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Religious Makeup of U.S. Citizens

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  • 00:00 Religion in the United States
  • 00:35 Christians, Jews, and Muslims
  • 2:30 Non-Abrahamic Faiths
  • 3:12 Unaffiliated
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

There are dozens of religious traditions in the United States, and religion is now just as important a part of political life in the country as it has ever been. But what is the breakdown of belief in the U.S.? This lesson explains the numbers.

Religion in the United States

For a country that openly disavows any connection between faith and government, there is no easy way to overstate the importance of religion in the United States. Practically every faith tradition in the world is practiced here, and the power of religions on politics is very easily felt to even the most casual observer.

But what can we learn about America by looking at its different religious groups? Looking at the 330 million plus people who call America 'home' is simply too many people to examine, but what if we shrank the country down to just a group of 100. Wouldn't it, then, be much easier to look at?

Christians, Jews, and Muslims

If we were to examine this group of 100 people, by far the most common group of beliefs would belong to those who follow Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as smaller faiths that have been inspired, in part, from the teachings of one of those three groups. Seventy three of that group of 100 would step forward if you called for Abrahamic faiths, but don't think that they would be evenly split. Only two of the 73 is Jewish, and only one is Muslim. The vast majority of Jewish people in the country live either in the Northeast or Florida, while Muslims are concentrated in big cities as well as Michigan. The other 70 would all be Christians.

But even within that, there is an amazing range of diversity. From that group of 70, 21 would identify as Roman Catholics, by far the largest denomination of any religious group in the United States. They are not only centered in the Northeast, but also across much of the South and Southwest, evidence of the growing influence of Hispanic communities.

Many of the remaining Christians can be divided into one of two types of Protestantism: either Evangelical or Mainline churches. Evangelical churches include traditions like Southern Baptist or Pentecostal. Twenty-five of the people in our group would be Evangelical. Mainline churches include the Episcopalian, Methodist, and Lutheran churches. They make up 15 of the people from our random sample of 100. Additionally, historically black churches make up six people. The last three people of our sample of Christians would be Mormons, which make up 1.5% of the U.S. population, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses and Orthodox Christians, each with slightly less than 1%.

Non-Abrahamic Faiths

A much smaller group emerges when the call for those with faiths from South or East Asia is made. Only two people step forth: one Hindu and one Buddhist. They tend to be spread out across the country, especially in the larger cities and along the West Coast.

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