The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace and editor of InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook (SkyLight, 2008).
By Matthew Weiner and Rev. Bud Heckman
Mary Rosenblatt grew up Jewish, she married a Catholic and her children are “exposed to both faiths.” In her adult life, she has become particularly drawn to meditation as practiced by a local Buddhist circle. If she participated in a survey about religious identity, how might she be portrayed? And what about her kids?
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a survey entitled “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” that attempts to map changes in religious affiliation in the U.S. It follows on the coattails of the important “U.S Religious Landscape Survey” conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007. If read in cross-tension with the “American Religious Identification Survey 2008″ released by Trinity College in Hartford, one can begin to see a complex and diverse picture of faith affiliation for Americans, as well as some patterns of change.
One key result is that perhaps as many as six in ten American adults have changed their faith tradition. Nationwide surveys are certainly important, and getting statistics about changing religion is also important. But thinking about the problems with this survey is perhaps as important as the information that it provides.
The first important problem with both surveys is that they do not allow for the likes of Mary Rosenblatt. Is she Jewish, Buddhist, Unaffiliated or Other? The survey questions assume that she is only one of these, and so asks “What is your religion?” in the singular. Of course, Buddhists, Baha’is, Sikhs and others who think of their “religion” as a faith or those who view themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” might not make it through the early stages of the questions gauntlet either.