Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
The religiously unaffiliated are a rapidly growing but often misunderstood group, as Dr. Robert P. Jones outlines in his latest column for “Figuring Faith,” his blog at the Washington Post. In fact, religiously unaffiliated Americans fall into three distinct categories: atheists and agnostics, seculars, and unattached believers. These subgroups have discrete demographic, educational, and even religious profiles, as Dr. Jones demonstrates, using data from the 2012 American Values Survey:
Notably, unattached believers differ from atheists and agnostics in their beliefs about God. Atheists and agnostics are the lone group in which a majority (56 percent) agree that God does not exist. Relatively few atheists and agnostics believe in God, either as a person (30 percent) or an impersonal force (6 percent). By contrast, nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) unattached believers say that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship, while approximately one-quarter (26 percent) believe that God is an impersonal force. No unattached believers say they do not believe in God.
To read the full column, head to “Figuring Faith,” Dr. Jones’ Washington Post blog.