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The New Religious Paradigm: From Judeo-Christian to Interfaith America
05.03.2022

To view a PDF of slides that PRRI and IFYC presented on this topic at the 2022 Religion News Association’s Annual Conference, click here: The New Religious Paradigm: From Judeo-Christian to Interfaith America.

Looking Back: The Decline of White Christians

  • Between 2004 and 2021, white Christians decreased from 59% of the American adult population to 44%.
  • The steepest declines came during the Obama administration, from 53% in 2010 to 43% in 2016, and leveled off in the post-Obama era.
  • Between 1990 and 2021, shares of Christians of color increased from 15% to 25% and shares of unaffiliated Americans tripled from 8% to 25%, while shares of white Christians fell from 72% to 44%.
    • The share of non-Christian religious Americans increased slightly between 1990 and 2021, from 5% to 6%.
  • In 1990, there were nearly five times as many white Christians as Christians of color. By 2021, that ratio shrank to less than 2:1.
    • Similarly, there were more than nine times as many white Christians as religiously unaffiliated Americans in 1990, and that ratio has also shrunk to less than 2:1.
    • In 1990, there were 14 times more white Christians than non-Christian religious Americans, a ratio that has decreased by half over the last three decades.

Looking Forward: Increasing Religious Diversity

  • PRRI’s 2020 Census of American Religion finds that religious diversity is highest in the Northeastern and Western parts of the country and lowest in the Southeast and Deep South.
  • Religiously, young Americans look quite different from older Americans. Americans ages 18–29 (31%) and ages 30–49 (35%) are considerably less likely than those ages 50–64 (51%) and over age 65 (60%) to be white Christians.
    • About one-third of Americans under age 50 are religiously unaffiliated, compared to less than one in five in age groups 50 and over.
  • The median age among white Christian groups is significantly higher than the average age of all American adults (48): 57 among white Catholics, 55 among white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants, and 54 among white evangelical Protestants.
    • The exceptions are among Orthodox Christians (47) and Latter-day Saints (43), who skew younger.
  • Except for Jewish Americans (57) and Unitarian Universalists (53), median ages of non-Christian religious Americans and religiously unaffiliated Americans (40) are lower than those of white Christians: 49 among Black Protestants, 48 among Buddhists, 44 among Hispanic Catholics, 41 among Hispanic Protestants, 37 among Hindus, and 36 among Muslims.

Building Interfaith Relationships

  • Most Americans say they have built a relationship with someone whose religion differs from their own (72%). Two-thirds or more of all religious groups agree with the statement that “I have built a relationship with a coworker, neighbor, or classmate who follows a different religion than my own.”
  • Nearly six in ten Americans (58%), including majorities of all religious groups, agree with the statement “I have worked closely with someone from a different religion than my own on projects in my community.”
  • In both cases, non-Christian religious Americans are most likely to say they have built a relationship (85%) and worked closely on a community project (75%) with people from other religions.

Embracing Religious Diversity

  • Seven in ten Americans (70%) say they are proud to be part of a nation that is becoming more religiously diverse. Two-thirds or more of Black Protestants (66%), white Catholics (73%), Hispanic Catholics (74%), white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants (77%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (78%), and non-Christian religious Americans (86%) agree.
    • White evangelical Protestants (53%) and Hispanic Protestants (41%) are less likely than other religious groups to agree that they are proud to be part of a nation that is becoming more religiously diverse.
  • Most religious groups reject the idea that “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world.” Only 31% of all Americans agree with the statement, and the only religious group with a majority in agreement is white evangelical Protestants (52%).

There Is Still Work to Be Done: Cultural Threats and Demographic Shifts

  • Majorities of several religious groups agree that “America is in danger of losing its culture and identity,” including 78% of white evangelical Protestants, 64% of white Catholics, 59% of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants, 58% of other Christians, and 52% of Black Protestants. Less than half of Hispanic Catholics (43%), non-Christian religious Americans (37%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (35%) agree.
  • Many religious groups express ambivalence toward the concept of a religiously diverse country. When asked to place themselves on a scale of 1–10, 38% of Americans place themselves closer to the end that favors the U.S. to be primarily made up of people who belong to a white variety of religions, 38% place themselves in the middle of the scale, and 24% place themselves closer to the end that favors the U.S. to be mostly made up of Christians.
    • Non-Christian religious Americans (71%) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (65%) are most likely to express a preference for diversity, compared to around half as many Hispanic Catholics (38%), white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants (33%), Black Protestants (31%), white Catholics (30%), other Christians (30%), and white evangelical Protestants (13%).
    • A majority of white evangelical Protestants (57%) express a preference for a primarily Christian nation, while most other groups have pluralities in the middle of the scale.