Pew Research Center: A new way to categorize Americans by religion

WASHINGTON, D.C. Aug. 29, 2018 – Most U.S. adults identify with a particular religious denomination or group. They describe themselves as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon or Muslim – to name just a few of the hundreds of identities or affiliations that people give in surveys. Others describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or say they have no particular religious affiliation. These are the conventional categories into which Americans sort themselves. But a new Pew Research Center analysis looks at beliefs and behaviors that cut across many denominations – important traits that unite people of different faiths, or that divide people who have the same religious affiliation – producing a new and revealing classification, or typology, of religion in America.

The new typology sorts Americans into seven groups based on the religious and spiritual beliefs they share, how actively they practice their faith, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.

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Race, ethnicity, age, education and political opinions were not among the characteristics used to create the groups. Yet some of the groups have strong partisan leanings or distinctive demographic profiles, illuminating the intrinsic connections between religion, race and politics in America.

Sunday Stalwarts are the most religious group. Not only do they actively practice their faith, but they also are deeply involved in their religious congregations. God-and-Country Believers are less active in church groups or other religious organizations, but, like Sunday Stalwarts, they hold many traditional religious beliefs and tilt right on social and political issues. They are the most likely of any group to see immigrants as a threat. Racial and ethnic minorities make up a relatively large share of the Diversely Devout, who are diverse not only demographically, but also in their beliefs. It is the only group in which solid majorities say they believe in God “as described in the Bible” as well as in psychics, reincarnation and spiritual energy located in physical things.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Solidly Secular are the least religious of the seven groups. These relatively affluent, highly educated U.S. adults – mostly white and male – tend to describe themselves as neither religious nor spiritual and to reject all New Age beliefs as well as belief in the God of the Bible. In fact, many do not believe in a higher power at all. Religion Resisters, on the other hand, largely do believe in some higher power or spiritual force (but not the God of the Bible), and many have some New Age beliefs and consider themselves spiritual but not religious. At the same time, members of this group express strongly negative views of organized religion, saying that churches have too much influence in politics and that, overall, religion does more harm than good. Both of these nonreligious typology groups are generally liberal and Democratic in their political views.

The middle two groups straddle the border between the highly religious and the nonreligious. Seven-in-ten Relaxed Religious Americans say they believe in the God of the Bible, and four-in-ten pray daily. But relatively few attend religious services or read scripture, and they almost unanimously say it is not necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. All Spiritually Awake Americans hold at least some New Age beliefs (views rejected by most of the Relaxed Religious) and believe in God or some higher power, though many do not believe in the biblical God and relatively few attend religious services on a weekly basis.

Although traditional religious affiliation categories were not used as a determining factor in making the typology groups, it is nonetheless illuminating to look at each group’s religious composition. While there are clear patterns across the groups, no typology group is uniform in its religious affiliation. This shows that members of widely disparate religious traditions sometimes have a lot in common: Sunday Stalwarts, for instance, are largely Protestant, but also include Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others.

Among the highly religious typology groups, the religious identity profiles of Sunday Stalwarts and God-and-Country Believers are very similar. Majorities in each group are Protestant, and evangelical Protestantism constitutes the single largest religious tradition in both groups. Compared with Sunday Stalwarts, God-and-Country Believers include more Catholics (24% vs. 13%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (8% vs. 1%), and somewhat fewer Mormons (less than 1% vs. 5%).

Compared with the other two highly religious groups, the Diversely Devout include fewer Protestants and more unaffiliated people, often called “nones.” (“Nones” is an umbrella category composed of U.S. adults who identify, religiously, as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” All of the “nones” among the Diversely Devout, however, are people who describe their current religion as “nothing in particular.”)

A majority of the Solidly Secular (76%) and Religion Resisters (71%) are unaffiliated, including one-in-five in each group who describe themselves as agnostic. Religion Resisters are more likely than the Solidly Secular to describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (45% vs. 23%), while the Solidly Secular are more likely than Religion Resisters to describe themselves as atheists (31% vs. 6%).

Like the highly religious groups, the somewhat religious groups are mostly composed of Christians. There are more evangelicals among the Relaxed Religious than among the Spiritually Awake (25% vs. 16%), and more religious “nones” among the Spiritually Awake than among the Relaxed Religious (30% vs. 17%).

Pew Research Center’s religious typology is not meant to replace conventional religious affiliations, but rather to offer a new and complementary lens with which to glean new insights into religion and public life in the U.S.

In most surveys about religion, including those conducted by Pew Research Center, researchers analyze the data by dividing the respondents into commonly understood categories, such as Catholics, Jews and Muslims.

This report takes the opposite approach: Instead of comparing the views of pre-defined groups with one another, researchers used a statistical technique called cluster analysis to identify cohesive groups of people with similar religious and spiritual characteristics, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Specifically, 16 questions from the survey covering a variety of religious and spiritual domains were combined in a statistical model to define the seven typology groups. The model did not include any demographic questions or Pew Research Center’s standard question about religious affiliation, meaning that the religious tradition – or lack thereof – with which respondents identify did not affect their placement in a typology group. Though only 16 questions were used to create the groups, many additional questions were asked of the survey respondents and are included in this report.

The survey was conducted online Dec. 4 to 18, 2017, among 4,729 members of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults (18 and older) recruited from landline and cellphone random-digit-dial surveys.

Read the full analysis: http://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/29/the-religious-typology/

Take our quiz to find out which one of the religious typology groups is your best match and see how you compare with our nationally representative survey of more than 4,000 U.S. adults: http://www.pewforum.org/quiz/religious-typology