Pew Report on U.S. Religious Landscape

I know I said I was going to lay off posting for a little while, but the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just released their Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 U.S. adults. And the findings are fascinating.

First and foremost is the knowledge that Protestant Christians now make up just 51% of all Americans, which means that Protestants may be a minority in this country in the coming decades, particularly if immigration trends continue. It seems to me like this is going to be great fodder for all the talking heads on Fox, etc., to talk about how Christianity’s under siege in this country, blah blah blah. But I think it will be important to remember that a whopping 78% of Americans are still Christian — it’s just that they aren’t all Protestant.

I wonder how this will play out in conversations about race and racism? I’m sure it will, but I haven’t really looked at all those particular details yet.

I haven’t looked at all those particular details yet because my focus was squarely on the 0.7% of self-identified Buddhists in the report. And in particular, this:

In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, while nearly three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.

Sure enough, if you look at the details here (click the drop-down for a portrait of Buddhists), you’ll see the complete demographics of Buddhists. Of particular interest to me (surprise surprise) is that 53% are white. And 63% are under fifty! Wow. Coupled with an increase in total Buddhists since 1990, I think this further calls into question claims by folks like Clark Strand that Buddhism in this country is “greying” and dying out.

Another interesting point, however, is that while 45% of Buddhists are married, 70% have no children. I’m not sure what to make of that. I feel like I’d want to see more information, e.g., relationship of “unmarried” Buddhists to “celibate” Buddhists or marriage status compared to age, etc. Not sure if the complete report has that sort of info, but would be interesting to see.

A similar question would be in regards to “race.” I’m always curious about questions of race and how people self-identitfy or what options they’re given. For example, how does the Pew center deal with people who are multi-ethnic, which I suspect is a pretty large percentage of American Buddhists? Are people given the choice of declaring more than one race or do they have to choice “white” or “Asian”? And if they do choose one or the other, how many people who are multi-ethnic choose each? Again, not sure if this sort of info is in the report, but it would be interesting (and I think very important) to know.

And another interesting question is how people self-identify in the first place. The Pew Forum used “respondents’ self-reported religious identity as the measure of religious affiliation.” But how do we account for people like this guy who act like a Buddhist but doesn’t claim to be one?

Finally, I think it’s interesting that only 3% of Buddhist have less than a high school education, compared to some other religious traditions. Also, our income level is pretty evenly distributed.

At any rate, I think this report is going to be a great resource and stepping stone for some excellent discussions.

Update: Oops. I just looked over the “portrait” again and there is a “mixed race” category, a measly 5%. Ah well. It’s still an interesting question, though, how people self-identify as religious, as an ethnicity, etc., worthy of discussion in my book.

4 thoughts on “Pew Report on U.S. Religious Landscape

  1. Wow. What happened to the site? I’ll update links here when I get the chance. I’m on the road right now, dealing with Buddhists, video cameras, and doggy-pnemonia. sheesh.


  2. More updates from the world of academia.

    Folks on a Buddhist scholars list I belong to have made some interesting observations about the Pew report, including:

    (1) They only surveyed people in English and Spanish and that there are millions of Asian Americans who don’t speak English.

    (2) Those surveyed only lived in the continental U.S., which excludes Hawai’i which has a large percentage of Buddhists, many of whom are Japanese and/or not converts.

    To I think that we need to seriously question the actual number of “white” and “convert” Buddhists in America, and take the Pew Report on this question with a considerable grain of salt.

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