The fastest-growing population on the American religious landscape today is “Nones”—people who don’t identify with any religion. Recent data from the American Family Survey indicates that their numbers increased from 16% in 2007 to 35% in 2018. Over the same period, there has been a dramatic decline in the share of the population who identify as Christian, from 78% of Americans in 2007 to 65% in 2018-19, according to a report by the Pew Research Center released this month. The rise of Nones is even more dramatic among younger people: 44% of Americans aged 18 to 29 are Nones.
What’s going on? A big part of the answer is that there is less social pressure to identify as religious, especially among young adults. In fact, a young adult today is more likely to feel social pressure to justify being religious than being None. Another factor is the rise of families in which the parents identify with different religions: Children in such families are often raised with exposure to both identities and left to decide for themselves which to adopt. In many cases, they eventually choose neither.
And part of the answer is that many of the personal and social functions traditionally performed by religious institutions are now being served by new communities that we might call “alt-religious.” Harvard Divinity School’s “How We Gather” initiative has drawn attention, for example, to the rapidly growing numbers of millennials who skip church or synagogue for their particular brand of “fitness cult,” such as SoulCycle, which grew from one studio in 2006 to 88 in 2018, with more than 10,000 riders a day. In these movements, as in a church, myth (in the form of the company’s origin story and mission statement) and rituals (a carefully regulated order of actions for leader and congregants) work together to create a sacred or “set apart” time and space.
— Christina@ThatcherPR (@CGThatcherPR) November 14, 2019