What is sacred in the lives of ordinary people?

  • The secular but spiritual

    • tends toward a dualistic and millennial worldview.

    • has organizational structures that are flat, networked, and more provisional.

  • Why it matters…

    • The moral and spiritual convictions of “Nones” are expressed in public life, and they help shape policy.


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