Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans' Shifting Religious Identities

Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans' Shifting Religious Identities

Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans' Shifting Religious Identities

Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans' Shifting Religious Identities


More than anywhere else in the Western world, religious attachments in America are quite flexible, with over 40 percent of U.S. citizens shifting their religious identification at least once in their lives. In Changing Faith, Darren E. Sherkat draws on empirical data from large-scale national studies to provide a comprehensive portrait of religious change and its consequences in the United States.

With analysis spanning across generations and ethnic groups, the volume traces the evolution of the experience of Protestantism and Catholicism in the United States, the dramatic growth of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, and the rise of non-identification, now the second most common religious affiliation in the country. Drawing on that wealth of data, it details the impact of religious commitments on broad arenas of American social life, including family and sexuality, economic well-being, political commitments, and social values.

Exploring religious change among those of European heritage as well as of Eastern and Western European immigrants, African Americans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Native Americans, Changing Faith not only provides a comprehensive and ethnically inclusive demographic overview of the juncture between religion and ethnicity within both the private and public sphere, but also brings empirical analysis back to the sociology of religion.


Religious identifications play a profound role in how Americans relate to one another, influencing whom we marry, how we raise our children, our educational and occupational opportunities and choices, and our moral and political commitments. Yet, as a nation of immigrants, the way that religious identifications operate to structure social relations is also intimately connected to ethnicity, assimilation, and nativity. Religious identifications structure the social world differently for the ancestors of African slaves and the descendants of Anglo-Saxon slaveholders — even though both very often identify as Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Our diverse array of religious groups operate in an ethnically diverse society that is constantly shifting because of our consistently high rates of immigration. Religious change cannot be properly analyzed or explained without attention to how identifications are rooted in ethnic experiences and shaped by processes of assimilation and segmentation. This book examines how religious identifications have shifted over four decades (1972–2012), the sources of those dynamics, and the impact of religious identifications for religious beliefs, family relations, social status, and political commitments—with a focus on how ethnicity continues to structure all of these dynamics and an eye toward how coming generations will alter the religious landscape.

Starting with Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1835/1840) Democracy in America, commentators on American religion have remarked on the fluidity of Americans’ attachments to religious groups. While in most nations people cling to the religion of their family and clan, Americans, it is said, are relatively free to choose their religious commitments. The result of this freedom of association is considerable dynamism in American . . .

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