America is anation with a formal separation between state and religious entities. A major feature of religion in America is not limiting the liberty of worship of any religion, or favouring one religion over another. There is a clear attempt to address the complexities of religious and allow for religious freedom in the religion clauses of the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.
Nevertheless, Christianity is often linked to a general American identity and patriotism. Some examples include the public religious rhetoric of ‘God Bless America’ or the statement ‘In God We Trust’ found on the currency. This blend of religion and patriotism may also be observed during major American holidays such as Fourth of July ceremonies or Thanksgiving.
Religioushas been a prominent feature of America’s religious landscape since the precolonial period among Native American religious traditions. No national or state religion was established during the period, though some individual states adopted official state churches. This religious freedom during the country’s phase allowed for the flourishing of different Christian sects, communities and movements. Indeed, numerous Christian denominations and churches began in the United States, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormanism).
Apart from homegrown religious, religious diversity in the United States is also a product of immigration, such as the waves of Jewish immigrants due to their persecution in the nineteenth century onwards. Since the 1960s when the country ended national quotas on immigration, new Americans emigrated from around the world, introducing new religions and new expressions of Christianity to American society.
Another aspect of America’s religiousis the religiously unaffiliated. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, the religiously unaffiliated (including atheists and agnostics) account for just under a quarter of the population (22.8%), tripling in size since the early 1990s.1 America is home to the ‘New ’ movement sparked by writers (e.g. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris). The presence of American (especially New Atheists) is largely felt on the Internet on major platforms. One of the largest communities is found on Reddit (approximately 2 million followers), which acts as a hub for atheists in America and globally.2
The United States census does not contain questions about one’s religious affiliation. However, various institutions have conducted surveys to determine the religious demographic of the country. According to the Pew Research Center (2014), Christianity is the largest religious affiliation at 70.6%. Non-Christian religions made up 5.9% of the population, of which 1.9% identified as Jewish, 0.9% identified as Muslim, 0.7% identified as Buddhist, and 0.7% identified as Hindu. Finally, 22.8% identified as unaffiliated, which includes agnostics (4.0%) and atheists (3.1%).
Christianity in the United States
Christianity continues to be prevalent and influential in American society, much as it has been since its introduction during theperiod. For instance, while non-Christian religious groups are growing, they represent less than 6% of the population.3 Importantly, Christianity in America is incredibly diverse. Of the 70.6% of Americans who affiliate with Christianity, 46.6% identify with a Protestant denomination, 20.8% identify as Catholic, 1.6% identify with the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, 0.8% as Jehovah’s Witness, 0.5% identify as and 0.4% identify with some other kind of Christianity. Protestant denominations are further categorised among those who identify with an ‘Evangelical’ tradition (25.4%), ‘Mainline’ tradition (14.7%) or ‘African-American’ tradition (6.5%).
There are further subcategories in Christian denominations that often followlines (e.g., Korean Presbyterians, Nigerian Catholics, etc.). The crossroads between and religion have helped foster a multiplicity of expressions and practices of Christianity and continually transform the religious landscape of America. For instance, as of 2016, almost half of those who identified as Catholic (45%) were Hispanic or non-white (an increase from 13% in 1991).4
Some of America’s major Christian traditions are regionally concentrated. For instance, 55% of residents in the state of Utah identify as Morman.5 Meanwhile, just under half of the residents in the southern states of Oklahoma (47%), Arkansas (46%), Alabama (49%), Kentucky (49%) and Tennessee (52%) identify with an Evangelical Protestant tradition.6
Christians in America tend to be more active in their practice, comparative to many other Western countries. When asked whether religion is important in one’s life, 58% of those who identified as Catholic and 70% of those who identified with a Protestant tradition stated ‘very important’.7 Meanwhile, 39% of Catholics and 48% of those affiliated with a Protestant tradition attend religious services at least once a week.8 The vitality of Christianity in America is in part due to its. In fact, those who leave a congregation are much more likely to join (or sometimes form) a new one, rather than drift away from religion entirely.9
Judaism in the United States
The United States is host to the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. This vibrant Jewish community has been produced by a long history of migration. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religious affiliation in the United States (1.9%), most of whom reside in the northeastern states such as New York and New Jersey. The majority of Jews are third-generation migrants or higher (67%), meaning most of their families have been established in the United States since the postwar period at the latest. This reflects the long-established presence of Judaism in the United States.10
There are various streams of Judaism followed in America, which has fostered a great diversity in the Jewish community. According to the Pew Research Center, 35% identify with the Reform movement, 18% identify with the Conservative movement, 10% identify with thetradition, 6% identify with other streams of Judaism, and 30% do not identify with any particular Jewish denomination.11
Many Jews in America tend to live alife, with the majority viewing their Jewishness as a matter of ancestry and culture (62%), rather than a religious matter.12 Thus, for some Jews, their Jewish identity is a minor aspect of their personal identity; others see Judaism as an all-encompassing way of life. Nonetheless, one can find synagogues, kosher grocery stores and other Jewish-based facilities in cities with large Jewish communities, especially New York City.
Islam in the United States
In the United States, 0.9% of the population identify as Muslim. Of those who identify as Muslim, approximately 55% identify as Sunni, 16% identify as Shi’ite and 14% do not identify with a specific denomination of Islam.13 America’s Muslims come from all parts of the world; while 42% were born in the country, 20% were born in South Asia, 14% from the Middle East or North Africa, 13% from other parts of Asia or the Pacific, 5% from Sub-Saharan Africa and 6% from some other region.14
Muslims in the United States face unique circumstances both in American society and within their communities. For instance, the events of the 2001 September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have profoundly changed the experiences of Muslims in America and around the globe. Though American Muslims have found ways to voice their concerns and problems, some continue to face misunderstanding, prejudice and discrimination.
Religion plays a prominent role in the daily lives of most Muslims in America. For example, 69% of Muslims pray at least once a day and 64% consider religion to be very important in their life.15 Mosques in America often encompassand cultural features, thus acting as a community centre that allows Muslims to meet outside of worship contexts. These local religious communities are often highly diverse, including Muslims of many different cultural backgrounds and interpretations of Islam. For some Muslims, navigating one’s participation in such diverse forums can be complex.
Asian Religions in the United States
The Hindu community in the United States is relatively small, with 0.7% of the population identifying as Hindu. Most of America’s Hindus are immigrants (87%) and the overwhelming majority identify as Asian (91%).16 Historically, temple building was one of the primary means that Hindu communities sought to express their presence in America’s religious landscape and to create cultural hubs. Today, there are approximately 450 Hindu temples around the country that help cater to the needs of America’s Hindu population. Some temples are Pan-Indian, incorporating various Hindu traditions; some temples are regional-specific temples that emphasise language and ritual forms from a particular region; and some temples are dedicated to a particular branch of Hinduism.
Apart from popular and regional Hindu traditions, America is also home to guru-led movements and renunciate traditions. Indeed, some temples areand promote the teachings of a particular guru. For instance, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, also known as the Hare Krishnas) has maintained a significant presence since its founding in America in the 1960s. Another legacy of the guru-led movements is the immense popularity of yoga, which despite primarily being a fitness and health-focused industry, is seen by 63% of the American population as ‘spiritual’.17
The Buddhist population in the United States is also relatively small, with 0.7% of the population identifying as Buddhist. America’s Buddhist communities are comprised of a range ofor backgrounds, including white (44%), Asian (33%), Latino (12%), other or mixed (8%) and African American (3%).18 and is common in the Buddhist community whereby temples and meditation groups are often composed of a single .
Most forms of Buddhism have some representation in America, though their numbers and presence varies. For instance, Theravada Buddhism is primarily followed by Sri Lankan, Thai, Burmese, Cambodian and Lao immigrants and their descendants. However, the Vipassana movement (also known as Insight Meditation) is particularly popular among white Americans.
Mahayana Buddhism also has a large presence, with one of its most recognisable forms being the Chan/Zen tradition. While Chinese Chan and its Korean (Son) and Vietnamese (Thien) versions are mostly practised by Asian Americans, Japanese Zen Buddhism has been popular among non-Asian Americans since the 1950s. The broad distinction between Asian Buddhists and white American Buddhists reflects differences in the practices emphasised (particularly meditation for the latter) and organisational structures.
Native American Worldviews
The United States is home to a diversity of Native American religious and spiritual traditions, practices and beliefs. Native American worldviews largely vary due to different geographic locations, languages and the material cultures of each nation. There is also significantbetween some Native American traditions and Christianity (e.g. Native American Church, also known as Peyotism).
These traditions hold a holistic worldview whereby religious or spiritual matters are intertwined with daily life. For example, one generally shared feature is the deep connection between myths, symbolic objects and rituals to specific geographic locations and landscapes. Religious practices are often localised and traditional knowledge about origins and memories of inhabitants are passed down from earlier generations through an oral tradition. Native American worldviews also often acknowledge sacred powers that are part of the natural world and its elements (e.g. sky, water, land, flora and fauna). In turn, people of the nation attend to these powers to help maintain the balance or amend imbalance in the sacred world.
1 D. Cox and R. P. Jones, 2016.
2 E. Chalfant, 2018.
3 D. Cox and R. P. Jones, 2016.
4 D. Cox and R. P. Jones, 2016.
5 Pew Research Center, 2014.
6 Pew Research Center, 2014.
7 Pew Research Center, 2014.
8 Pew Research Center, 2014.
9 P. Norris and R. Inglehart, 2011.
10 Pew Research Center, 2014.
11 Pew Research Center, 2013.
12 Pew Research Center, 2013.
13 Pew Research Center, 2017
14 Pew Research Center, 2017.
15 Pew Research Center, 2014.
16 Pew Research Center, 2014.
17 Ipsos Public Affairs, 2016.
18 Pew Research Center, 2014.