Scholars Will Challenge “Secularization Myth” Nov. 10 at National Press Club
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Media contact: Terry Goodrich, 254-710-3321
WACO, Texas (Nov. 3, 2015) — Religion scholars from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) will refute surveys that report the decline of American faith during a Nov. 10 conference in Washington, D.C.
The event — “The End of Religion?” — will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW and is hosted by the Baylor in Washington program.
“In recent years, religion’s decline and imminent fall has been a source of intense interest to media and academics alike. Repeated surveys have been cited as showing the decline of American faith, the growth of atheism and of the number of people admitting to no religion – the famous ‘Nones’ – so that once famously religious America seems set to secularize on the lines of Godless Europe,” said Byron Johnson, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
But that representation 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 . . . Whichever approach we use –statistical, historical, comparative, sociological - the secularization narrative falls apart. A gulf separates what can reliably and responsibly be said about future projections of religion and the interpretations offered.”
Topics and speakers will include:
“Some books on the American Founding have argued that it was a ‘godless’ Founding, led by skeptical Enlightenment figures. The truth is more complex and more fascinating. Although the Founders had a wide range of personal beliefs, they broadly agreed on public religious principles such as liberty of conscience and equality by creation. It is true that Revolutionary skeptics such as Thomas Jefferson predicted that the end of traditional religion was at hand in America. He could not have been more wrong.”
“The world is far more religious than it has ever been. Around the globe, four of every five people claim to belong to an organized faith and many of the rest say they often attend worship services. In Latin America, Protestant churches have converted tens of millions, and Catholics are going to Mass in unprecedented numbers. There are more churchgoing Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa that anywhere else on earth, and China may soon become home of the most Christians. Meanwhile, although not growing as rapidly as Christianity, Islam enjoys far higher levels of member commitment than it has for centuries, and the same is true for Hinduism, and perhaps for Buddhism too. Furthermore, in every nook and cranny left by organized faiths, all manner of unconventional supernaturalism are booming — 38 percent of the French believe in astrology.”
“By all accounts, Europe seems to be the world’s best case study of rapid and extreme secularization. Yet even here, we find far more signs of religious involvement and active interest in spirituality than we might expect from the standard stereotype. Even in Europe, the alleged graveyard of faith, Christianity still shows signs of unexpected vigor, and faith takes unexpectedly traditional forms.”
“Religion exhibits a mostly positive influence on human well-being, across religious and demographic categories, and has done so consistently and undiminished for decades. Thousands of studies have investigated the impact of religion or faith on dimensions of physical and mental health and well-being. Most of these studies have found positive, statistically significant effects. These findings are consistent and increasing over time, indicating a salutary impact of faith on well-being.”
“Much of what we hear about American religion is simply inaccurate or misleading and often tends to be based either on no data, selective data, bad data or misinterpretations of solid data. What we know about American religion — based on decades of rigorous national data — is rarely featured in media accounts and confirms in unambiguous ways the remarkable vitality of American religious life.”
“Recent coverage of American religious life, by focusing on the decline of some of the larger denominations and the new organized life of non-theistic communities, have missed the larger story that since World War II, religion in the United States has grown spectacularly and ahead of the population curve. America is now the most religious it has ever been with Church membership at an all-time high and relatively new worshipping communities representing the spectrum of the world's religions now spread across the urban landscape. As a nation in which the great majority of its people have affiliated with a religious community, without government coercion, America is possibly the most religious country that the world has ever seen.”
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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. For more information, visit www.baylorisr.org.