Chapter 5 Religion


B. Vocabulary and Key Concepts

1. The U. S. government cannot ask for information on religious affil­iation on a mandatory basis.

2. One survey done in 2002 shows that 76 percent of the total popu­lation identified themselves as Christian, with 52 percent identify­ing themselves as Protestant and 24 percent as Catholic.

3. The number of Americans belonging to churches or other religious organizations is surprisingly high compared to other modernized nations.

4. This is not to suggest that religious values are not important in these other nations.

5. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

6. The First Amendment also establishes the separation of church and state.

7. The importance of religion in American history should not be underestimated.

8. Fd like to talk about the increasing role religion has plaved in fairly recent history.

9. Religion had seemed to be in decline, but there was a religious revival in the 1970s that surprised many people.

10. The religious revival was conservative in nature and, at first, largely confined to issues in the private sphere of life.

11. These issues, however, were very controversial in nature and became quite politicized in a short time.

12. Perhaps the "rise of the religious right" is a temporary phenome-

non in American life.

13. Some people predict that American society will become increasingly secular and less religious in the future; others predict a more authori­tarian political atmosphere based on conservative religious belief.

D. Notetaking Preparation

1. Commonly Used Symbols and Abbreviations (Narrator: Read twice.)

1. The population of China is greater than the population of India, which in turn is larger than the population in the United States.

2. A decreasing death rate and a rising birth rate cause an increase in the population.

3. The population in the United States is approximately 281,000,000 people.

4. Some people immigrated to the United States because of natural disasters, such as droughts or famines.

5. The situation in the world is different today. Therefore, a greater number of people are immigrating to the United States from Latin America and Asia than Europe.

6. After World War II, most American families were still traditional ones, that is, with a working father, a mother who was a house­wife, and their children.

7. Today many children are raised in homes without a father living with them.


LECTURE: Religion

Religion is a complex phenomenon in the United States and often misunderstood by foreigners. Part of this may be because the media, for example, television and films, are often the only ways that foreign­ers are exposed to American culture. These media, in general, ignore the role and importance of religion in America.

Driving through the countryside and passing through small towns in the United States, foreigners are often surprised by the number of churches in even a small town of two or three thousand people. That there are so many churches doesn’t seem so strange, perhaps, if we look at the history of the United States. Remember when we talked about immigration to the United States? At that time, we pointed out that many people immigrated to escape persecution and to seek free­dom to practice their religion. Considering that people from many

different countries and religious backgrounds immigrated to the United States, it shouldn’t be surprising to find a great number of different religious denominations. Even in a small town, there will usually be several churches representing different religious groups. Today I’d like to give you some facts and figures about religious groups in the United States, then compare the United States to other modern­ized nations, and, finally, say something about the importance of reli­gion in America, particularly about the increasing role of religion in U. S. political life in recent years.

Estimating the number of people belonging to various religious groups in America can be a little difficult to do. First of all, the U. S. govern­ment cannot ask for information on religious affiliation on a manda­tory basis in any official capacity. Statistical information must be gathered from surveys of the population and from organizational reports, which might, for example, include the number of members belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque. One survey done in 2002 shows that 76 percent of the total population identified them­selves as Christian, with 52 percent identifying themselves as Protes­tant and 24 percent as Catholic. One percent of the population identi­fied themselves as Jewish and another 1 percent as Muslim. I should point out that Protestants, who form the single largest religious group, are found in more than 1,200 denominations.

Another study, called "The American Religious Identification Survey," showed that the number of people identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 86 percent to 77 percent between 1990 and 2001. The total number of those who identified themselves as Jewish declined a little, whereas the total number who identified themselves as Muslims doubled. Other smaller groups such as Buddhists and Hindus also increased their numbers. I don’t want to suggest that these are the only religious groups in the United States. There are many more small religious groups. OK, that’s enough facts and figures about various religious groups in the United States.

Now let’s look at two ways that religion in the United States differs from religion in other modernized nations. The first relates to the number of persons who claim membership in churches or some other religious organization. The second concerns the relationship of reli­gion and government. Let’s consider the first way the United States differs from these other modernized nations. About 60 percent of Americans belong to a church or other religious organization. This number is surprisingly high in comparison to other modernized na­tions. For example, the percentage of people who belong to a church or other religious organization is only about 22 percent in Great Britain, 15 percent in Spain, 7 percent in Italy, and 4 percent in France. This is not to suggest, though, that religious values may not be important in these countries, but it does suggest how important belonging to a church or other religious organization is to Americans compared to

Europeans. However, there is another somewhat contradictory differ­ence that we should also consider. In many of these modernized, Euro­pean nations, there is no clear separation of religion and government. When discussing religion in America, it’s important to remember that whereas freedom of worship is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, this same amendment also establishes the separa­tion of church and state. Therefore, although this amendment guaran­tees everyone the right to practice his or her religion, it also tends to keep religion out of the public sphere, that is, out of anything concern­ing the government and public schools, for example. Religion has been largely a private matter in the lives of Americans and not been a mat­ter of government, politics, and public education. Of course, religious beliefs and values have always influenced politics and education, but generally indirectly. To sum up, then, the importance of belonging to a church or religious organization seems greater to Americans than to Europeans, but at the same time, religion has no official role in the government as it has in some European countries and has largely been confined to the private side of people’s lives. However, there has been a recent trend leading to an increase in the influence of religion in politics. Finally, let’s take a closer look at this rather sudden rise in the influence of religion on American political life.

Although religion in America seemed to many people to be in decline during most of this century, in the 1970s, there was a religious revival that surprised many, especially those people in academia, the media, and government. This religious revival became known as the "rise of the religious right." That is, the people involved in this religious re­vival were politically conservative, or to the right of the center. For a while it seemed that this rise in conservative religion would be largely confined to the private sphere of life. The religious right was generally opposed to abortion, but abortion was made legal by the Supreme Court anyway. The religious right generally favored prayer in schools, but the Supreme Court found that prayer in public schools was uncon­stitutional. The issues of abortion and prayer were felt by many to be matters of private concern, not serious political issues. However, these issues have become increasingly politicized, and because they are highly controversial issues, they have tended to divide people very sharply. The issue of abortion, especially, has become very politicized and has led to very bitter political debate and even acts of violence.

The religious right has also put more and more pressure on politicians to put prayer back in the schools, even if this requires another amend­ment to the Constitution. This rise of the religious right can no longer be ignored by people in politics. However, whether this group will be able to influence political life for a long time cannot be known. Per­haps this is a temporary phenomenon, and in time the religious right will become less important.

What the role and importance of religion will be in the future of American society cannot be known, of course. There are those who predict that Americans will become more like Europeans if economic prosperity continues, that is, more secular and less religious. Others fear that the rise in conservative religious beliefs may lead to a more authoritarian political atmosphere with less personal freedom for individuals. Because religious values have always been important in America in one way or another, it seems likely that religion will continue to play an important role in America well into the future.

By the way, the history of some religious minorities in the United States is particularly interesting and sheds some light on the tougher issues related to the government’s commitment to freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. Some of these better known groups are the Amish, the Mormons, and the Seventh-Day Adventists. I don’t have time to go into them today, but for those of you who are interested, I suggest that you do some further investigation of these religious minorities.


A. Accuracy Check

1. Why do many foreigners often not understand the role of religion in America?

2. What are the two largest religious groups in America, and what are the percentages of people who identify themselves as belonging to these groups?

3. According to the lecturer, why are there so many different religious groups in the United States?

4. About what percentage of people are members of a church or other religious organization in the following countries: the United States, Italy, and France?

5. What right does the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantee?

6. What does the First Amendment say about religion and the state, that is, religion and government?

7. Was the religious revival of the 1970s conservative or liberal?

8. What was the religious revival called?

9. What issues have become very important politically because of this religious revival?

10. If America becomes more like Europe, will it become more religious or more secular?

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