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Not Really Religiously Diverse… Why all the Panic?

April 4, 2014

Maybe “panic” is overstating it a little.  But I don’t think by much, at least for a significant number of American Christians.

They seem quite scared that their country, once a “Christian nation”, may be losing that status.  I’ll not go into the complex dynamics of such a viewpoint (largely inaccurate, in my view) for now.

Whatever one’s perspective on that – whether it raises concern or not, a just-released Pew study on religious diversity worldwide is interesting! It reveals that the U.S. is, perhaps surprisingly to some, in the low-to-moderate range of religious diversity relative to other nations.  The Pew people label it moderate, with a 4.1 rating, out of 10 (highest diversity) on their scale.  You can find a short summary of the survey on their website, here.  There are links to more details and a complete ranking of 232 nations also.  

The Pew article points out that it is not just fundamentalists who think of America as religiously diverse… scholars sometimes use such language as well.  It should be noted, as is addressed in the article, that “Christian” as one’s designated religion for study purposes is not broken down into sub-categories.  But neither is Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Judaism, which are also widely diverse within themselves.

The most religiously diverse (far more so than the U.S.) countries are in Asia, primarily China and its neighbors (Singapore and Taiwan being the top two).  Comparing the U.S. with Europe, we are less diverse… e.g., France, Germany and the United Kingdom all rank 1 to 2 points higher on the 10-point scale.  (The study does not seem to try to evaluate who is merely “culturally” Christian as opposed to Christian by belief and active practice… in which Europe would no doubt rank less Christian, and thus seemingly even more diverse than the U.S.  It is merely comparing general categorization by major religious groupings.)

The Pew Research Center has also studied and compared religious freedom worldwide.  That is a separate study.  It’s understandable that people tend to link the amount of diversity with the amount of freedom… or at least see diversity as a potential threat to their freedom.  However, in itself, it may well not be.

What do you see in the numbers? Any surprises? 

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