Religion in the United States

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Religion in the United States is characterized by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Various religious faiths have flourished in the United States. A majority of Americans report that religion plays a very important role in their lives, a proportion unique among developed countries.[1]

The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians, while close to a quarter claim no religious affiliation.[2] According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, 70.6% of the American population identified themselves as Christians, with 46.5% professing attendance at a variety of churches that could be considered Protestant, and 20.8% professing Roman Catholic beliefs. The same study says that other religions (including Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism) collectively make up about 6% of the population. According to a 2012 survey by the Pew forum, 36 percent of Americans state that they attend services nearly every week or more.[3] According to the 2013 Gallup poll, Mississippi with 61% of its population described as very religious (say that religion is important to them and attend religious services almost every week) is the most religious state in the country, while Vermont with only 22% as very religious is the least religious state.[4]

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Religion in the United States (2014 survey - Pew Forum)[2]

  Protestant[note 1] (46.5%)
  Catholic (20.8%)
  Mormon (1.6%)
  Other Christian[note 2] (1.7%)
  Judaism (1.9%)
  Islam (0.9%)
  Hinduism (0.7%)
  Buddhism (0.7%)
  Other religions[note 3] (1.8%)
  Not stated (0.6%)


From early colonial days, when some English and German settlers came in search of religious freedom, America has been profoundly influenced by religion.[5] That influence continues in American culture, social life, and politics.[6] Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by settlers who wished to practice their own religion within a community of like-minded people: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by English Puritans (Congregationalists), Pennsylvania by British Quakers, Maryland by English Catholics, and Virginia by English Anglicans. Despite these, and as a result of intervening religious strife and preference in England[7] the Plantation Act 1740 would set official policy for new immigrants coming to British America until the American Revolution.

The text of the First Amendment to the country's Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It guarantees the free exercise of religion while also preventing the government from establishing a state religion. However the states were not bound by the provision and as late as the 1830s Massachusetts provided tax money to local Congregational churches.[8] The Supreme Court since the 1940s has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as applying the First Amendment to the state and local governments.

President John Adams and a unanimous Senate endorsed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797 that stated: ""the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."[9]

According to a 2002 survey by the Pew forum, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that religion plays an important role in their lives, compared to 33% in Great Britain, 27% in Italy, 21% in Germany, 12% in Japan and 11% in France. The survey report stated that the results showed America having a greater similarity to developing nations (where higher percentages say that religion plays an important role) than to other wealthy nations, where religion plays a minor role.[1]

In 1963, 90% of Americans claimed to be Christians while only 2% professed no religious identity.[10] In 2014, the percentage of Christians was closer to 70% with close to 23% claiming no religious identity.[2]

Freedom of religion

The United States federal government was the first national government to have no official state-endorsed religion.[11] However, some states had established religions in some form until the 1830s.

Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the framers of the Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the federal government any power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise, thus protecting any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference. The decision was mainly influenced by European Rationalist and Protestant ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent them.[12]

Abrahamic religions


The largest religion in the US is Christianity, claimed by the majority of the population (71% in 2014).[2] From those queried, roughly 46.5% of Americans are Protestants, 25.4% are Catholics, 2% are Mormons (the name commonly used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and 1% have affiliations with various other Christian denominations.[2] Christianity was introduced during the period of European colonization.

According to the 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, from which members in the United States are combined with Canadian members,[clarification needed] and of the National Council of Churches, the five largest denominations are:[13]

The Southern Baptist Convention, with over 16 million adherents, is the largest of more than 200[15] distinctly named Protestant denominations.[16] In 2007, members of evangelical churches comprised 26% of the American population, while another 18% belonged to mainline Protestant churches, and 7% belonged to historically black churches.[citation needed]

Members of mainline Protestant denominations have played leadership roles in many aspects of American life, including politics, business, science, the arts, and education. They founded most of the country's leading institutes of higher education.[17] Mainline Protestants such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians tend to be considerably wealthier[18] and better educated than most other religious groups in the United States.[19]

Some of the first colleges and universities in America, including Harvard,[20] Yale,[21] Princeton,[22] Columbia,[23] Dartmouth, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Amherst, all were founded by mainline Protestant denominations, as were later Carleton, Duke,[24] Oberlin, Beloit, Pomona, Rollins and Colorado College.

Beginning in the 17th century, northern European peoples introduced Protestantism. Among Protestants, Anglicans, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Quakers, and Moravians were the first to settle in the US, spreading their faith in the new country.

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah

Beginning in the 16th century, the Spanish (and later the French and English) introduced Catholicism. From the 19th century to the present, Catholics came to the US in large numbers due to immigration of Italians, Hispanics, Portuguese, French, Polish, Irish, Highland Scots, Dutch, Flemish, Hungarians, Germans, Lebanese (Maronite), and other ethnic groups.

Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Armenians, Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and South Indian immigrants brought Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy to the United States. These branches of Christianity have since spread beyond the boundaries of ethnic immigrant communities and now include multi-ethnic membership and parishes.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., is the largest Catholic church in the US.

Several Christian groups were founded in America during the Great Awakenings. Interdenominational evangelicalism and Pentecostalism emerged; new Protestant denominations such as Adventism; non-denominational movements such as the Restoration Movement (which over time separated into the Churches of Christ, the Christian churches and churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)); Jehovah's Witnesses (called "Bible Students" in the latter part of the 19th century); and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism).

The strength of various sects varies greatly in different regions of the country, with rural parts of the South having many evangelicals but very few Catholics (except Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and the Hispanic community, which both consist mainly of Catholics), while urbanized areas of the north Atlantic states and Great Lakes, as well as many industrial and mining towns, are heavily Catholic, though still quite mixed, especially due to the heavily Protestant African-American communities. In 1990, nearly 72% of the population of Utah was Mormon, as well as 26% of neighboring Idaho.[25] Lutheranism is most prominent in the Upper Midwest, with North Dakota having the highest percentage of Lutherans (35% according to a 2001 survey).[26]

The largest religion, Christianity, has proportionately diminished since 1990. While the absolute number of Christians rose from 1990 to 2008, the percentage of Christians dropped from 86% to 76%.[27] A nationwide telephone interview of 1,002 adults conducted by The Barna Group found that 70% of American adults believe that God is "the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today", and that 9% of all American adults and 0.5% young adults hold to what the survey defined as a "biblical worldview".[28]

Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox and United Church of Christ members[29] have the highest number of graduate and post-graduate degrees per capita of all Christian denominations in the United States,[30] as well as the most high-income earners.[31]


After Christianity, Judaism is the next largest religious affiliation in the US, though this identification is not necessarily indicative of religious beliefs or practices.[27] There are between 5.3 and 6.6 million Jews. A significant number of people identify themselves as American Jews on ethnic and cultural grounds, rather than religious ones. For example, 19% of self-identified American Jews do not believe God exists.[32] The 2001 ARIS study projected from its sample that there are about 5.3 million adults in the American Jewish population: 2.83 million adults (1.4% of the U.S. adult population) are estimated to be adherents of Judaism; 1.08 million are estimated to be adherents of no religion; and 1.36 million are estimated to be adherents of a religion other than Judaism.[33] ARIS 2008 estimated about 2.68 million adults (1.2%) in the country identify Judaism as their faith.[27]

Touro Synagogue, (built 1759) in Newport, Rhode Island has the oldest still existing synagogue building in the United States.

Jews have been present in what is now the US since the 17th century, and specifically allowed since the British colonial Plantation Act 1740. Although small Western European communities initially developed and grew, large-scale immigration did not take place until the late 19th century, largely as a result of persecutions in parts of Eastern Europe. The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe. There are, however, small numbers of older (and some recently arrived) communities of Sephardi Jews with roots tracing back to 15th century Iberia (Spain, Portugal, and North Africa). There are also Mizrahi Jews (from the Middle East, Caucasia and Central Asia), as well as much smaller numbers of Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, Kaifeng Jews and others from various smaller Jewish ethnic divisions. Approximately 25% of the Jewish American population lives in New York City.[34]

According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, 1.7% of adults in the U.S. identify Judaism as their religion. Among those surveyed, 44% said they were Reform Jews, 22% said they were Conservative Jews, and 14% said they were Orthodox Jews.[2][35] According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, 38% of Jews were affiliated with the Reform tradition, 35% were Conservative, 6% were Orthodox, 1% were Reconstructionists, 10% linked themselves to some other tradition, and 10% said they are "just Jewish".[36]

Congregation Shearith Israel (founded 1655) in New York is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States.

The Pew Research Center report on American Judaism released in October 2013 revealed that 22% of Jewish Americans say they have "no religion" and the majority of respondents do not see religion as the primary constituent of Jewish identity. 62% believe Jewish identity is based primarily in ancestry and culture, only 15% in religion. Among Jews who gave Judaism as their religion, 55% based Jewish identity on ancestry and culture, and 66% did not view belief in God as essential to Judaism.[37]

A 2009 study estimated the Jewish population (including both those who define themselves as Jewish by religion and those who define themselves as Jewish in cultural or ethnic terms) to be between 6.0 and 6.4 million.[38] According to a study done in 2000 there were an estimated 6.14 million Jewish people in the country, about 2% of the population.[39]

According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, 4.3 million American Jewish adults have some sort of strong connection to the Jewish community, whether religious or cultural.[40] Jewishness is generally considered an ethnic identity as well as a religious one. Among the 4.3 million American Jews described as "strongly connected" to Judaism, over 80% have some sort of active engagement with Judaism, ranging from attendance at daily prayer services on one end of the spectrum to attending Passover Seders or lighting Hanukkah candles on the other. The survey also discovered that Jews in the Northeast and Midwest are generally more observant than Jews in the South or West. Reflecting a trend also observed among other religious groups, Jews in the Northwestern United States are typically the least observant of tradition.

The Jewish American community has higher household incomes than average, and is one of the best educated religious communities in the United States.[29]


The Islamic Center of Washington in the nation's capital is a leading American Islamic Center.

Islam is the third largest faith in the United States, after Christianity and Judaism, representing 0.9% of the population.[2][41] Islam in America effectively began with the arrival of African slaves. It is estimated that about 10% of African slaves transported to the United States were Muslim.[42] Most, however, became Christians, and the United States did not have a significant Muslim population until the arrival of immigrants from Arab and East Asian Muslim areas.[43] According to some experts,[44] Islam later gained a higher profile through the Nation of Islam, a religious group that appealed to black Americans after the 1940s; its prominent converts included Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.[45][46] The first Muslim elected in Congress was Keith Ellison in 2006,[47] followed by André Carson in 2008.[48]

File:Islamic Center of America.png
The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, is the largest mosque in the United States.

Research indicates that Muslims in the United States are generally more assimilated and prosperous than their counterparts in Europe.[49][50][51] Like other subcultural and religious communities, the Islamic community has generated its own political organizations and charity organizations.

Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'í House of Worship (built 1953) in Wilmette, Illinois, is the oldest still existing Bahá'í house of worship in the world and the only one in the United States.

The United States has perhaps the second largest Bahá'í community in the world. First mention of the faith in the U.S. was at the inaugural Parliament of World Religions, which was held at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. In 1894, Ibrahim Kheiralla, a Syrian Bahá'í immigrant, established a community in the U.S. He later left the main group and founded a rival movement.[52]


Rastafarians began migrating to the United States in the 1950s, '60s and '70s from the religion's 1930s birthplace, Jamaica.[53][54] Marcus Garvey, who is considered a prophet by many Rastafarians,[55][56] rose to prominence and cultivated many of his ideas in the United States.

Asian religions


Hsi Lai Temple ("Coming West Temple"), a Buddhist monastery in Hacienda Heights, California, near Los Angeles

Buddhism entered the US during the 19th century with the arrival of the first immigrants from East Asia. The first Buddhist temple was established in San Francisco in 1853 by Chinese Americans.

During the late 19th century Buddhist missionaries from Japan came to the US. During the same time period, US intellectuals started to take interest in Buddhism.

The first prominent US citizen to publicly convert to Buddhism was Henry Steel Olcott. An event that contributed to the strengthening of Buddhism in the US was the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893, which was attended by many Buddhist delegates sent from India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

The early 20th century was characterized by a continuation of tendencies that had their roots in the 19th century. The second half, by contrast, saw the emergence of new approaches, and the move of Buddhism into the mainstream and making itself a mass and social religious phenomenon.[57][58]

Many foreign associations and teachers—such as Soka Gakkai and Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama for Tibetan Buddhism[citation needed])—started to organize missionary activities, while US converts established the first Western-based Buddhist institutions, temples and worship groups.

Estimates of the number of Buddhists in the United States vary between 0.5%[27] and 0.9%,[59] with 0.7% reported by both the CIA[35] and Pew.[60]


The first time Hinduism entered the U.S. is not clearly identifiable. However, large groups of Hindus have immigrated from India and other Asian countries since the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. During the 1960s and 1970s Hinduism exercised fascination contributing to the development of New Age thought. During the same decades the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (a Vaishnavite Hindu reform organization) was founded in the US.

In 2001, there were an estimated 400,000 Hindus in the US, about 0.2% of the total population.[61][62]

In 2004 the Hindu American Foundation—a national institution protecting rights of the Hindu community of U.S.—was founded.

American Hindus have one of the highest rates of educational attainment and household income among all religious communities, and tend to have lower divorce rates.[29]


Adherents of Jainism first arrived in the United States in the 20th century. The most significant time of Jain immigration was in the early 1970s. The United States has since become a center of the Jain Diaspora. The Federation of Jain Associations in North America is an umbrella organization of local American and Canadian Jain congregations to preserve, practice, and promote Jainism and the Jain way of life.[63]


Sikhism is a religion originating from South Asia (predominantly in modern-day India) which was introduced into the United States when, around the turn of the 20th century, Sikhs started emigrating to the United States in significant numbers to work on farms in California. They were the first community to come from India to the US in large numbers.[64][clarification needed] The first Sikh Gurdwara in America was built in Stockton, California, in 1912.[65] In 2007, there were estimated to be between 250,000 to 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States, with the largest populations living on the East and West Coasts, with additional populations in Detroit, Chicago, and Austin.[66][67]

The United States also has a number of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.[68]


In 2004 there were an estimated 56,000 Taoists in the US.[69] Taoism was popularized throughout the world through the practice of Tai Chi Chuan and other martial arts.[70]

No religion

This group includes atheists, agnostics and people who describe their religion as "nothing in particular".[71]

"Unaffiliated" does not necessarily mean "non-religious". Some people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion express religious beliefs (such as belief in one or more gods or in reincarnation) and engage in religious practices (such as prayer).[citation needed]

Agnosticism, atheism, and humanism

A 2001 survey directed by Dr. Ariela Keysar for the City University of New York indicated that, amongst the more than 100 categories of response, "no religious identification" had the greatest increase in population in both absolute and percentage terms. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no stated religious preferences. Figures are up from 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, representing an increase from 8% of the total population in 1990 to 15% in 2008.[27] A nationwide Pew Research study published in 2008 put the figure of unaffiliated persons at 16.1%,[62] while another Pew study published in 2012 was described as placing the proportion at about 20% overall and roughly 33% for the 18–29-year-old demographic.[72]

In a 2006 nationwide poll, University of Minnesota researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who trusted them less than Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society". They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism.[73][74] However, the same study also reported that "The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one's exposure to diversity, education and political orientation – with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts."[75] Some surveys have indicated that doubts about the existence of a god were growing quickly among Americans under 30.[76]

On 24 March 2012, American atheists sponsored the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., followed by the American Atheist Convention in Bethesda, Maryland. Organizers called the estimated crowd of 8,000–10,000 the largest-ever US gathering of atheists in one place.[77]


In the United States, Enlightenment philosophy (which itself was heavily inspired by deist ideals) played a major role in creating the principle of religious freedom, expressed in Thomas Jefferson's letters and included in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. American Founding Fathers, or Framers of the Constitution, who were especially noted for being influenced by such philosophy of deism include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Cornelius Harnett, Gouverneur Morris, and Hugh Williamson. Their political speeches show distinct deistic influence. Other notable Founding Fathers may have been more directly deist. These include Thomas Paine, James Madison, possibly Alexander Hamilton, and Ethan Allen.[78]

Belief in the existence of a god

Various polls have been conducted to determine Americans' actual beliefs regarding a god:

  • A 2006 CBS News poll of 899 U.S. adults found that 76% of those surveyed believed in a god, while 9% believed in "some other universal spirit or higher power", 8% believed in neither, and 1% were unsure.[citation needed]
  • A 2007 Gallup Poll found that 86% of Americans believe in a god, with 8% saying they are not sure, and 6% saying they don't believe in a god.[citation needed]
  • According to a 2008 ARIS survey, belief in God varies considerably by region. The lowest rate is in the West with 59% reporting a belief in God, and the highest rate is in the South at 86%.[79]
  • Mark Chaves, a Duke University professor of sociology, religion and divinity, found that 92% of Americans believed in God in 2008, but that significantly fewer Americans have great confidence in their religious leaders than a generation ago.[80]
  • A 2008 survey of 1,000 people concluded that, based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification, 69.5% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12.3% of Americans are atheist or agnostic, and another 12.1% are deistic (believing in a higher power/non-personal God, but no personal God).[27]
  • A late 2009 online Harris poll of 2,303 U.S. adults (18 and older)[81] found that "82% of adult Americans believe in God", the same number as in two earlier polls in 2005 and 2007. Another 9% said they did not believe in God, and 9% said that they were not sure. It further concluded, "Large majorities also believe in miracles (76%), heaven (75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (73%), in angels (72%), the survival of the soul after death (71%), and in the resurrection of Jesus (70%). Less than half (45%) of adults believe in Darwin's theory of evolution but this is more than the 40% who believe in creationism..... Many people consider themselves Christians without necessarily believing in some of the key beliefs of Christianity. However, this is not true of born-again Christians. In addition to their religious beliefs, large minorities of adults, including many Christians, have "pagan" or pre-Christian beliefs such as a belief in ghosts, astrology, witches and reincarnation.... Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated."
  • A 2010 Gallup poll found 80% of Americans believe in a god, 12% believe in a universal spirit, 6% don't believe in either, 1% chose "other", and 1% had no opinion. 80% is a decrease from the 1940s, when Gallup first asked this question.
  • A 2011 Gallup poll found 92% of Americans said yes to the basic question "Do you believe in God?", while 7% said no and 1% had no opinion.[82]
  • A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that doubts about the existence of a god had grown among younger Americans, with 68% telling Pew they never doubt God's existence, a 15-point drop in five years. In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God's existence.[76][83]
  • A 2012 WIN-Gallup International poll showed that 5% of Americans considered themselves "convinced" atheists, which was a fivefold increase from the last time the survey was taken in 2005, and 5% said they did not know or else did not respond.[84]

Spiritual but not Religious

"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) is a popular phrase and initialism used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that takes issue with organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth. Spirituality places an emphasis upon the wellbeing of the "mind-body-spirit,"[85] so "holistic" activities such as tai chi, reiki, and yoga are common within the SBNR movement.[86] In contrast to religion, spirituality has often been associated with the interior life of the individual.[87]

One fifth of the US public and a third of adults under the age of 30 are reportedly unaffiliated with any religion, however they identify as being spiritual in some way. Of these religiously unaffiliated Americans, 37% classify themselves as spiritual but not religious.[88]


Many other religions are represented in the United States, including Shinto, Caodaism, Thelema, Santería, Kemetism, Religio Romana, Kaldanism, Zoroastrianism, Vodou, Pastafarianism, and many forms of New Age spirituality.

Native American religions

Native American religions historically exhibited much diversity, and are often characterized by animism or panentheism.[89] The membership of Native American religions in the 21st century comprises about 9,000 people.[90]


Neopaganism in the United States is represented by widely different movements and organizations. The largest Neopagan religion is Wicca, followed by Neo-Druidism.[91][92] Other neopagan movements include Germanic Neopaganism, Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism, and Semitic neopaganism.


According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), there are approximately 30,000 druids in the United States.[93] Modern Druidism came to North America first in the form of fraternal Druidic organizations in the nineteenth century, and orders such as the Ancient Order of Druids in America were founded as distinct American groups as early as 1912. In 1963, the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) was founded by students at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. They adopted elements of Neopaganism into their practices, for instance celebrating the festivals of the Wheel of the Year.[94]


Wicca advanced in North America in the 1960s by Raymond Buckland, an expatriate Briton who visited Gardner's Isle of Man coven to gain initiation.[95] Universal Eclectic Wicca was popularized in 1969 for a diverse membership drawing from both Dianic and British Traditional Wiccan backgrounds.[96]

New Thought Movement

A group of churches which started in the 1830s in the United States is known under the banner of "New Thought". These churches share a spiritual, metaphysical and mystical predisposition and understanding of the Bible and were strongly influenced by the Transcendentalist movement, particularly the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Another antecedent of this movement was Swedenborgianism, founded on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg in 1787.[97] The New Thought concept was named by Emma Curtis Hopkins ("teacher of teachers") after Hopkins broke off from Mary Baker Eddy's Church of Christ, Scientist. The movement had been previously known as the Mental Sciences or the Christian Sciences. The three major branches are Religious Science, Unity Church and Divine Science.

Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a result of that search and not obedience to an authoritarian requirement.[98]

Major religious movements founded in the United States



Government positions

The First Amendment guarantees both the free practice of religion and the non-establishment of religion by the federal government (later court decisions have extended that prohibition to the states).[100] The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was modified in 1954 to add the phrase "under God", in order to distinguish itself from the state atheism espoused by the Soviet Union.[101][102][103][104]

Various American presidents have often stated the importance of religion. On February 20, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that "Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism."[105] President Gerald Ford agreed with and repeated this statement in 1974.[106]


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Religion in the United States according to Gallup, Inc. (2014)[107]

  Protestant (37%)
  Catholic (23%)
  None (16%)
  Other Christian (10%)
  Other (6%)
  No answer (4%)
  Mormon (2%)
  Jewish (2%)

The U.S. Census does not ask about religion. Various groups have conducted surveys to determine approximate percentages of those affiliated with each religious group. Some surveys ask people to self-identify, while others calculate church memberships. The first table below represents the ranges that have been found.

Pew Research Center data

Religious affiliation in the U.S. (2014)[2]
Affiliation % of U.S. population
Christian 70.6 70.6
Protestant 46.5 46.5
Evangelical Protestant 25.4 25.4
Mainline Protestant 14.7 14.7
Black church 6.5 6.5
Catholic 20.8 20.8
Mormon 1.6 1.6
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.8 0.8
Eastern Orthodox 0.5 0.5
Other Christian 0.4 0.4
Unaffiliated 22.8 22.8
Nothing in particular 15.8 15.8
Agnostic 4.0 4
Atheist 3.1 3.1
Non-Christian faiths 5.9 5.9
Jewish 1.9 1.9
Muslim 0.9 0.9
Buddhist 0.7 0.7
Hindu 0.7 0.7
Other Non-Christian faiths 1.8 1.8
Don't know/refused answer 0.6 0.6
Total 100 100


Religion in the United States (1962-2012)[109]
Date Christianity Protestantism Catholicism Other Christian groups Non-Christian groups Non-religious/Non-response
1962 93.0% 70.0% 23.0% 0.0% 5.0% 2.0%
1970 91.0% 65.0% 26.0% 0.0% 4.0% 7.0%
1980 89.3% 61.0% 28.0% 0.3% 2.0% 3.0%
1990 86.2% 59.4% 26.5% 0.3% 3.2% 7.5%
1995 85.0% 56.0% 27.0% 1.0% 7.0% 8.0%
2000 76.5% 53.9% 21.4% 1.2% 2.6% 13.2%
2001 78.7% 52.2% 24.5% 2.9% 3.7% 14.2%
2007 78.5% 51.3% 23.9% 3.3% 5.4% 16.1%
2008 76.0% 50.9% 25.1% 3.1% 3.9% 19.2%
2010 76.5% 50.7% 23.2% 2.6% 2.2% 19.4%
2011 75.6% 48.3% 25.2% 2.8% 4.4% 21.0%
2012 77.3% 51.9% 23.3% 2.1% 4.9% 18.2%


Church or synagogue attendance by state (2009)

A 2013 survey reported that 31% Americans attend religious services at least weekly. It was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute with a margin of error of 2.5.[110]

In 2006, an online Harris Poll (they stated that the magnitude of errors cannot be estimated due to sampling errors, non-response, etc.; 2,010 U.S. adults were surveyed)[111] found that 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 9% went "once or twice a month", 21% went "a few times a year", 3% went "once a year", 22% went "less than once a year", and 18% never attend religious services.

In a 2009 Gallup International survey, 41.6%[112] of American citizens said that they attended church or synagogue once a week or almost every week. This percentage is higher than other surveyed Western countries.[113][114] Church attendance varies considerably by state and region. The figures, updated to 2014, ranged from 51% in Utah to 17% in Vermont.

Weekly church attendance by state[115]
Rank State Percent
1  Utah 51%
2  Mississippi 47%
3  Alabama 46%
4  Louisiana 46%
5  Arkansas 45%
6  South Carolina 42%
7  Tennessee 42%
8  Kentucky 41%
9  North Carolina 40%
10  Georgia 39%
11  Texas 39%
12  Oklahoma 39%
13  New Mexico 36%
14  Nebraska 35%
15  Indiana 35%
16  Virginia 35%
17  Delaware 35%
18  Missouri 35%
19  Idaho 34%
20  West Virginia 34%
21  Arizona 33%
22  Kansas 33%
23  Michigan 32%
24  Ohio 32%
25  Illinois 32%
26   North Dakota 32%
27  Pennsylvania 32%
28  Iowa 32%
29  Florida 32%
30  Maryland 31%
31  South Dakota 31%
32  Minnesota 31%
33  New Jersey 30%
34  Wisconsin 29%
35  Rhode Island 28%
36  Wyoming 28%
37  California 28%
38  New York 27%
39  Nevada 27%
40  Montana 27%
41  Alaska 26%
42  Connecticut 25%
43  Colorado 25%
44  Hawaii 25%
45  Oregon 24%
46  Washington 24%
47  District of Columbia 23%
48  Massachusetts 22%
49  Maine 20%
50  New Hampshire 20%
51  Vermont 17%

Religion and politics

The U.S. guarantees freedom of religion, and some churches in the U.S. take strong stances on political subjects.

In August 2010, 67% of Americans said religion was losing influence, compared with 59% who said this in 2006. Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (79%), white mainline Protestants (67%), black Protestants (56%), Catholics (71%), and the religiously unaffiliated (62%) all agreed that religion was losing influence on American life; 53% of the total public said this was a bad thing, while just 10% see it as a good thing.[116]

Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning, and fundamentalists and black Protestants are highly politically active. However, to keep their status as tax-exempt organizations they must not officially endorse a candidate. Historically Catholics were heavily Democratic before the 1970s, while mainline Protestants comprised the core of the Republican Party. Those patterns have faded away—Catholics, for example, now split about 50–50. However, white evangelicals since 1980 have made up a solidly Republican group that favors conservative candidates. Secular voters are increasingly Democratic.[117]

Only three presidential candidates for major parties have been Catholics, all for the Democratic party:

  • Alfred E. Smith in presidential election of 1928 was subjected to anti-Catholic rhetoric, which seriously hurt him in the Baptist areas of the South and Lutheran areas of the Midwest, but he did well in the Catholic urban strongholds of the Northeast.
  • John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In the 1960 election, Kennedy faced accusations that as a Catholic president he would do as the Pope would tell him to do, a charge that Kennedy refuted in a famous address to Protestant ministers.
  • John Kerry, a Catholic, won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. In the 2004 election religion was hardly an issue, and most Catholics voted for his Protestant opponent George W. Bush.[118]

Joe Biden is the first Catholic vice president.[119]

The only Jewish major party candidate was Joe Lieberman in the Gore-Lieberman campaign of 2000 (although John Kerry and Barry Goldwater both had Jewish ancestry, they were practicing Christians).

In 2006 Keith Ellison of Minnesota became the first Muslim elected to Congress; when re-enacting his swearing-in for photos, he used the copy of the Qur'an once owned by Thomas Jefferson.[120]

A Gallup poll released in 2007[121] indicated that 53% of Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist as president, up from 48% in 1987 and 1999.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is Mormon and a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is the former governor of the state of Massachusetts, and his father George Romney was the governor of the state of Michigan. The Romneys were involved in Mormonism in their states and in the state of Utah.

Membership reported by congregations

Christian bodies

The table below is based mainly on data reported by individual denominations to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, and published in 2011 by the National Council of Churches of Christ in USA. It only includes religious bodies reporting 60,000 or more members. The definition of a member is determined by each religious body.[122]

Religious body Year reported Places of worship reported Membership (thousands) Number of ministers
African Methodist Episcopal Church 1999 0-sm=n 2,500 7,741
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 2002 3,226 1,431 3,252
American Baptist Association 1998 1,760 275 1,740
American Baptist Churches USA 1998 3,800 1,507 4,145
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America 1998 220 65 263
Armenian Apostolic Church 1998 28 200 25
Assemblies of God USA 2009 12,371 2,914 34,504
Baptist Bible Fellowship International 1997 4,500 1,200
Baptist General Conference 1998 876 141
Baptist Missionary Association of America 1999 1,334 235 1,525
Christian and Missionary Alliance, The 1998 1,964 346 1,629
Plymouth Brethren Christian Church 1997 1,150 100
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1997 3,818 879 3,419
Christian churches and churches of Christ 1998 5,579 1,072 5,525
Christian Congregation, Inc., The 1998 1,438 117 1,436
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church 1983 2,340 719
Christian Reformed Church in North America 1998 733 199 655
Church of God in Christ 1991 15,300 5,500 28,988
Church of God of Prophecy 1997 1,908 77 2,000
Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) 1998 2,353 234 3034
Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 1995 6,060 753 3,121
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) 2006 13,010 5,779 39,030
Church of the Brethren 1997 1,095 141 827
Church of the Nazarene 1998 5,101 627 4,598
Churches of Christ 1999 15,000 1,500 14,500
Conservative Baptist Association of America 1998 1,200 200
Community of Christ 1998 1,236 140 19,319
Coptic Orthodox Church 2003 200 1,000 200
Cumberland Presbyterian Church 1998 774 87 634
Episcopal Church 1996 7,390 2,365 8,131
Evangelical Covenant Church, The 1998 628 97 607
Evangelical Free Church of America, The 1995 1,224 243 1,936
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 1998 10,862 5,178 9,646
Evangelical Presbyterian Church 1998 187 61 262
Free Methodist Church of North America 1998 990 73
Full Gospel Fellowship 1999 896 275 2,070
General Association of General Baptists 1997 790 72 1,085
General Association of Regular Baptist Churches 1998 1,415 102
U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches 1996 368 82 590
Grace Gospel Fellowship 1992 128 60 160
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1998 523 1,955 596
Independent Fundamental Churches of America 1999 659 62
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel 1998 1,851 238 4,900
International Council of Community Churches 1998 150 250 182
International Pentecostal Holiness Church 1998 1,716 177 1,507
Jehovah's Witnesses 2011 13,309 1,200
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, The 1998 6,218 2,594 5,227
Mennonite Church USA 2005 943 114
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches 1998 416 67 534
National Association of Free Will Baptists 1998 2,297 210 2,800
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 1987 2,500 3,500 8,000
National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. 1992 33,000 8,200 32,832
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 1992 2,500
Old Order Amish Church 1993 898 81 3,592
Orthodox Church in America 1998 625 28 700
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1998 1,750 1,500 4,500
Pentecostal Church of God 1998 1,237 104
Presbyterian Church in America 1997 1,340 280 1,642
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1998 11,260 3,575 9,390
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1995 2,000 2,500
Reformed Church in America 1998 902 296 915
Conservative Friends (Quakers) 1994 1,200 104
Catholic Church 2002 19,484 66,404
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate 1996 37 65 37
Salvation Army, The 1998 1,388 471 2,920
Serbian Orthodox Church 1986 68 67 60
Seventh-day Adventist Church 1998 4,405 840 2,454
Southern Baptist Convention 1998 40,870 16,500 71,520
United Church of Christ 1998 6,017 1,421 4,317
United Methodist Church, The 1998 36,170 8,400
Wesleyan Church, The 1998 1,590 120 1,806
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod 1997 1,240 411 1,222

ARDA survey

The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) surveyed congregations for their memberships. Churches were asked for their membership numbers. Adjustments were made for those congregations that did not respond and for religious groups that reported only adult membership.[123] ARDA estimates that most of the churches not responding were black Protestant congregations. Significant difference in results from other databases include the lower representation of adherents of 1) all kinds (62.7%), 2) Christians (59.9%), 3) Protestants (less than 36%); and the greater number of unaffiliated (37.3%).

Percentage of religion against average, 2001
Percentage of state populations that identify with a religion rather than "no religion", 2001
Plurality of religious preference by state, 2001. Data are unavailable for Alaska and Hawaii.
Religious groups
Religious group Number
in year
 % in
Total US pop year 2010 308,745,538 100.0%
Evangelical Protestant 50,013,107 16.2%
Mainline Protestant 22,568,258 7.3%
Black Protestant 4,877,067 1.6%
Protestant total 77,458,432 25.1%
Catholic 58,934,906 19.1%
Orthodox 1,056,535 0.3%
adherents (unadjusted) 150,596,792 48.8%
unclaimed 158,148,746 51.2%
other – including Mormon & Christ Scientist 13,146,919 4.3%
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon, LDS) 6,144,582 2.0%
other – excluding Mormon 7,002,337 2.3%
Jewish estimate 6,141,325 2.0%
Buddhist estimate 2,000,000 0.7%
Muslim estimate 2,600,082 0.8%
Hindu estimate 400,000 0.4%
Source: ARDA[39][124]

ARIS findings regarding self-identification

The United States government does not collect religious data in its census. The survey below, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, was a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 54,461 American residential households in the contiguous United States. The 1990 sample size was 113,723; 2001 sample size was 50,281.

Adult respondents were asked the open-ended question, "What is your religion, if any?" Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. The religion of the spouse or partner was also asked. If the initial answer was "Protestant" or "Christian" further questions were asked to probe which particular denomination. About one third of the sample was asked more detailed demographic questions.

Religious Self-Identification of the U.S. Adult Population: 1990, 2001, 2008[27]
Figures are not adjusted for refusals to reply; investigators suspect refusals are possibly more representative of "no religion" than any other group.

Source: ARIS 2008[27]
x 1,000
x 1,000
x 1,000

as %
of 1990
% of
% of
% of
in % of
Adult population, total 175,440 207,983 228,182 30.1%
Adult population, responded 171,409 196,683 216,367 26.2% 97.7% 94.6% 94.8% −2.9%
Total Christian 151,225 159,514 173,402 14.7% 86.2% 76.7% 76.0% −10.2%
Catholic 46,004 50,873 57,199 24.3% 26.2% 24.5% 25.1% −1.2%
non-Catholic Christian 105,221 108,641 116,203 10.4% 60.0% 52.2% 50.9% −9.0%
Baptist 33,964 33,820 36,148 6.4% 19.4% 16.3% 15.8% −3.5%
Mainline Christian 32,784 35,788 29,375 −10.4% 18.7% 17.2% 12.9% −5.8%
Methodist 14,174 14,039 11,366 −19.8% 8.1% 6.8% 5.0% −3.1%
Lutheran 9,110 9,580 8,674 −4.8% 5.2% 4.6% 3.8% −1.4%
Presbyterian 4,985 5,596 4,723 −5.3% 2.8% 2.7% 2.1% −0.8%
Episcopal/Anglican 3,043 3,451 2,405 −21.0% 1.7% 1.7% 1.1% −0.7%
United Church of Christ 438 1,378 736 68.0% 0.2% 0.7% 0.3% 0.1%
Christian Generic 25,980 22,546 32,441 24.9% 14.8% 10.8% 14.2% −0.6%
Christian Unspecified 8,073 14,190 16,384 102.9% 4.6% 6.8% 7.2% 2.6%
Non-denominational Christian 194 2,489 8,032 4040.2% 0.1% 1.2% 3.5% 3.4%
Protestant – Unspecified 17,214 4,647 5,187 −69.9% 9.8% 2.2% 2.3% −7.5%
Evangelical/Born Again 546 1,088 2,154 294.5% 0.3% 0.5% 0.9% 0.6%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 5,647 7,831 7,948 40.7% 3.2% 3.8% 3.5% 0.3%
Pentecostal – Unspecified 3,116 4,407 5,416 73.8% 1.8% 2.1% 2.4% 0.6%
Assemblies of God 617 1,105 810 31.3% 0.4% 0.5% 0.4% 0.0%
Church of God 590 943 663 12.4% 0.3% 0.5% 0.3% 0.0%
Other Protestant Denominations 4,630 5,949 7,131 54.0% 2.6% 2.9% 3.1% 0.5%
Churches of Christ 1,769 2,593 1,921 8.6% 1.0% 1.2% 0.8% −0.2%
Jehovah's Witness 1,381 1,331 1,914 38.6% 0.8% 0.6% 0.8% 0.1%
Seventh-Day Adventist 668 724 938 40.4% 0.4% 0.3% 0.4% 0.0%
Mormon/Latter Day Saints 2,487 2,697 3,158 27.0% 1.4% 1.3% 1.4% 0.0%
Total non-Christian religions 5,853 7,740 8,796 50.3% 3.3% 3.7% 3.9% 0.5%
Jewish 3,137 2,837 2,680 −14.6% 1.8% 1.4% 1.2% −0.6%
Eastern Religions 687 2,020 1,961 185.4% 0.4% 1.0% 0.9% 0.5%
Buddhist 404 1,082 1,189 194.3% 0.2% 0.5% 0.5% 0.3%
Muslim 527 1,104 1,349 156.0% 0.3% 0.5% 0.6% 0.3%
New Religious Movements & Others 1,296 1,770 2,804 116.4% 0.7% 0.9% 1.2% 0.5%
None/No religion, total 14,331 29,481 34,169 138.4% 8.2% 14.2% 15.0% 6.8%
Agnostic+Atheist 1,186 1,893 3,606 204.0% 0.7% 0.9% 1.6% 0.9%
Did Not Know/Refused to reply 4,031 11,300 11,815 193.1% 2.3% 5.4% 5.2% 2.9%


  1. The ARIS 2008 survey was carried out during February–November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.
  2. The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian, but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.
    • 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.
    • The historic mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines, while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward, particularly since 2001.
    • The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
  3. 34% of American adults considered themselves "Born Again or Evangelical Christians" in 2008.
  4. The U.S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every seven Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.
    • The "Nones" (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.
    • Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.
  5. One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
  6. Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification in 2008, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
  7. America's religious geography has been transformed since 1990. Religious switching along with Hispanic immigration has significantly changed the religious profile of some states and regions. Between 1990 and 2008, the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50% to 36% and in New York fell from 44% to 37%, while it rose in California from 29% to 37% and in Texas from 23% to 32%.
  8. Overall the 1990–2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.


The table below shows the religious affiliations among the ethnicities in the United States, according to the Pew Forum 2014 survey.[2] People of Black ethnicity were most likely to be part of a formal religion, with 85% percent being Christians. Protestant denominations make up the majority of the Christians in the ethnicities.

Religion Non-Hispanic
Black Hispanic Other/mixed
Christian 70% 79% 77% 49%
Protestant 48% 71% 26% 33%
Catholic 19% 5% 48% 13%
Mormon 2% <0.5% 1% 1%
Jehovah's Witness <0.5% 2% 1% 1%
Orthodox 1% <0.5% <0.5% 1%
Other <0.5% 1% <0.5% 1%
Non-Christian faiths 5% 3% 2% 21%
Jewish 3% <0.5% 1% 1%
Muslim <0.5% 2% <0.5% 3%
Buddhist <0.5% <0.5% 1% 4%
Hindu <0.5% <0.5% <0.5% 8%
Other world religions <0.5% <0.5% <0.5% 2%
Other faiths 2% 1% 1% 2%
Unaffiliated (including atheist and agnostic) 24% 18% 20% 29%

See also


  1. Pew further subdivides Protestant into evangelical (25.4%), mainline (14.7%), and historically black (6.5%).
  2. Pew includes in other Christian, Jehovah's Witnesses (0.8%), Orthodox Christian (0.5%), everyone else (0.4%)
  3. Pew includes in other religions, Sikhs, Baha'is, Jains, Taoists, Unitarians, New Age religions, Native American religions, etc.
  4. Pew includes in unaffiliated atheists (3.1%), agnostics (4.0%), and nothing (15.8%)


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  • Buck, Christopher (2009). Religious myths and visions of America: how minority faiths redefined America's world role. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 978-0-313-35959-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
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  • Gaustad, Edwin (1962). "Historical atlas of religion in America". Harper & Row. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
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  • National Council of the Churches of Christ. Yearbook of American Churches: 2010 (2010)
  • Putnam, Robert D., and David E Campbell American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Queen, Edward L. et al. eds, Encyclopedia of American Religious History (3rd ed. 3 vol, Facts on File, 2009)


  • Goff, Philip, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Religion in America (2010) online; 43 essays by scholars

External links