US religious identity is rapidly changing
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US religious identity is rapidly changing

Protestants likely to become a minority;
Growing percentage now unaffiliated;
Immigrants help fill Catholic parishes

Globe Staff / February 26, 2008
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The United States, founded by dissident
Protestants seeking religious freedom, is
on the verge of becoming a nation in which
Protestants are a minority.

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U.S. religious affiliations

U.S. religious fluidity
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The study, which is the most comprehensive
such examination of the country in at least
a half century, finds that the United States
is in the midst of a period of unprecedented
religious fluidity, in which 44 percent of
American adults have left the denomination
of their childhood for another denomination,
another faith, or no faith at all.


Protestantism in America has been declining
at least since the 1980s, the researchers said,
when about two-thirds of Americans identi-
fied themselves as Protestant. Scholars have
debated the causes of the decline, but said it
might be due in part to low birth rates among
mainline Protestants and difficulties among
mainline Protestant churches in retaining the
children of their members.


The nation is still predominantly Christian -
78 percent of adults say they are Christian -
but nearly 5 percent identify themselves as
members of other faiths, and 16 percent say
they are unaffiliated.

The largest single faith tradition in the country
is evangelical Protestantism, with about 26
percent of the adult population; followed by
Catholicism, at 24 percent; mainline Protes-
tantism, at 18 percent; the unaffiliated, at
16 percent; and historically black Protestant
churches, at 7 percent.

Evangelical Protestantism appears to be grow-
ing, but its growth is being dwarfed by a de-
cline in mainline Protestantism, and the result
is that just 51 percent of Americans are now
Protestant, the brand of Christianity that has
dominated this nation's history, generating all
but one of its presidents and dominating its
town squares.


Catholicism, the biggest single denomination
in the country and the dominant faith group in
the Northeast, is losing members nationwide
faster than any other major grouping.

One in three people raised Catholic is now
a former Catholic, the study finds, and, as a
result, 1 in 10 Americans is now a former

Yet, the overall Catholic population in the
country remains fairly stable, because most
immigrants today are Catholic.

"If you remove immigrants, then Catholicism
is in free fall, the way Episcopalianism and
other mainline religions were 20 or 30 years
ago," ... The study finds that among former
Catholics, a little less than half are now Pro-
testant and about the same number are unaffil-


In general, the study confirms, the Northeast
remains the most Catholic region, the South
the most evangelical, and the West the most

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