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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Patricia O’Connell Killen
Department of Religion
Pacific Lutheran University
Mark A. Shibley
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Southern Oregon University
(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.)
Hout and Fischer test three hypotheses:
A Fourth Hypothesis: Traditional religious institutions increasingly fail to help individuals encounter the sacred and construct meaningful lives.
(Mark A. Shibley. 1996. Resurgent Evangelicalism in the U.S.: Mapping Cultural Change Since 1970. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.)
Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk. 2004. Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
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
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).
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
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
(Hout and Fischer 2002)
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.
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.
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.
Conflict over how to manage the natural environment is a struggle over core values and what is sacred to people in the region.
Nature religion plays a role in legislative politics and, through the courts, government administration of natural resources.