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The Diffusion of Religious Independence

The Diffusion of Religious Independence

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The Diffusion of Religious Independence:Predictors of Dropping Out Over Time
Ryan T. CragunUniversity of Tamparyantcragun@gmail.comThis paper was originally part of my doctoral dissertation.  I owe adebt of gratitude to Rhys H. Williams, P. Neal Ritchey, and Steve Carlton-Ford for their helpful comments and suggestions.
Glenn Vernon (1968), in the late 1960s, proposed that scholars of religion should focus moreattention on religious independents (a.k.a. religious nones).  Some headway has been made in thispursuit over the intervening 40 years (Bromley 1988), but much of this work has been a-theoretical andfocused almost exclusively on the correlates of dropping out.  Researchers have discovered somevariables that correlate with dropping out of religious participation, including: being male, age, cohort,educational attainment, lower levels of religious service attendance, less orthodox religious beliefs, andpostponing marriage.  In this paper I examine these correlates in greater detail.  My primary focus is onthe changing relationship between these correlates and dropping out over time using the combined GSSdata from 1973-2004.  I find that dropping out of religion is an innovation, like other innovations(Rogers 2006), and that it is slowly spreading through U.S. society. I examine these trends in light of the secularization debate and argue that they reflect slow but steady secularization trends in the U.S.
Why do people dropout of religious participation?  Much of the existing research addressingthis question is geared toward discovering simple correlates of dropping out with the aim of predictingwho will leave (Hadaway and Roof 1988).  While scholars have found some correlates, many lacunaeremain in trying to answer this question.  First, much of the literature is a-theoretical; it describescharacteristics correlated with dropping out without providing clear rationales for why thosecharacteristics are or should associate with dropping out (Hadaway and Roof 1988; Roof andMcKinney 1987).  Secondly, there is little or no discussion of the changing characteristics of dropoutsover time (Condran and Tamney 1985)  Given the increasing percentages of dropouts in the U.S.(Kosmin, Mayer, and Keysar 2001), it is possible that the characteristics of dropouts or predictors of dropping out change over time.  This project attempts to fill primarily the second lacunae by providinga clear theoretical framework that helps, in part, explain why people drop out while examining thechanging relationship between dropping out and the correlates of dropping out over time.
Literature Review
Before I discuss the correlates of dropping out, let me first clarify the definitions I usethroughout this paper as they reflect my categories of interest.  As noted above, I am interested in thecorrelates of dropping out.  But what do I mean by dropping out?  There are a number of existing termsused to refer to people who leave religions, ranging from the relatively benign “disaffiliate” and“disidentifier” to the more value laden “deserter” and “defector.”  These terms refer to individuals wholeave a religion, but they do not necessarily specify where such individuals end up.  I am interested in

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