9 in 10 American identify with a religion, poll shows Huge survey of U.S. religious beliefs finds Oregon's atheists but few New Age devotees.

April 11, 1991|By New York Times

NEW YORK -- The state with the highest proportion of atheists is Oregon.

Most Americans of Irish ancestry are Protestant.

And despite all the attention given to what devotees call the New Age -- a spiritual movement that combines mysticism, psychology and holistic healing -- the number of adherents, 28,000, is practically insignificant.

These findings are from an opinion poll on religious affiliation that surveyed 113,000 people around the nation, the largest and most comprehensive effort to draw a portrait of religion in America.

The survey, commissioned by the Graduate School of the City University of New York, confirms that the country is broadly religious and widely diverse, with more than 9 in 10 Americans identifying with one of a myriad of denominations, from Presbyterian to Rastafarian.

The survey also shows regional and racial variations. For example, people in the Western states are almost twice as likely to have no religion than people in the rest of the country. The 17 percent of Oregon respondents who said they had no religious affiliation were the largest such group of any state.

Every 10 years the Census Bureau asks Americans their income, their race, and even how many bathrooms they have. But fear of church-state entanglement has kept questions about religion off the census questionnaire.

Martin Marty, a religion scholar on the faculty at the University of Chicago, said the data were "astonishingly confirmatory" of what was already known about larger religious groups and provided previously unknown details about smaller ones.

The survey found that while 86.5 percent of Americans, or 214 million people, are Christians, they identify in dozens of groups. Roman Catholics make up the largest of these, with 26 percent of the nation's population, followed by Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans, respectively. Jews are less than 2 percent of the population, and Muslims are 0.5 percent.

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