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Protestants now just over half of US adults


Protestants in the United States may soon become a minority in a country long perceived as predominately Protestant, according to a new study of the US religious landscape.

The study by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and released on 25 February, found that the number of Protestants in the United States now makes up about 51 percent of the population. This is in sharp contrast to the mid-1980s, when about two-thirds of the nation was Protestant.

"Moreover, the Protestant population is characterised by significant internal diversity and fragmentation, encompassing hundreds of different denominations," the Pew Forum noted in a summary of the study’s key findings that are based on interviews conducted between May and August 2007 with more than 35 000 adults living in the United States.

The study also found that about 44 percent of US adults have changed their religious affiliation. Some have moved from one faith to another, others have switched denominations, and a third group no longer has any religious affiliation.

"People will be surprised by the amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another, or to no religion at all," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, when he announced the findings of the study. Immigration patterns are also altering the US religious landscape, Lugo added.

Another of the study’s key findings is that the number of those who say they have no affiliation with any faith – 16.1 percent of those surveyed – represents the largest growing group. Roman Catholicism, although it still accounts for the largest affiliation of people to any single religious body in the US, has shown the greatest net losses due to changes in religious affiliation.

Nearly one-third of Americans were brought up as Catholics but only 24 percent now describe themselves as Catholic, the study found. However, the losses to Catholicism from those leaving the Catholic Church are offset to some degree by foreign-born adults, many of them from Latin America, who have ties to Catholicism. About 46 percent of foreign-born adults surveyed were Roman Catholic and only 24 percent were Protestant.

Newcomers to the United States are also boosting the numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, the study reported, though individually these faiths still claim, respectively, less than 1 percent of the population.

Breakdown of affiliation to major religious traditions in the United States and full results of the study: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

Ecumenical News International