Because religion is such an important part of our society, sociologists and other observers have examined how religious thought and practice have changed in the last few decades. Two trends have been studied in particular: (a) secularization and (b) the rise of religious conservatism.
refers to the weakening importance of religion in a society. It plays less of a role in people’s lives, as they are less guided in their daily behavior by religious beliefs. The influence of religious organizations in society has also declined, and some individual houses of worship give more emphasis to worldly concerns such as soup kitchens than to spiritual issues. There is no doubt that religion is less important in modern society than it was before the rise of science in the 17th and 18th centuries.
While it was discussed earlier that the U.S., when compared to other countries similar in political and economic status, is more religious, in recent years the U.S. has witnessed a quick increase in the number of people who claim no religious affiliation (sometimes referred to as the “nones”). Survey data demonstrates this growing trend. The number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. increased from 36.6 million in 2007 to 55.8 million in 2014 – a rise from 16% to 23% of the U.S. adult population. Correlating factors are age, sex, and education, with younger adults, men and those with a college or graduate degree being more likely to have no religious affiliation (Lipka, 2015). People with no religious affiliation cite their questioning of religious teachings, opposition to social and political issues promoted by religions, dislike of religious organization and disbelief in God as the primary reasons for their lack of religious affiliation (Alper, 2018).
The Rise of Religious Conservatism
Evidence shows that while secularization has been growing for decades in the U.S., religion still remains a potent force in American society as a whole and for the individual lives of Americans (Finke & Scheitle, 2005). One of the key trends among those who are religiously affiliated is the growth of . Religious conservatism in the U.S. context is the belief that the Bible is the actual word of God and is characterized by a strong support of socially conservative ideals and policies. While religious conservatives can be found in all religious groups, two stand out as having an extremely high degree of conservative adherents — evangelical Protestants and Mormons, 55% and 61% of whom claim a conservative political ideology, respectively (Pew, 2018).
This shift toward religious conservatism has resulted, in part, due to a decline in membership in mainstream Protestant denominations since the 1960s, and an increase in membership in conservative Protestant denominations, and in part from fears that the United States is becoming too secularized. Many religious conservatives believe that a return to the teachings of the Bible and religious spirituality is necessary to combat the corrupting influences of modern life (Almond, Appleby, & Sivan, 2003).
Roughly 27% of Americans state a religious preference for a conservative denomination (Pew, 2018). They tend to hold politically conservative views on many issues, including abortion and the punishment of criminals, and are more likely than people with other religious beliefs to believe in such things as the corporal punishment of children (Burdette, Ellison, & Hill, 2005). They are also more likely to believe in traditional roles for women.
Closely related to the rise of religious conservatism has been the increasing influence of what has been termed the “new religious right” in American politics (Martin, 2005; Capps, 1990; Moen, 1992). Since the 1980s, the religious right has been a potent force in the political scene at both the national and local levels, with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition effective in raising money, using the media, and lobbying elected officials. As its name implies, the religious right tries to advance a conservative political agenda consistent with conservative religious concerns. Among other issues, it opposes legal abortion, LGBTQ rights, and violence and sex in the media, and it also advocates an increased religious presence in public schools.
Religious conservatism – the belief that the Bible is the actual word of God and is characterized by a strong support of socially conservative ideals and policies
Secularization – the weakening importance of religion in a society, as it plays less of a role in people’s lives, as they are less guided in their daily behavior by religious beliefs
the weakening importance of religion in a society, as it plays less of a role in people’s lives, as they are less guided in their daily behavior by religious beliefs
a doctrine combining religious and political beliefs which emphasizes traditional beliefs and practices