Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Nones and Spirituals: Update from a College Survey

by Gary Berg-Cross

Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture recently emailed an online survey to about 2,000 students at 38 colleges and universities across the country.This is the group that release the the September 2009 report called  American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population (based on the American Religious Identification Survey 2008).  

They have followed up this with a new survey analysis (drawn from the larger ongoing American Religious Identification Survey, the 2013 National College Student Survey but conducted in conjunction with the Center for Inquiry - Yea!), that had a pretty broad swath questions about  spiritual/non-spiritual, political and moral values. These ranged from belief in God and worship attendance, which was an obvious focus, to climate change and same-sex marriage. And as one might expect these allowed a search for some correlated  patterns between opinions.

The survey asked some simple what-kind-of-person-are-you-questions such as:

   “In general would you describe yourself more as a religious, spiritual or secular person?

Notice the inclusion between religious and secular of an in-between category of  "spiritual". These are not so much church-mosque or temple goers, and may not believe in a personal God, but in a "higher beyond-the-natural power." They might seek a spiritual experience but not in a temple. They are big on homeopathy, faith healing, numerology, astrology, amulets, etc. Only 1% or so of Mormons & Muslims fall into the spiritual group.

The gross result is that interviewees pretty evenly divided between the 3 categories:

About a third, (32%), relied as true religious believers. Another 32% or are spiritual but not religious. And 28% consider themselves secular.  Yes, it doesn't add up to 100% so there are as many "none of the above or others" as there are any of the main triad. 

This survey provides some update on the rise of what these authors had earlier popularized as the “nones,” or people when asked what religion they belonged to replied 'none'. This is generally expressed negatively as is a-theist so they are described as "unaffiliated" that is lacking in affiliation -alas how these things are framed.
 In this survey update more light is shed on the majority (2/3rd) of the nones who fall into the secular grouping (yep the other third say they are "spiritual"). As the authors report:
“This finding is a challenge to the notion that the Nones are just ‘religiously unaffiliated’ or religious searchers who have not yet found a religious home. This survey clearly revealed that today’s students with a Secular worldview, who are mainly Nones, are not traditional theists.”
And the Nones seem to  be the growing faction of students they have doubled in recent decades which is even more than self identified atheists.

It is interesting that the authors make much of the in-between category of spiritual. Spirituals are mid-way between Religious and Secular in believing in miracles or the afterlife. It's something like an 80 to 40 to 8% belief from Religious to Spiritual to Secular.  They have some leaning on the supernatural - 44% accept the existence of spiritual beings like angels. Outside of the religious category female students are more likely to be spiritual while male students are secular. Well it turns out that they are not a simple middle ground on all things and it gets interesting when we leave typical Christian belief and add ideas from other religions.  Take the idea of reincarnation.  The students who say they are religious don't much believe in it (9%), but Spirituals are twice as likely to believe in such things (21%). OK, I can imagine this mixed dating of male seculars with female spirituals.  It happened in my day too and the relation to political beliefs sounds familiar too:

"Some 44 percent of seculars dubbed themselves as liberal, 20 percent as progressive, and only four percent as conservative. Among spirituals, 11 percent identified as conservative, 17 percent as moderate, and 35 percent as liberal."

So again if a progressive, secular guy has to date outside his traid, a spiritual gal is a bit better fit with a spiritual gal. Overall, the Spirituals are closer to the Religious when it comes to the supernatural, but closer to the Seculars when it comes to some hot button social/political issues like abortion or assisted suicide. 

The authors draw out some composite pictures contrasting the points n the triad:

"Religious students go to church, are more likely to believe in creationism or intelligent design, and oppose assisted suicide, adoptions by same-sex couples and gun control. Secular students, of course,  do not believe in God, endorse evolution, accept assisted suicide as moral, say gay couples should be able to adopt and want more gun control.,,,

Spirituals are more than twice as likely as the Religious to see religion as a source of conflict, but considerably less so than the Seculars."

It's nice to get this updated view of where college students are and it will be very interesting to use these results as a base from which to judge movement over time. Perhaps the Spirituals will parallel growth in Europe where extra-spiritual beliefs provides an intermediate position from established religion and allows exploratrion of  incremental growth to progressive and secular humanism over time.
For more go to: http://marksilk.religionnews.com/2013/09/26/first-the-nones-now-the-spirituals/#sthash.kN1jYEDe.dpuf

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