Trending Toward Religious Disaffiliation

Recent reports about religious disaffiliation and the growing sector of the religious “nones” (such as this one from Religion News Service and this one from NPR’s tech blog) has me wondering if these sorts of studies rely on too narrow of an understanding of “religion,” regarding it primarily as a matter of social institutions, as something that people affiliate with. Does a decrease in religious affiliation mean that Americans are less religious? Is the concern about affiliation relevant if we think about religion in other ways, as a moral system, for instance, or as an aesthetic of experience, or as ultimate meaning?

I also wonder if this trend is only about religion. How does religious disaffiliation relate to more general trends in social disaffiliation? How are fraternal organizations doing these days, for instance? Political parties? Unions? Is church membership the only place where Americans are disaffiliating as they find other ways to be socially connected?

Christ Church

Christ Church, Philadelphia (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2007)

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