"What Americans Really Believe" By Rodney Stark And Baylor University's Institute For Studies Of Religion

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WHAT AMERICANS REALLY BELIEVE (Baylor University Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-60258-178-4)) The results of the 2008 study are a compilation of mailed questionnaires collected by the Gallup Organization from a nationally representative sample of 1,648 non-institutionalized, English-speaking American adults aged 18 and older. ISR researchers analyzed responses to more than 350 items on multiple topics, including: • megachurch and "scattered" church congregations • views on God, heaven and evil • atheism and irreligion • religious and paranormal beliefs and experiences • faith and politics • incivility and • civic participation, among others.

In 2006, Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion released the groundbreaking Baylor Religion Survey, which included the most extensive battery of religion-related questions ever administered to a national, random sample of U.S. citizens. The results of this study resonated throughout the world and hit most major newspapers and media outlets in this country.

WHAT AMERICANS REALLY BELIEVE (Baylor University Press, 2008, ISBN: 978-1-60258-178-4)) released nationwide on Friday, September 19, 2008, takes the study one step farther. The results of the 2008 study are a compilation of mailed questionnaires collected by the Gallup Organization from a nationally representative sample of 1,648 non-institutionalized, English-speaking American adults aged 18 and older. ISR researchers analyzed responses to more than 350 items on multiple topics, including:

  •     megachurch and "scattered" church congregations
  •     views on God, heaven and evil
  •     atheism and irreligion
  •     religious and paranormal beliefs and experiences
  •     faith and politics
  •     incivility and
  •     civic participation, among others.

The authors believe that the data and accompanying analysis will provide important background and content to current debates about religion in American life.

Some notable findings from the survey include:

Are megachurches superficial? These large congregations of more than 1,000 are often portrayed as "appalling examples of a religious 'Disneyland' mentality wherein people flock to be part of an anonymous crowd of spectators rather than worshipers" (What Americans Really Believe, Ch. 5, p. 45). Yet the 2008 Baylor Religion Survey found that megachurches surprisingly are more intimate communities than small congregations of less than 100 members. Researchers found that megachurch growth is mostly due to their members, who tend to witness to their friends, bringing them into the group, and who witness to strangers much more often than members of small churches. When compared to small congregations, the survey found that megachurch members display a higher level of personal commitment by attending services, tithing and attending a Bible study group, are more likely to accept that heaven "absolutely" exists and that God rewards the faithful with major successes, are more convinced of the reality of evil, are far more given to having religious and mystical experiences, are significantly younger in age and are remarkably active in volunteer work (as much or more so than tiny churches).

Is the atheist population in the United States rapidly increasing? Several books by atheists hit the bestseller list in 2006 and 2007, seemingly signaling a breakthrough for the Godless Revolution (Ch. 14, p. 116). ISR researchers did find an increasing number of Americans (11 percent) who claim no religious affiliation, but they also delved into the actual religiousness of those who report having no religion. The Baylor Survey shows that a majority of Americans who claim to be irreligious pray and are not atheists. What they mean about having no religion is that they have no church (see Ch. 17). During the past 63 years, polls show the percentage of atheists has not changed at all, holding steady at only 4 percent of Americans who say they do not believe in God. Not only is atheism not growing in the United States, the majority of Europeans are not atheists (Ch. 14, p. 119). Russia, once controlled by the atheist Soviet Bloc, now claims 96 percent of its population believes in God, while a recent poll of China showed that atheists are hugely outnumbered by those who believe in God(s) (Ch. 14, p. 120). So why do books by angry atheists become bestsellers, thus fueling the assumption that America has been overcome by atheism? Because 4 percent of Americans - the percentage of atheists in America - amounts to more than 12 million people, a majority of them potential book buyers (p. 121).

Are Americans out of touch with God? Religious and mystical experiences are an overlooked aspect of our national religious life and are often neglected by researchers and ignored by theologians. The Baylor Religion Survey asked respondents about these experiences: hearing the voice of God, feeling called by God to do something, being protected by a guardian angel, witnessing and/or receiving a miraculous physical healing, and speaking or praying in tongues. The ISR researchers found that such experiences are central to American religion. Forty-five percent of Americans report having at least two religious encounters (Ch. 6, p. 59). Denomination matters, the researchers found. Conservative Protestants are more likely than liberal Protestants, Catholics or Jews to report religious or mystical experiences. However, these experiences are not limited to conservative Protestants. They occur with considerable frequency in nearly all religious groups. The survey also showed that women, African Americans and Republicans are more apt to have religious and mystical experiences.

Are Bible believers credulous and superstitious people, who will believe anything? The Baylor Survey found that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases credulity, as measured by beliefs in such things as dreams, Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted houses and astrology, with education having hardly any effect (Ch. 15, p. 130). Still, it remains widely believed among the media and social scientists that religious people are especially credulous, particularly those who identify themselves as Evangelicals, born again, Bible believers and fundamentalists. However, the ISR
researchers found that conservative religious Americans are far less likely to believe in the occult and paranormal than are other Americans, with self-identified theological liberals and the irreligious far more likely than other Americans to believe (p. 130). The researchers say this shows that it is not religion in general that suppresses such beliefs, but conservative religion.
Women, African Americans, young people under 30 and Democrats are more likely to believe in the occult and paranormal (p. 128). People who have read The Purpose-Driven Life or any book in the Left Behind series are less likely to believe, while those who have read any book on dianetics or The Da Vinci Code are more likely to believe in the occult and paranormal.

Are "scattered" nondenominational religious groups with no ties to organized churches fragmenting religion? Are "gathered" congregations failing to reach out to outsiders? American churches are persistently criticized as failing. Denominationalism is doomed, young people are deserting in droves, attendance and church membership are in rapid decline. The churches are too "scattered." The churches are too "gathered." But no one has studied this growing "scattered" vs. "gathered" church debate. ISR researchers found that the scattered church - religious activities not affiliated with or sponsored by a congregation - is quite large, but they also found that the scattered activities are not a substitute for participation in the gathered church (Ch. 4, pp. 39-40). In fact, these activities, such as prayer and Bible study groups, actually strengthen the gathered church. For gathered churches, the primary issue is whether or not congregations tend to be open or closed social networks and whether this influences their capacity for outreach. As the researchers found with megachurches, belonging to a congregation that consists largely of close friendships does not turn members inward. In fact, members of the gathered church witness most often to strangers and are most likely to do volunteer work in their communities (Ch. 4, p. 44). The survey confirmed that scattered church activities benefit those receiving the outreach, while encouraging and strengthening the commitment of those providing the outreach in the gathered church.

Available for interview:

  •     Dr. Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. Stark is a former research sociologist at the University of California-Berkley's Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He has published 27 books and more than 140 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as prejudice, crime, suicide and city life in ancient Rome. However, the greater part of his work has been on religion. He is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion.
  •     Dr. Byron Johnson, professor of sociology and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion, as well as director of the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative, both at Baylor University.
  •     Dr. Christopher Bader, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Baylor University and director of the Baylor Religion Survey who specializes in the sociology of religion and criminology.
  •     Dr. Carson Mencken, professor of sociology and research director for the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor who specializes in regional sociology, criminology and research methods, as well as civic engagement, religious communities and economic growth.

Baylor Press would like to provide you with a copy of WHAT AMERICANS REALLY BELIEVE for your consideration. The researchers also will be available to discuss results by phone.

"Sociologist Stark has been surveying and observing American religious beliefs and practices for 40 years. This broad experience is reflected in the breadth of questions used to characterize contemporary American religious attitudes; from the Bible to Bigfoot, denomination to Da Vinci Code, beliefs are measured and correlated with oodles of demographics. Stark provides evidence
for his overarching theme that some fundamental American religious practices and ideas have remained both stable and diverse as a result of religious competition. The book's numbers will spark lively discussion and questions about inferences drawn from statistics and the ways in which questions were posed."
    Publishers Weekly, July 2008

AUTHOR: Rodney Stark
Baylor University Press
http://www. Baylorpress.com
ISBN: 978-1-60258-178-4
Trade, pp. 217, 6" x 9"
Order: 1-800-537-5487
Release date: September 19, 2008

For Further Information, Schedule an Interview or to review the questionnaire,
Lissy Peace
Blanco & Peace
LissyPeace @ aol.com


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Blanco & Peace
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