The Rise of the Nones: Why More Americans are Becoming Secular, and What that Means for America

Part of the Studies in Humanist and Atheism book series (HRC)


There is no question that in Europe—as well as in other selected industrialized nations around the world such as Canada, Australia, and Japan—religion has been on the decline for the past century. The data concerning the observable secularization of these societies are virtually irrefutable.1 Whether we are measuring belief, faith, church attendance, frequency of prayer, baptisms, self-identification—or any other indicator—the lessening of religiosity and the increase of secularity in these societies are both readily apparent. For example, in Canada one hundred years ago, only 2% of the population claimed to have no religion. But today, nearly 30% of Canadians claim as much,2 and approximately one in five Canadians today does not believe in God.3 In Australia one hundred years ago, less than 1% of the population claimed no religious identity, but today, approximately 20% of Australians claim as much—and the current Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is an open atheist.4 A century ago in Holland, around 10% of the population claimed to be religiously unaffiliated; today it is over 40%.5 In contemporary Great Britain, nearly half of the people now claim no religious identity at all.6 The same is currently the case in Sweden, where approximately half the population self-identifies as secular.7 Furthermore, 61% of Czechs, 49% of Estonians, 45% of Slovenians, 34% of Bulgarians, and 31% of Norwegians do not believe in God,8 and 33% of the French, 27% of Belgians, and 25% of Germans, do not believe in God or any sort of universal spiritual life force. These are the highest rates of nonbelief ever recorded for these various nations.9


Church Attendance Religious Identity Republican Party Social Psychology Review Canadian Today 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Steve Bruce, Secularization ( New York: Oxford University Press, 2011 );CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West ( Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002 );Google Scholar
  3. Ian Reader, “Secularization, RIP? Nonsense! The ‘Rush Hour Away from the Gods’ and the Decline of Religion,” Journal of Religion in Japan 1 (1:2012): 7–36;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. David Voas and Siobhan McAndrew, “Three Puzzles of Non-religion in Britain,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 27 (1:2012): 29–48;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Phil Zuckerman, “Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns,” in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, edited by Michael Martin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007 );Google Scholar
  6. Jack Shand, “The Decline of Traditional Christian Beliefs in Germany,” Sociology of Religion 59 (1998): 179–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 3.
    Bob Altemeyer, “Non-Belief and Secularity in North America,” in Atheism and Secularity, edited by Phil Zuckerman (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009 );Google Scholar
  8. Reginald Bibby, Restless Gods (Toronto, Canada: Stoddart, 2002 ).Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Bruce, Secularization; Loek Halman, “Atheism and Secularity in the Netherlands,” in Atheism and Secularity, volume II, edited by Phil Zuckerman ( Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010 ).Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Samuel Bagg and David Voas, “The Triumph of Indifference: Irreligion in British Society,” in Atheism and Secularity, volume II, edited by Phil Zuckerman (Santa Barbara, Praeger, 2010 ); 2010;Google Scholar
  11. Alasdair Crockett and David Voas, “Generations of Decline: Religious Change in 10th Century Britain,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 45 (4:2006): 567–84. 2006;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. R. Gil, C. K. Hadaway, and P. L. Marler, “Is Religious Belief Declining in Britain?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37 (1998): 507–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 7.
    Lars Ahlin, Pilgrim, Turist Eller Flykting? En Studie av Individuell Religio¨s Ro¨rlighet i Senmonderniteten ( Stockholm: Brutus O¨ stlings Bokfo¨rlag Symposium, 2005 ).Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Inglehart et al., Human Beliefs and Values: A Cross-Cultural Sourcebook Based on the 1999–2002 Value Surveys ( Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2004 ).Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    Eurobarometer Report, “Social Values, Science, and Technology,” European Commission, 2005, accessed February 15, 2013,;Google Scholar
  16. Jack Shand, “The Decline of Traditional Christian Beliefs in Germany,” Sociology of Religion 59 (1998): 179–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 11.
    For the figure of 30%, see the WIN-Gallup International poll of 2012. For the figure of nearly 20%, go to: For the 18% figure, see Stephen Merino, “Irreligious Socialization? The Adult Religious Preferences of Individuals Raised with No Religion,” Secularism and Nonreligion 1 (2012): 1–16; see also Putnam and Campbell, American Grace. See alsoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cathy Lynn Grossman, “Survey Finds 19% Without Religious Affiliation,” by Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today, July 20, 2012, accessed February 15, 2013,–07–19/no-religion-affiliation/56344976/1; and also the American Religious Identification Survey (2008) at: -profile-of-the-no-religion-population/.Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    Laurie Goodstein, “Number of Protestant Americans is in Steep Decline, Study Finds,” New York Times, October 9, 2012, accessed February 15, 2013,; Putnam and Campbell, American Grace.Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    Cragun et al., “On the Receiving End: Discrimination Toward the Non-religious in the United States,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 27 (1:2012): 105–27;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Joseph Baker and Buster Smith, “The Nones: Social Characteristics ofthe ReligiouslyUnaffiliated,” Social Forces 87 (3:2009): 1251–63;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. ARIS, 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population,” accessed February 15, 2013, Scholar
  23. 18.
    Jon Meacham, “The End of Christian America,” News week, April 13, 2009.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    William Swatos and Daniel Olson, The Secularization Debate ( Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000 ).Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular Religion and Politics Worldwide ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 22.
    Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, “Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations,” American Sociological Review 67 (2:2002): 165–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 23.
    Mark Chaves, American Religion: Contemporary Trends ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011 ), 21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 25.
    Barry Kosmin, “One Nation, Losing God,” Point of Inquiry radio interview, December 31, 2010, accessed February 15, 2013, Scholar
  29. 26.
    Andrew Walsh, “Returning to Normalcy,” Religion in the News 5 (1:2002): 26–28;Google Scholar
  30. Ralph Hood, Peter Hill, and Bernard Spilka, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach ( New York: Guilford Press, 2009 ), 459–60.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    Greg Armfield and Lance Holbert, “The Relationship Between Religiosity and Internet Use,” Journal of Media and Religion 2 (3:2003): 129–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 28.
    Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith, “The New Atheism and the Formation of the Imagined Secularist Community,” Journal of Media and Religion 10 (1:2011): 24–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 29.
    Karen Hwang, Joseph Hammer, and Ryan Cragun, “Extending Religion-Health Research to Secular Minorities: Issues and Concerns,” Journal of Religion and Health 50 (2011): 608–22;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. R. J. Jenks, “Perceptions of two deviant and two nondeviant groups,” Journal of Social Psychology 126 (1986): 783–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 30.
    Jeffrey Jones, “Atheists, Muslims See Most Bias as Presidential Candidates,” Gallup Poll, July 21, 2012, accessed February 15, 2013, Scholar
  36. 31.
    Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerteis, and Douglas Hartmann, “Atheists as ‘Other’: Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society,” American Sociological Review 71 (2006): 211–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 32.
    Marcel Harper, “The Stereotyping of Nonreligious People by Religious Students: Contents and Subtypes,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46 (2007): 539–52;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Will Gervais, Azim Shariff, and Ara Norenzayan, “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101 (6: 2011 ): 189–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 33.
    Phil Zuckerman, “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions,” Sociology Compass 3 (6:2009): 949–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 35.
    Tom Flynn, “Does Secular Humanism Have a Political Agenda?” Free Inquiry 32 (6:2012): 18–21.Google Scholar
  41. 36.
    Deborah Hall, David Matz, and Wendy Wood, “Why Don’t We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 14 (1: 2009 ): 126–39;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. L. Jackson and B. Hunsberger, “An Intergroup Perspective on Religion and Prejudice,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38 (1999): 509–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 37.
    Vassilis Sargolou, “Religiousness as a Cultural Adaptation of Basic Traits: A Five-Factor Model Perspective,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 14 (2010): 108–25;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Miguel Farias and Mansur Lalljee, “Holistic Individualism in the Age of Aquarius: Measuring Individualism/Collectivism in New Age, Catholic, and Atheist/Agnostic Groups,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47 (2008): 277–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 38.
    Catherine Caldwell-Harris, “Understanding Atheism/Non-Belief as Expected Individual-Differences Variable,” Religion, Brain, and Behavior 2 (1:2012): 4–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 41.
    John Nelson, “Japanese Secularities and the Decline of Temple Buddhism,” Journal of Religion in Japan 1 (2012): 37–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 42.
    Jacques Berlinerblau, How To Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom ( New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012 ), 113.Google Scholar
  48. 43.
    Marc Musick, James House, and David Williams, “Attendance at Religious Services and Mortality in a National Sample,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 45 (2004): 198–213;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Michael McCullough and Timothy Smith, “Religion and Health: Depressive Symptoms and Mortality as Case Studies,” Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, edited by Michele Dillon ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003 ), 190–206;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hummer et al., “Religious Involvement and U.S. Adult Mortality,” Demography 36 (1999): 273–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 44.
    Harold Koenig, Research on Religion and Aging: An Annotated Bibliography ( New York: Greenwood Press, 1995 );Google Scholar
  52. Christopher Ellison, “Religion, the Life Stress Paradigm, and the Study of Depression,” Religion and Aging and Health, edited by Jeffrey S. Levin ( Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994 ); 1994;Google Scholar
  53. Jeffrey S. Levin, “Investigating the Epidemiological Effects of Religious Experience: Findings, Explanations, and Barriers,” Religion and Aging and Health, edited by Jeffrey S. Levin ( Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994 ).Google Scholar
  54. 45.
    McCullough and Smith, “Religion and Health;” Koenig, McCullough, and Larson, Handbook of Religion and Health; Kenneth Pargament, “The Bitter and the Sweet: An Evaliation of the Costs and Benefits of Religiousness,” Psychological Inquiry 13 (2002): 168–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 46.
    Putnam and Campbell, American Grace; Arthur Brooks and James Q. Wilson, Why Really Cares? The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism ( New York: Basic Books, 2007 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Anthony B. Pinn 2014

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations