Scholars to Debunk Religion’s Decline at May 5 Symposium Hosted by Baylor University

April 21, 2015

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Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (April 21, 2015) — “The End of Religion?”, a symposium exploring the claim that religion is declining and near its ultimate fall, will be hosted by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) on Tuesday, May 5, at George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

The event is from 8:30 a.m. to noon at Truett’s Paul W. Powell Chapel, 1100 S. Third St. It is free and open to the public. (A free lunch will be provided to the media.)

"In recent years, the topic of religion’s so-called decline has been a source of much interest to media and academics," said Rodney Stark, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and ISR’s co-director.

“Repeated surveys have been cited as showing the decline of American faith, the growth of atheism and of a growing number of people admitting to no religion – the famous 'Nones' – so that once famously religious America seems set to become secular on the lines of 'Godless Europe,'" said Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., co-director of ISR’s Program on Historical Studies of Religion.

But that conclusion is "so multiply flawed as to be close to worthless," he said. "To say this is not to reject the methodology or conclusions of any one particular survey or projection, but rather to challenge the working assumptions of all of them.

"We can cite problems of definition and language; inaccurate understandings of history and historical change; and a stubborn unwillingness to observe and understand the many signs pointing to the resilient growth of religion around the world, and specifically in North America. Whichever approach we use – statistical, historical, comparative, sociological – the secularization narrative falls apart."

Stark noted that "the goal of the event is to correct the 'Secularization Myth' and to offer ways of understanding and debunking future claims."

The overall agreement of the overwhelming number of studies on the state of religion over past decades has documented a global religious revival that will affect the status of religion and unbelief on every continent.

"Even here in the United States, where atheism has shown new life and presence, the church has never enjoyed such a robust life," said J. Gordon Melton, Ph.D., ISR Americanist specialist. "Christianity has been on an upward trajectory for many decades, though that growth pattern is somewhat obscured by the fractured state of denominational life and the downward trajectory of a few prominent denominations."

"Over the decade of its existence, as part of its charge, ISR has compiled the data on the status of religion in general and Christianity in particular, and we have noted the long-term upward trends at every turn," said ISR’s co-director, sociologist Byron Johnson, Ph.D. "It’s actually been quite startling, and seemingly counterintuitive, given the articles that weekly flow over our desks painting a picture of houses of worship being in a terminal condition."

Jeff Levin, Ph.D., director of ISR’s Program on Religion and Population Health, said that "My colleagues and I have wanted to present a more accurate picture for some time now, and this conference provides a nice venue to showcase objective data about the status of religion here in the United States and around the world."

Symposium lectures include:

  • "A Godless World? Signs of a Global Religious Revival" by Rodney Stark, Ph.D., co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion and Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences
  • "Godless Europe?" by Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History and co-director of ISR’s Program on Historical Studies of Religion
  • "Godless Lives?: Does Religion Matter for Our Well-Being?" by Jeff Levin, Ph.D., M.P.H., University Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health and director of ISR’s Program on Religion and Population Health
  • "The Myth of American Piety?" by Byron R. Johnson, Ph.D., co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion and Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences.
  • "Toward a Godless America?" by J. Gordon Melton, Ph.D., ISR Distinguished Professor of American Religious History
  • While the event is free, registration is required. For more information, call 254-710-7555 or email isr@baylor.edu To register, visit www.baylorisr.org

    ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

    Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

    ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR STUDIES OF RELIGION

    Launched in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) exists to initiate, support and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, theology and religious studies. The institute’s mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development and social conflict. While always striving for appropriate scientific objectivity, ISR scholars treat religion with the respect that sacred matters require and deserve.

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