Religion News Service
UNITED STATES, August 2012 (Religion News Service): Religiosity is on the decline in the U.S. and atheism is on the rise, according to a new worldwide poll. The poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was conducted) to 60 percent. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they are atheists rose, from 1 percent to 5 percent.
The poll was conducted by WIN-Gallup International and is based on interviews with 50,000 people from 57 countries and five continents. Participants were asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?”
Ryan Cragun, a University of Tampa sociologist of religion who studies American and global atheism, does not believe the poll shows more people are becoming atheists, but rather that more people are willing to identify as atheists. “For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” he said. “But what this suggests is that is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the U.S.”
The current poll confirms a declining religiosity — both at home and abroad — that’s been detected in other polls. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that 15 percent of Americans said they have no religion — different from being a “confirmed atheist,” but nonetheless up from 8 percent in 1990.
Barry Kosmin, the principal investigator for the ARIS report, said he’s skeptical of the new study. “The U.S. trends are what we have found and would expect, but the actual numbers are peculiar to say the least,” he said. “The drops in religiosity seem too sharp for the time period — people just don’t change their beliefs that quickly. Most of the trend away from religion has demographic causes and demography moves ‘glacially.'”