Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trends in Religious Fundamentalism

Reading various online sources, I see that many have impressions about whether religious fundamentalism or religious liberalism is increasing or on the decline. The General Social Survey, conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, has asked a representative sample of United States residents about their religious beliefs in every interview since 1972. In the early 1970s most responded that they had moderate beliefs and less than 20 percent claimed to hold liberal beliefs. From the early 1970s through the mid 1980s religious fundamentalism (or at least the proportion claiming to be fundamentalist) was on the rise and there was a substantial decline in moderates. Since that time, the proportion claiming to be liberal is increasing.

I'm not sure whether these trends actually represent real declines in the proportion holding fundamentalist beliefs (e.g. that the bible is the literal word of the creator) or if it reflects growing distaste for the "fundamentalist" label as it is now associated with religious extremism and intolerance. It's hardly scientific evidence, but I found identifying a blog that has a positive spin on "religious fundamentalism" to be difficult, while finding one that is religiously conservative is easy. I think the increase in the proportion reporting that they are liberal (despite the fact that this term is not especially popular) reflects real changes in beliefs.

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