Protestants in the United States may soon become a minority in a country long perceived as predominately Protestant, according to a new study of the U.S. religious landscape.
The study by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (www.pewforum.org), found that the number of Protestants in the United States now makes up about 51 per cent of the population. This is in sharp contrast to the mid-1980s, when about two-thirds of the nation was Protestant.
“Moreover, the Protestant population is characterized by significant internal diversity and fragmentation, encompassing hundreds of different denominations,” the Pew Forum noted in a summary of the study’s key findings that are based on interviews with more than 35,000 adults living in the U.S.
(The Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the Anglican Communion, was grouped among mainline Protestant churches.)
The study also found that about 44 per cent of U.S. adults have changed their religious affiliation. Some have moved from one faith to another, others have switched denominations, and a third group no longer has any religious affiliation.
“People will be surprised by the amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another, or to no religion at all,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum.
Another of the study’s key findings is that the number of those who say they have no affiliation with any faith – 16.1 per cent of those surveyed – represents the largest growing group. Roman Catholicism, although it still accounts for the largest affiliation of people to any single religious body in the U.S., has shown the greatest net losses due to changes in religious affiliation.
Newcomers to the United States are also boosting the numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, the study reported, though individually these faiths still claim, respectively, less than one per cent of the population.