Study: Secular Constituency Emerges as Millennials Turn Away from Religion

Report in Free Inquiry Magazine Delves into the Beliefs of Secular, Spiritual and Religious Students

FI June July

A generational shift away from religion is underway in the United States, and a large new secular constituency is emerging from the Millennial cohort. So concludes Barry Kosmin of Trinity College – director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, and lead researcher of the American Religious Identification Survey – who reports on his groundbreaking research in the latest edition of Free Inquiry magazine.

Last year, the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College, in partnership with the Center for Inquiry, surveyed over 1,800 American college-age students about their beliefs, and uncovered what Kosmin says indicates “a fundamental change” in American society. 33% answered “None” when asked what religion they subscribed to, far exceeding the approximately 15-20% of the general population who identify as such. 28% of those surveyed considered themselves “Secular,” with 32% deeming themselves “Spiritual,” each as opposed to the 32% who considered themselves “Religious.” 70% of the unaffiliated Nones identified as Secular, as did 32% of the Spiritual.

Fascinatingly, a major difference between the Secular and Spiritual groups were their gender makeup, the Secular being mostly male, the Spiritual mostly female. But in a wide range of questions about social issues and policy, the Secular and Spiritual groups were far more in concert with each other than either was with the Religious group. Indeed, it was the largely-male Secular group that surveyed highest in support of women’s rights, even over the largely-female Spirituals.

Meanwhile, relatively few Seculars were willing to call themselves atheists. “Though the Secular respondents were not believers,” notes Kosmin, “it’s possible that they retain a respect for religion that might explain their reluctance to self-identify as atheists.”

Much more is revealed about the beliefs of young Americans in the June/July issue of Free Inquiry, available on newsstands now.

Also in this issue: Leah Mickens dispels the myth that the civil rights movement was primarily a religious one; Russell Blackford grimly commemorates the anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie; and Free Inquiry continues its series on readers’ personal journeys away from religious belief.