From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 12:55:40


              by George H. Gallup and Robert Bezilla 
                Princeton Religion Resource Center 
          (distributed by United Methodist News Service) 
PRINCETON, N.J.--Opinions about the impact of religion in America often 
change rapidly and dramatically, but the sense that it remains relevant to 
contemporary problems has been remarkably constant for the past 20 years. 
     In the 1990s there has been a surge of opinion that religion is losing 
its influence -- two out of every three people feel this way, according to 
surveys by the Gallup organization. 
     Only 28 percent see the influence of religion increasing. 
     As recently as 1990 only 48 percent of respondents felt religion's 
influence on America was in a downswing, while 33 percent said it was 
     It was a different story two generations ago.  In 1957, surveys said 
69 percent of the populace thought religion was increasing its influence 
and only 14 percent said it was losing ground. 
     Religion, like so many institutions, took a big hit during the 
turbulent 1970s and the pendulum swung quickly.  In 1970, amid the turmoil 
of the Vietnam War, 75 percent thought the influence of religion was waning 
     Young adults under 30 are among those most likely to say religion is 
losing its impact -- 80 percent now feel this way. 
     The sentiment tends to change rapidly, however, because those who are 
30 to 49 years of age are the most likely to feel religion is gaining 
momentum (33 percent).  People in this age group often are most active in 
the church as they bring their children to receive religious education. 
     While there are volatile shifts of opinion about the impact of 
religion, belief in its relevance to contemporary problems remains fairly 
constant.  Currently, 62 percent of the populace believes religion still 
can answer all or most of today's problems, a level of response that has 
shown no significant change over the past 20 years. 
     A much earlier survey taken in 1957 found that 82 percent of Americans 
thought religion was relevant to the times. 
     The belief that religion can solve today's problems increases as 
people grow older until it peaks among those who are 50 to 64 years old, 
with 70 percent holding positive views of religion's relevance. 
     Residents of the South (74 percent) and of small towns and rural areas 
(72 percent) are among those most likely to view religion as a contemporary 
problem solver.  Most skeptical of its efficacy are urban residents (56 
percent) and those who live in the East (56 percent) or West (49 percent). 
     More women than men believe in religion's relevance, by 68 percent to 
55 percent.  Protestants more often than Roman Catholics feel that religion 
can address today's issues (71 percent to 51 percent). 
     The findings are based on telephone interviews with a representative 
national sample of 3,040 men and women, ages 18 and older, conducted 
throughout 1994.  The margin of error could be 1 percentage point in either 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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