Neglecting the ‘nots’ in the Northwest: Irreligion as a facet of the study of religion Paper presented at the annual meeting

of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Rochester, New York, November, 2005 © Frank L. Pasquale, Ph.D. (flpasquale@comcast.net)
Abstract: A recent volume on Religion & Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone is approached as a case study in research on religion (and irreligion). The editors and contributors, scholars in religion, history, and sociology, set out to depict the religious terrain of the Northwest. This is characterized as the most unchurched and religiously unaffiliated region in the United States. The volume’s focus on religion, however, is defined in such a way that a substantially irreligious component in the regional culture is excluded from consideration. “Nones” and “seculars” are characterized as innovative seekers of the “sacred” and “spiritual.” This view is, however, incomplete. Evidence of “nones” and secular philosophical organizations in the region that substantially eschew the “religious,” “sacred,” or “spiritual” does not appear. The degree to which this approach is representative of religion research and the social sciences in general is considered. Implications for the language and concepts used to frame the study of “religion” are suggested.

There have been many conceptual, theoretical, historical, apologetic, critical, polemic, and philosophical treatments of “unbelief,” “irreligion,” and related topics. Direct empirical studies, however, are comparatively few—a fact that has been noted repeatedly (e.g., Vernon, 1968; Campbell, 1972; Caporale, 1971; Schumaker, 1993; Hunsberger, Pratt, and Pancer, 1996; Bainbridge, 2005). There are numerous reviews of empirical research on religion, the religious, and religiosity, but it is notable that there is no comprehensive summary of what available data do and do not reveal about the nature, antecedents, and correlates of affirmatively “nonreligious” or “irreligious” worldviews. Irreligion will be defined here as substantial or affirmative absence or rejection of religious ideas, institutions, and associated behavior (where religion is defined substantively with reference to matters theistic or theological, transcendental, or supernatural).1 Related domains have included religious doubt, skepticism, disbelief, unbelief, non-belief, skepticism, freethought, atheism, agnosticism, rationalism, philosophical naturalism, and (secular) humanism, among others. Those who are substantially or affirmatively irreligious, in such senses, will be referred to summarily as the nots. In the middle decades of last century, widespread expectation of inexorable secularization, or the retreat of religion and religiosity in “modernizing” societies, prompted a flurry of exploratory treatments of irreligion, unbelief, and related topics in psychology, sociology, and the study of religion (e.g., Marty, 1961 and 1964; Demerath and Thiessen, 1966; 1

Demerath, 1969 a and b; Caporale and Grumelli, 1971; Campbell, 1972 and 1977; Vrcan, 1972). Most of this work was conceptual and theoretical rather than empirical. Moreover, this never developed into a sustained or coherent line of inquiry. Amid religious resurgence in recent decades, particularly in the U. S., attention to a sociology of irreligion or psychology of unbelief has further waned from an already negligible level. Studies continue to appear intermittently (Jagodzinski and Greeley, 2001; Bainbridge, 2005). Data of varying relevance are embedded in survey research (e.g., Gallup, Pew, Barna, ARIS, GSS) and studies of religiosity or secularization (e.g., Norris and Inglehart, 2004; Smith and Denton, 2005). And directional or suggestive data can be culled from research on “nones,” the “unchurched,” and “apostates.” However, empirical research bearing directly on irreligion or the irreligious (as phenomena in their own right rather than as negative measures of the prevalence of religiosity) is quite limited in the behavioral and social sciences and in the scientific study of religion, particularly in the United States. Caporale’s observation in 1971 of an “appalling lack of empirical data on unbelief and. . .ignorance of what really obtains in the world of the proverbial man in the street” is echoed in 2005 by Bainbridge, who noted that [w]e know surprisingly little about Atheism from a social-scientific perspective. One would think that it would have been studied extensively in comparison with religiosity, but this is not the case. Historical studies exist (Campbell 1972; Turner 1985), chiefly written within the history of ideas, and there is a fairly large and disputatious literature in which Atheists and their opponents argue matters of belief. But systematic attempts to understand Atheism as a social or psychological phenomenon, employing rigorous theory and quantitative research methods, have been rare. (2005: 1) Here, a recent edited volume, Religion & Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone (Killen and Silk, 2004), is approached as a case study in the comparative neglect of irreligion. The ways in which irreligion is treated in one of the most highly unchurched regions of the U. S. offers insights into reasons for empirical neglect elsewhere in the behavioral and social sciences and the scientific study of religion, and what may be required to rectify this. Religion and Public Life in the Northwest: The None Zone2 is one of eight volumes in a “Religion by Region Series.” The stated purpose of the volume is to describe “how religion shapes, and is being shaped by, regional culture” in the Northwest (2004: 5). 2

The volume begins with the observation that [t]he defining feature of religion in the Pacific Northwest is that most of the population is ‘unchurched.’ Fewer people in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska affiliate with a religious institution than in any other region of the United States. More people here claim ‘none’ when asked their religious identification than in any other region of the United States. And, unlike any other region, the single largest segment of the Pacific Northwest’s population is composed of those who identify with a religious tradition but have no affiliation with a religious community. What’s more, this is not a late-breaking trend. The Pacific Northwest has pretty much always been this way, to the longstanding frustration and bewilderment of its religious leaders. (Killen, 2004: 9) Data are drawn from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS, 2001) and the Polis Center at Indiana University (based on the North American Religious Atlas and the Glenmary Research Center’s Religious Congregations and Membership Survey, 2000). These indicate that in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, 30.6 percent of the population are “No Religion/Humanist” and 62.8 percent are religiously “Unaffiliated/Uncounted” (2004: 22-23). These are substantially higher than national figures (at 19.6 and 40.6 percent, respectively). The Northwest is characterized as an “open religious environment” with “four clusters of religious communities” (Killen, 2004: 10, 14). These are: 1) “mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Reform and Conservative Jews” 2) “sectarian entrepreneurs” including “some older evangelical denominations and newer post-denominational groups” 3) “people of the Pacific Rim” including Native Americans and immigrants from Oceania and Asia, and 4) “the ‘secular but spiritual,’” constituting “most of the region’s population” and including two groups: a) “individuals who identify with a religious tradition but do not belong to one of its congregations,” and b) “the ‘Nones’ proper, those who in response to the question ‘What is your religious tradition, if any?’ answer ‘None’” (Killen, 2004: 14-17). 3

With respect to the two subgroups in category 4, it is stated that [n]either group is without religion. Even among the ‘Nones,’ only a small minority identify as atheist or agnostic. In fact, the vast majority of ‘Nones’ claim beliefs and attitudes more like than unlike those of persons inside churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. (Killen, 2004: 17) Chapters in The None Zone detail “mainline,” marginal, Pacific Rim, and “sectarian entrepreneurial” religious forms down to individual groups, congregations, and “entrepreneurs.” But with respect to those who profess no religious identity or affiliation, we learn only that “most ‘Nones’ in the Northwest and elsewhere are spiritually inclined, despite lacking meaningful ties to an established religious tradition” (Killen and Shibley, 2004: 41). In a chapter titled “Secular but Spiritual in the Pacific Northwest,” sociologist Mark Shibley questions whether it can “be assumed that people in the Pacific Northwest are less religious than other Americans?” His answer is: “Maybe not. Perhaps religious matters are simply experienced and expressed differently in this region” (Shibley, 2004: 139). While many Northwesterners are institutionally unencumbered, there is no reason to believe they are a-spiritual. Most people in the region who claim no religious preference (one-quarter of the region’s residents) and who do not appear on church rolls (a majority of the population) are, it can be argued, secular but spiritual. They encounter the sacred and cultivate spiritual lives outside mainstream religious institutions. (Shibley, 2004: 141) Shibley goes on to document signs of alternative religious and spiritual pathways, interests, and definitions of the “sacred” in the region. He cites, for example, signs of popularity in the region of books on “new spirituality,” “New Age,” metaphysical practices, and astrology, the presence of spiritualistic organizations and networks (e.g., Wiccan, neopagan, and other “earth-based religions”), and related public events. He also considers the religious attributes of “apocalyptic, anti-government millennialist” groups, such as “the Aryan 4

Nations, Christian Patriots, the Militia” and other survivalist groups that seem to thrive, in small but determined numbers, in the region. The strong cultural and political focus on ecology and environmentalism in the region is characterized in “spiritual” terms, as “nature religion” or “religious environmentalism.” Shibley devotes more than a third of the chapter to the topic, stating that [m]uch contemporary environmentalism in the Northwest is a religious system, not simply because it is sometimes dogmatic and moralistic but rather because its rituals and core beliefs distinguish between things sacred (wilderness) and things profane (all else, including people). (2004: 157) The resulting picture is that of a region characterized by a significant presence of people with no religious preference or affiliation, yet virtual absence of substantially or affirmatively non- or irreligious individuals. Rather, those who indicate no religious preference (the nones) are characterized as variously “spiritual” and in pursuit of “the sacred” in highly personal, idiosyncratic, or “entrepreneurial” ways. The irreligious in the Northwest are consigned to passing references to the fact that nones are not generally “atheists or agnostics.” There is little question that many or most individuals who indicate “no religious preference” in surveys are religious3 to one degree, or in one sense, or another, even when religion is defined substantively rather than functionally. This has long been known and repeatedly documented (e.g., Vernon, 1968; Kosmin and Lachman, 1993; Keysar, Mayer, and Kosmin, 2003; Hout and Fischer, 2003). There is also little question that much can be learned by viewing substantially secular movements and themes in Northwest regional culture (such as environmentalism) in terms of substantive or institutional religion. What is notable by its complete absence in The None Zone, however, is any consideration of resident nots on (or in) their own terms—those in the Pacific Northwest who are substantially or affirmatively “secular,” “nonreligious,” or “irreligious,” and who shy from the “holy,” “divine,” “sacred,” “spiritual,” or “transcendental.” This might be attributed to the fact that The None Zone is specifically concerned with “religion and public life” in the region, and is part of a “religion by region” series. If religion is defined narrowly, inattention to irreligion is understandable. But religion is not defined so narrowly here. Environmentalism, survivalism, anti-governmentalism, white supremacists, and virtually any degree or form of 5

spirituality, secular or supernatural, falls within its compass. Moreover, the volume’s subtitle, “The None Zone,” would tend to lead readers to expect a full understanding of what “None” means in the region. Not so, however. This oversight is particularly notable in a consideration of the region with the lowest levels of religious adherence, affiliation, or identification in the United States, a fact that is repeatedly acknowledged. In The None Zone, we are presented a broadly religious cultural construction of the Pacific Northwest, but with a curious blind spot.4 Signs of irreligion in the Northwest. Indications of substantial or affirmative irreligion in the Pacific Northwest are not negligible. Shibley reports (based on ARIS, 2001data) that 34 percent of nones in the Northwest characterize themselves as “somewhat religious” or “religious” (2004: 203). This leaves 66 percent who consider themselves “somewhat secular” or “secular.” Sixty-seven percent “agree somewhat” or “agree strongly” that “God exists.” This leaves 33 percent who “disagree somewhat” or “strongly” that “God exists.” Sixty-nine percent “agree somewhat” or “strongly” that “God performs miracles,” leaving 31 percent who disagree. Based on an estimate of 2.4 million nones in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska5 (defined in The None Zone as the Pacific Northwest), this means that an estimated 1.6 million consider themselves “secular” rather than “religious,” 800,000 disagree somewhat or strongly that “God exists,” and 750,000 disagree that “God performs miracles.” As Shibley notes, “secular” does not necessarily mean “not spiritual,” variously defined. However, data from the General Social Survey (NORC, 2005) indicate that 31.2 percent of nones in the United States consider themselves “not spiritual” (with an additional 29.7 percent reporting in as “slightly spiritual,” whatever this might mean6). The percentage of nones who are “not spiritual” is virtually the same as those who “don’t believe in God” (13.8 percent) or “don’t know if there is a God and. . . don’t think there is any way to find out” (18.7 percent).7 As other measures of (ir)religiosity suggest, numbers in the Pacific Northwest may well be higher than national estimates. But even at these levels, there are an estimated 750,000 nones in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington who consider themselves “not spiritual,” and an equal number who consider themselves a-theistic or agnostic.8 Other GSS data suggest that 61 percent of nones consider themselves “not religious” 9 and 40 percent consider themselves “extremely” or “very non-religious”10 (or 1.46 million and 960,000 Northwesterners, respectively). National GSS data also indicate that substantial percentages of nones do not report a variety of other religious beliefs or behaviors11: Percentage of nones stating: 6

No Belief in life after death Belief in miracles Belief in heaven Belief in hell Private prayer Meditation 45.0

Never

No, definitely not 36.6 32.1 39.6

No, probably not 27.7 24.2 25.5

50.0 66.5

GSS data on measures of religiosity by geographical area are limited by small sample sizes for the “Pacific” region.12 Further, “Pacific” includes populous California, whose religious complexion is distinguishable from the Pacific Northwest. With these caveats in mind, these data also suggest the presence of atheist, agnostic, nonreligious, and non-spiritual residents: Average percentage across regions Don’t believe in God (atheist) No way to find out (agnostic) Extremely non-religious Very non-religious Not spiritual Slightly spiritual 2.5 4.0 3.5 4.4 12.0 25.7 5.8 5.8 5.6 12.2 28.7 Percentage of Pacific respondents 3.7 63 19 20 22 52 Pacific cell size 41

Excluding California, Northwest respondents would likely yield even higher rates of irreligiosity and non-spirituality.13 At least on the basis of self-description and reported beliefs and behavior, by no means all Northwest nones or “seculars” or residents are “religious” or “spiritual.” Based on in-depth interviews and participant observation being conducted by this author in the region, many explicitly reject or find little personal meaning in notions of the “sacred,” “holy,” “divine,” “transcendental,” or “spiritual.”14 Indeed, many make explicit reference to the perceived nonreligiosity of the Northwest as an attractive and comforting aspect of the regional culture. Available data indicate that the majority of irreligious individuals are not affiliated with organizations pertaining to explicitly irreligious philosophies or worldviews. In the Northwest, as in the U. S. as a whole, only a very small percentage of nots are formally affiliated with

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organizations that embrace or advocate irreligious worldviews.15 But there does exist an institutional tip to this “iceberg” population, much like the outcroppings of religious and “secular spirituality” identified by Shibley. Alongside the neo-pagan collectives and variously-defined “spiritual” groups and movements in the Northwest considered by Shibley are local and regional skeptical, humanist, rationalist, freethought, atheist, and other secular or irreligious groups and societies. A representative, but not exhaustive, 16 list of these includes:                Corvallis Secular Society (Oregon) Humanist Association of Salem (Oregon) Humanists of Greater Portland (Oregon) Humanists of The Rogue Valley (Oregon) Kol Shalom, Community for Humanistic Judaism (Portland) Lane County Secular Society (Oregon) Oregonians for Rationality United States Atheists (Portland) Humanist Society of South Puget Sound (Washington) Humanists of North Puget Sound (Washington) Humanists of Washington (Seattle) Secular Jewish Circle of Puget Sound (Washington) The Society for Sensible Explanations (Washington) Inland Northwest Freethought Society (Spokane, Washington) and similar organizations on college and university campuses in the region, such as Secular Student Associations,17 Campus Freethought Alliances (now Center for Inquiry On Campus),18 and others.19

Numbers of active participants and names on membership lists are small (in the tens or hundreds for each). But many of these organizations attract the occasional participation or temporary involvement (e.g., at meetings, lectures, and special events) of many more individuals who are not affiliated with organizations pertinent to their irreligious worldviews.20 Many of these organizations produce their own newsletters, hold regular meetings, socialize and collaborate with other organizations, and engage in community initiatives and social causes. Many sponsor lecture series on topics germane to their philosophies or worldviews for members and the public. Some produce publications other than newsletters (e.g., Humanism for Kids, Why Evolution?, and Stargazer magazine, focusing on humanistic child-rearing and education, from the “Family of Humanists” in Salem, Oregon). One provides psychological and counseling services tailored for the irreligious (“Humanist Counseling Services” in Portland, Oregon, and SMART [Self-Management And Recovery Training] support groups for non-religious individuals struggling with alcoholism or other addictions—an

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alternative to 12-Step programs involving surrender to a “higher power” with groups in Seattle, Washington, as well). Alongside the “Conversations with God” or pagan websites cited by Shibley are websites for many of these local organizations. Additionally, relevant national websites and chatrooms are frequented and mentioned by the affiliated irreligious in the region. Links for many national websites are found on those of regional organizations. Some of these represent national organizations with which local and regional groups are affiliated, or of which Northwest nots are members (whether or not they participate in local groups). Again, a representative but not exhaustive list includes:            American Atheists American Humanist Association Atheistnet.com; Atheistsingles.com Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) Council for Secular Humanism and the Center(s) for Inquiry Freedom from Religion Foundation Godless Americans Political Action Committee Infidels.org The Secular Web The Skeptic Society Society for Humanistic Judaism

Additionally, email and other Internet facilities are actively used media for conversation and dissemination of information among individual nots, particularly in more remote areas with limited population density such as Alaska (and British Columbia). Multiple postings and exchanges occur daily among individuals in the region who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, skeptic, rationalist, nonreligious, secular, secular humanist, humanist, or “brights.”21 Alongside “Harmonic Convergence(s)” and pagan convocations cited by Shibley in the Northwest, there are regional conferences, lecture series, cable access television talk-shows,22 and special events focusing on scientific, social, and political issues.23 A Northwest Secular Symposium (June 22, 2002, in Portland; one of several held in the past decade) drew some 120 participants from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho (and featured a Philadelphia-based secular activist, Margaret Downey, as keynote speaker). A regional meeting in Seattle (July 9-10, 2004) of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation drew some 150 participants (with presentations by United States Representative, D-Washington, Jim McDermott, and Saturday Night Live comedienne, Julia Sweeney). 9

The scale of irreligious organizations and events is modest. This is more a measure of the reluctance of irreligious individuals to affiliate specifically on the basis of their worldviews than of their numbers (as indicated by the survey data cited earlier). Interviews and observational research being conducted by this author in the region indicate that patterns of social, organizational, and community engagement among the irreligious tend to be on a causespecific basis. Many are active in multiple organizations concerning a wide range of local, national, and global issues of keen concern to them, but they are active as concerned citizens rather than as irreligious persons. The much larger population of nots who are unaffiliated with irreligious organizations in the region is suggested by letters published in metropolitan newspapers (e.g., The Oregonian in Portland, Seattle Times or Post-Intelligencer, the Vancouver, Washington, Columbian) by readers who identify themselves as “humanist,” “secular,” or “nonreligious,” but whose names do not appear on the membership rolls of relevant area organizations.24 An “Atheist/Humanist” section at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, is a mere three shelves compared with many aisles devoted to religion, the occult, New Age, spirituality, and the like (cited by Shibley at the same store). However, there was sufficient demand to warrant establishment of such a section within the past several years, and books move off these shelves briskly.25 Such a section is no doubt rare in bookstores throughout the United States, providing further indication of the existence and activity of the irreligious population in the Pacific Northwest. Separately, the (nonreligious) “Philosophy” and “Ethics” sections at Powell’s are large and well-trafficked. There is, however, no reference to such book sections, organizations, networks, meetings, websites, cable TV programs, publications, or events in The None Zone, to say nothing of the greater number of irreligious non-affiliates. While this is particularly notable with regard to the most “secular” region in the United States, it is hardly unique. Rather, this may reflect a broader pattern in the behavioral and social sciences and the scientific study of religion. The place of irreligion in the social sciences. A fuller consideration of the treatment of irreligion in the behavioral and social sciences may be found elsewhere (Pasquale, n.d.[a]). Here, a few observations must suffice to indicate that the approach taken in The None Zone is emblematic of, rather than unique in, the social sciences and the scientific study of religion. The statements by Caporale and Bainbridge quoted at the outset of this paper can easily be multiplied concerning the lack of direct empirical research on forms of substantial or 10

affirmative irreligion. One indication is to be found in the categorical structure of inquiry in the social sciences and the scientific study of religion. For example, the first 20-year index (19611981) of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion listed only 9 of 562 titles of varying relevance to the irreligious, including “apostates” or “religious defectors,” “nones” or “nonaffiliates,” the “unchurched,” and “secularists.” Apart from “Secularization,” no summary categories on irreligion or related concepts appeared. Rather, most of these studies appeared under such categories as “Religiosity,” “Religious behavior,” and “Socioeconomic status and religion.” References and index entries pertaining to irreligion (such as “atheism,” “agnosticism,” “nonreligious,” “irreligious,” “naturalism,” “religious doubt” or “skepticism,” “disbelief” or “unbelief”) are extremely rare in both mainstream texts and those devoted to research on religion in the behavioral and social sciences. There has been some increase in attention to topics such as the “unchurched,” “apostates” (or religious “defection,” “disaffiliation,” or “switching”), “nones,” and religious doubt in the past two decades. But direct focus on irreligious individuals and populations continues to scant (whether unaffiliated with pertinent organizations or affiliated, unlabeled or labeled—such as atheists, agnostics, religious skeptics, rationalists, humanists, and freethinkers, among others). For example, of some 150 articles that appeared from 1989 to 2004 in the annual publication, Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, one title referred to “religious doubt” and another, to “belief and unbelief.” Additionally, one longitudinal study, five articles on secularization, and twelve on religiosity provided data of varying relevance to irreligion. Among the latter were three articles on religiosity and secularization in Europe that indicated greater attention to atheist, agnostic, scientific, and other nonreligious worldviews among European social scientists (Halman and Pettersen, 2001 and 2002; Billiet, et.al, 2003; Dogan, 2003). Yet, in two articles concerning future directions for religion research, no mention is made of irreligion or any related topic (Moberg, 2000; Dy-Liacco, et al. 2003). Research on the “unchurched,” “apostates,” and “nones” may provide directional or suggestive data about relatively less religious or “nonreligious” individuals. But each of these categories includes substantively religious, as well as irreligious, individuals to varying degrees. The substantially or affirmatively irreligious are embedded within these categories, and rarely are they singled out for close scrutiny. A notable exception to this is the work of Bruce Hunsberger and his Canadian colleagues, who, under the rubric of “apostasy” and “doubt,” have provided valuable insights into substantially non/irreligious adolescents and young adults (e.g., Altemeyer and Hunsberger, 1997; Hunsberger, 1980 and 1983; Hunsberger, McKenzie, Pratt, 11

and Pancer, 1993; Hunsberger, Pratt, and Pancer, 2001and 2002). It is also notable that without his contributions, the body of data on the non/irreligious summarized in perhaps the most comprehensive review of empirical research to date in the psychology of religion would have been substantially reduced (Spilka, Hood, Hunsberger, and Gorsuch, 2003). Survey research on organized irreligious populations has been so rare that one of the most frequently cited, still, is a survey of members of an atheist organization in the U. S.— published in 1932 (Vetter and Green). One is hard-pressed to find systematic surveys of the memberships of atheist, agnostic, humanist, secular humanist, rationalist, freethought, or other irreligious organizations in the research literature. Shermer (2000) reported on a survey of the membership of his Skeptic Society and Black (1983) makes reference to an Australian humanist group’s self-assessment (which has proven virtually impossible to secure). A handful of sociological analyses of contemporary irreligious organizations or movements have appeared (e.g., Demerath and Thiessen, 1962; Demerath, 1969b; in Australia, Black, 1983). But Demerath’s observation in 1969 that “there is little scholarly literature to rely upon” concerning these phenomena, and that what there is tends to be “more historical than sociological” remains true today. Campbell’s (1972, 1977) analysis of secularist and rationalist movements in the U. S. and the U. K. remains a significant contribution to a “sociology of irreligion,” but this relied upon historical sources rather than fresh empirical data on contemporary groups. In a brief research note, Campbell (1965), reported preliminary data on membership composition in the British Humanist Association. Drawing from both historical and contemporary source materials, Susan Budd supplied valuable insights into atheist, agnostic, and humanist societies in England (1967a, 1967b, and 1977). The greatest vein of relevant information may be found in the large and rapidly growing literature on religiosity and its antecedents, correlates, and consequences (e.g., Batson, Shoenrade, and Ventis, 1993; Koenig, McCullough, and Larson, 2001; Smith and Denton, 2005). The degree of relevance to irreligion, however, varies greatly depending on sampling techniques, research aims, and methodology. In much, if not most, of this research, samples of substantially or affirmatively irreligious individuals are small. In order to generate sufficient sample or experimental cell sizes, irreligious individuals are frequently aggregated with relatively-less-religious others, effectively creating samples of nones (Schumaker, 1993). As such, they may provide data that are directional or suggestive, but not necessarily representative of the substantially or affirmatively irreligious. Again, systematic study of “labeled” irreligious populations (e.g., atheists, secular humanists, rationalists) are extremely rare. 12

Survey research that includes, or consists of, questions concerning religiosity produce data on the incidence of individuals who do not report specific religious beliefs, behavior, or affiliation (e.g., the American Religious Identification Survey, the General Social Survey, World Values Survey, and surveys by the Gallup Organization, Pew Forum, Barna Group, and others). Primary interest, use, and outcomes of this work, however, are largely concerned with incidence of forms of religiousness. Data collection and theory development have not aimed to produce a rich or detailed understanding of forms of irreligiosity (as noted by Bainbridge, 2005, regarding atheism). Rather, measures of religious belief and behavior, or their absence, have been employed in broad tests of “secularization theory” (e.g., Norris and Inglehart, 2004) or “rational choice theory” (Jagodzinki and Greeley, 2001). The de facto result has been a comparatively undifferentiated view of irreligious worldviews and the people who hold them. Differentiation of forms of religion and religiosity has been elaborate and detailed. Typologies and research categories concerning the irreligious, however, have typically been very broad and based on theological or culturally commonplace distinctions rather than drawn from detailed empirical study (e.g., “unbeliever,” “atheist/agnostic”). Others are the product of survey research, but tend to aggregate very different types of individuals and idea-systems at the lower end of a religiosity continuum (e.g., “the unchurched,” “nones,” “seculars”). The correlates of a wide range of degrees and types of religiosity have been studied (e.g., “maturity,” “intrinsic” and “extrinsic,” “quest,” “committed” and “consensual,” “fundamentalist” and “liberal,” forms of “seekership,” and so on). But there has been little parallel differentiation or study of forms of irreligion (Pasquale, n.d. [b]). What remains to be known? It might be asked whether there is anything to be learned or known about the irreligious. Questions that remain largely or wholly unanswered include:  Why, when religiosity is so prevalent and its psychological or health rewards widely promulgated, do some people adopt and remain committed to irreligious worldviews?  What distinguishable nonreligious or irreligious worldviews can be identified (“on the ground” rather than in schools of philosophy or theology)? What are their shared and differentiating attributes? How widely is each held? What are the antecedents, correlates, and effects of different types?  Is it meaningful to distinguish between “mature” or “immature,” “positive” or “negative,” “critical” or “affirmative,” “enlightened” or “fundamentalist” forms of irreligion? If so, what are the antecedents, correlates, and consequences of such 13

orientations (such as family background, prior religious experience, physical and mental health, personality characteristics, life-satisfaction, social adjustment, or moral/ethical ideas and behavior)?  What are the patterns of social behavior and organizational affiliation among the irreligious? To what extent is there evidence of reduced social need among such individuals (as noted, for example, by Bainbridge, 2005)? How widely distributed is such reduced sociality? What developmental, personality, or philosophical factors account for patterns of social behavior among irreligious individuals?  Are there identifiable differences between irreligious individuals who affiliate with organizations pertinent to their worldviews and those who do not? Explaining the neglect. The comparative size and cultural or political significance of the irreligious population may provide part of the explanation for empirical neglect (particularly in the U. S.). However, as Campbell (1972) observed, in absolute terms, numbers of the irreligious are not negligible, either in the U. S. or in countries with less religious populations.26 Relatively weak organization of the irreligious (as irreligious) may play a part. However, while specific irreligious movements and organizations have shifted over time, some have always existed since the emergence of the behavioral and social sciences (e.g., atheist, humanist, rationalist, secularist). They have been notably under-researched. Further, one of the largest accessible populations, that of irreligious scientists, has been studied only superficially. Methodological lethargy may play a part. College students are among the most heavily researched populations, in part because they are conveniently at hand in the academy. Fieldwork is more demanding, especially with dispersed target populations. Yet researchers in many disciplines do go into the field or collaborate with a variety of institutions outside the academy (e.g., hospitals, clinics, churches) to study religiosity, religious organizations, and even small-scale sects, “cults,” and new religious movements. More would seem to be involved. It may be that given both population size and weak organization, the impact (e.g., culturally, politically, economically) of the irreligious may be felt to be negligible, or the costbenefit ratio not sufficient to warrant the expenditure entailed in mounting more detailed research. Yet it is frequently suggested that the irreligious tend to be over-represented among the “cultural elite” (in the media, science, higher education, or the legal professions), lending them a degree of influence much greater than their numbers.

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Campbell has suggested that the irreligiosity of many behavioral and social scientists may have produced a “lens in the eye” phenomenon. Irreligiosity is taken for granted by many as a baseline “scientific” stance from which to study other phenomena, but not recognized as an object of study in its own right. There are some signs that naturalistic or other nonreligious worldviews are diminished or trivialized by some scholars—even “secular” ones (much as religion has been). Further, attention to non/irreligious worldviews seems, to a considerable extent, to have been shunted to polemic or philosophical debates concerning “science and religion.” A long-standing reluctance to focus empirical attention on religion or irreligion may be attributed to an early assumption that the meta-empirical “content” of religion placed it outside the scope of scientific inquiry. This was accompanied by an assumption that the deeply personal significance of such matters rendered scientists incapable of “objective” inquiry into them. However, even in the midst of a notable relaxation, if not outright dismissal, of such sentiments accompanying a recent surge of interest in the scientific study of religion (Ebaugh, 2002), forms of irreligion remain conspicuously undifferentiated and unstudied. Boredom and curiosity may be involved: newly emerging (or eccentric or extreme or violent) religious sects or cults are perhaps more novel and intriguing than, for example, “Enlightenment-style” worldviews, widely considered passé in “postmodern” intellectual circles. However, it has been in both periods of apparent secularization and religious resurgence that we find little direct empirical focus on forms of irreligion and the irreligious. Cultural factors may be at work. A noticeable propensity for European researchers to focus somewhat more attention on irreligious individuals and worldviews may reflect a greater prevalence and historical salience of such views than in the United States. This said, the volume and nature of direct empirical and theoretical attention to the irreligious on both sides of the Atlantic has been comparatively limited (to the best of this author’s knowledge). A deep-rooted Western dichotomous view of human affairs as either secular or religious may be involved. Such a division is noticeable in the structure of inquiry in the behavioral and social sciences. In the secular domain (often referred to as “mainstream”), the overwhelming focus has been on aspects of human psychology and social behavior without reference to (substantive) religion or religiosity. In much of the research on religion and religiosity, irreligion is approached in relatively undifferentiated terms (as the absence of selected signs of religiosity or particular forms of religion—typically Christian). Non/irreligious worldviews and

15

related phenomena tend not to be recognized as direct objects of empirical inquiry on either “side.” The structure of inquiry. Another explanation may rest with the notion of religion itself, and particularly, its substantive/functional polysemy. Religion is defined broadly enough in The None Zone to include secular individuals and groups said to exhibit religious or spiritual attributes, but not in such a way as to include substantially or affirmatively irreligious individuals and organizations. Phenomena that lend themselves to analysis as though they were substantively religious (e.g., environmentalism and survivalist, anti-governmental, or white supremacist groups) are objects of study. But those whose beliefs or behavior may lend themselves less to substantively-religious analysis are excluded from view. This phenomenon is, once again, not unique to this volume. On the one hand, the study of religion in the social sciences is customarily defined in substantive or institutional terms. This is most often with respect to the “sacred,” “holy” or “spiritual,” theistic or supernatural beliefs, particular behaviors, and/or explicit denominational or institutional religious affiliation. Clearly, individuals or organizations that reflect substantial or affirmative rejection or absence of religion and the religious (in such substantive senses) fall outside the perimeter of this definition. Narrowly defined, the empirical study of religion does not encompass irreligion or the irreligious. On the other hand, religion is frequently defined in more inclusive or functional terms. Here, the religious is broadly conceived as collective social consciousness that reflects and unites a moral community (Durkheim, 1915), “systems of orientation” to “objects of devotion” (Fromm, 1955), motivational symbol systems (Geertz, 1966), human intersubjective consciousness that transcends the biological (or “invisible religion,” Luckmann, 1967), “awareness and interest in the continuing, recurrent, permanent problems of human existence” (Yinger, 1970: 33), intensive human commitment (as in “implicit religion,” Bailey, 1997 and 1998), “alterity” or a “primordial sense of ‘otherness’” (Csordas, 2004), and so on. From such perspectives, to be human is to be, in one fashion or another, religious. As Fromm notes, “if we are referring to religion in its widest sense. . .then every human being is religious” (1955: 157). In this sense, all human manifestations of ultimate concern, motivational symbolism, existential awareness, intensive commitment, significance, or special devotion may fall within the compass of “religion research.” On the basis of such inclusive definitions of religion, Yinger (1970), for example, views Comte’s Positivism, Freud’s psychoanalytic school, and Marxism as “secular religions.” 16

Swatos (1996) views environmentalism in Iceland and Bailey (1997) views English pub life as “implicit religion.” Bellah (1970) views all of American society as permeated by “civil religion,” and so on. Greil and Robbins (1994) note that many secular phenomena and institutions have been viewed as though they were religions or religious, including business, sports, politics, therapeutic groups, medicine, and social movements. In their volume on “quasi-religions” and “para-religions,” this approach is applied to psychotherapy, witchcraft, occultism, Twelve-Step groups, astrology, A Course in Miracles, the New Age movement, and twelve avant-garde artists, among others. Strangely, however, from the vantage of both exclusive substantive/institutional and inclusive functional views of religion, affirmative irreligiosity—individual or organized— remains conspicuously absent as an object of direct empirical attention. From the narrow perspective, it is, as Campbell noted (1972), often excluded by definition. From the broad perspective, it is—at least theoretically—enveloped within the religious (qua human) but rarely identified or studied as a distinct form or manifestation of the (functionally or inclusively) religious. This presents something of a conceptual Catch-22 with regard to irreligion. The kinds of individuals, organizations, and worldviews described earlier are orphans not only between the secular focus of mainstream social science and the overwhelmingly substantive focus of the scientific study of religion, but between the substantive and functional definitions of religion. Neglect of the nots in The None Zone may well reflect a foundational flaw in the structure of inquiry into something called religion. The Euro-American history, present culture, and religious ethos of the Pacific Northwest, broadly defined, can hardly be satisfactorily understood without attention to the substantial population of individuals who conceive of themselves and their worldviews as nonreligious, irreligious, religiously indifferent, or philosophically naturalistic, and not spiritually oriented in any substantial sense. In the closing pages of The None Zone, Oregon’s “Death with Dignity [physicianassisted suicide] Act” in Oregon is taken up. In a long and very public debate, organized opposition of “Catholics and conservative evangelical Christians” was met by [a] coalition of moderates, liberals, and libertarians, organized as the ‘Don’t Let ‘Em Shove Their Religion Down Your Throat Committee’. . . . The campaign portrayed religion as an obstacle to individual freedom. (Killen, 2004: 176).

17

Supporters of the measure are characterized only as “a new religious cluster that is growing in strength,” a “secular but spiritual population,” and “spiritual environmental cluster” with an “emerging aesthetic and theology that situates the individual within nature and human life within planetary life” (Killen, 2004: 177-178). It is in issues such as this that the distinctive moral, ethical, philosophical, and political presence of the irreligious population is seen and felt. No reference, however, is made to the role of an “irreligious cluster” in The None Zone. For a full understanding of the region, irreligion must be recognized as a facet of the investigation of human existential, philosophical, moral/ethical, and “ultimate” concerns. Either the perimeter of religion, broadly defined, needs to be widened to encompass the irreligious (on and in their own terms) or the latter must be treated as a distinctive, but relevant, addendum to the consideration of religion, narrowly defined. For a comprehensive understanding of the worldviews that shape the religious terrain of Northwest culture, the nots warrant investigation side by side with the nones, the substantively religious, and the metaphysically spiritual. This is equally true of the social sciences and religion research in general. Parting thought. From the broadest perspective, we may be hampered by the language and concepts that frame and guide what it is we study. In the endeavor to understand human approaches to finding and creating “existential” meaning, purpose, and coherence, religion and the religious are problematic. Even where inclusive or functional definitions of these terms ostensibly frame analysis, phenomena are habitually viewed in substantively religious terms. What may be needed is a lexical and conceptual framework that encompasses, and confers epistemological and ontological legitimacy to, both religious and non/irreligious, supernatural and naturalistic, existential meaning systems (and associated behavior). In the absence of such a framework, the non- or irreligious seem destined to remain empirically neglected or reconstituted in substantively religious terms. Due to its long history and deep roots in the Western mind, the concept of religion, whether compressed in substantive or expanded in functionalist terms, limits our view of human approaches to existential wondering, coherence, purpose, and related behavior.27 This limits our science, as well. Ninian Smart (1969 and 1995) employed worldview to encompass both religious and nonreligious, supernatural and naturalistic, systems. This approach enabled him to devote attention to such idea-systems and institutions as alternative meaning systems, each on their own terms. Together with such (inadequate) terms as “belief-system,” “philosophy,” or “lifestance,” this represents weak movement in a productive direction. What seems to be 18

required is a more profound realignment of the lexical and conceptual parameters of “religion research” (Pasquale, n.d. [c]). Short of this, our theoretical conceptions and empirical attention may habitually lapse back to narrow substantive definitions of religion that exclude the irreligious, or to broad functionalist views that blur meaningful differences among distinguishable phenomena. And the nots will remain empirically neglected or invisible, whether in the Pacific Northwest or elsewhere.

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spirituality: Unfuzzying the fuzzy,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 36 (4): 549-564. Zinnbauer, Brian J., and Kenneth I. Pargament. 2000. “Capturing the meanings of religiousness and spirituality: One way down from a definitional Tower of Babel,” Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 12: 23-54. Notes

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Some have restricted irreligion to the active, hostile, or “alienative” rejection of institutionalized religion (most notably, Campbell, 1972 and 1977). This restriction will not be observed here. Irreligion and the irreligious encompasses substantial or affirmative absence or rejection of substantive religiosity, whether neutral, positive/alternative/affirmative, or negative/critical/hostile/alienative/anti-religious in character. As these terms are used here, irreligion and the irreligious may be more fully defined with reference to those who a) deliberately eschew, affirmatively reject, or exhibit substantial absence of or indifference to theistic, transcendental, or supernatural ideas or worldviews, and b) do not identify themselves or actively affiliate with “traditions” or institutions that embrace such worldviews, but c) may hold alternative worldviews (e.g., “naturalistic”) exhibiting some degree of conscious formulation and coherence. 2 For convenience, this volume will be referred to hereafter as The None Zone. 3 In place of repeated use of quotation marks, italics will be used to when referring to words as words (to be defined), or when a word’s meaning is ambiguous or polysemous. 4 In a recently published overview of the “Religion and Public Life” volumes, series editor Mark Silk (2005) reaffirms the “secular” distinctiveness of the Pacific Northwest. He notes that
1

[i]n the Pacific Northwest, 63 percent of the people are unaffiliated or unaccounted, according to the religious institutions, but only 31 percent of the people say they have no religion if you ask them directly. . . (2005: 266) Elsewhere, he states that America’s secular frontier is, as it has always been, the Pacific Northwest— which is why we subtitled our volume on that region “The None Zone.” But the denizens of the None Zone do not lack for a regional civil religion. It is called environmentalism, and it hearkens to the gospel of biodiversity. Here let me call attention to a couple of facts. The first is that the least churched state in the nation is Oregon, where two-thirds of the population is unaffiliated or uncounted. The second is that Oregon is the only state in the nation with an assisted suicide law—in fact, where assisted suicide was approved by a popular referendum. Coincidence? I think not. So the lack of institutional religious ties suggests a certain moral slackness on the part of Oregonians, at least by the standards of traditional religious instruction. But it is critical to recognize that this does not mean that Oregonians have simply adopted a language of technological pragmatism when it comes to death and dying. Despite the lack of institutional religious authority, these are matters that elicit, as they do for most people, spiritual convictions. On the website for the Death with Dignity Fund website [sic], for example, one Oregonian wrote, ‘I know the level of participation in life—mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally—that I believe I need to continue as a valuable and contributing member of earth’s family. I feel very strongly about preserving the right to make my final, very private choice of leaving this beautiful planet in peace and dignity.’ To be sure, not everyone in Oregon sees things this way. Specifically, the Pacific Northwest is home to a sizable and growing minority of evangelical Protestants who regard themselves, correctly, as the counterculture in the region. And given the culture’s prevailing ethos, it should not be surprising that it is only in the Pacific Northwest that a majority of evangelicals say they are against environmentalism. (2005: 267) The view afforded by The None Zone is reprised. “Only” some 3 million (of 10 million) people “say they have no religion,” environmentalism is the region’s “civil religion,” and “spiritual convictions,” at least those triggered by such topics such as death, are prevalent. A “sizable and growing” minority of Evangelical Christians is noted, but no reference is made to the substantial irreligious minority. Self-described Evangelicals make up only 1 percent of the Oregon population and less than .5 percent in Washington (based on ARIS data). Based on other sources, Wellman (2004) estimates that 5 percent are “entrepreneurial evangelicals” (independent of established churches), and 23 percent identify themselves with some form of evangelical Christian group. Those professing no religion who describe themselves as secular, not religious, not spiritual, atheist or agnostic represent an estimated 8 to 12 percent of the populations of these states, and those simply indicating no religion, 24 percent (based on ARIS and GSS data).

The population estimate for all three states in 2003 was 10,340,000, with Alaska at 648,800, Oregon at 3,559,600, and Washington at 6,131,400. (Source: Population Division, U. S. Census Bureau, “Annual Estimates of the Population for the United States.” Release date, December 18, 2003; revised, May 11, 2004.) Based on ARIS 2001 data, an estimated 21percent of Oregonians and 25 percent of Washingtonians are nones (professing non-religious/irreligious identities or no religious identification/affiliation ). Alaska was not included in the study due to research costs, but data from other sources indicate that Alaskans are equally unchurched or religiously unaffiliated (e.g., Hale, 1977 and 1980; Glenmary Research Center, 2000). For example, estimates of religious “non-adherents” based on membership reports from 149 religious bodies indicate that Oregon, Washington, and Alaska are among the four states with the lowest levels of religious adherence at 31, 33, and 34 percent, respectively (Glenmary Research Center, 2000). Employing a conservative estimate of 20 percent nones in Alaska, in ARIS terms, the total number of estimated nones in the region is 23.3 percent of the estimated regional population in 2003, or some 2.4 million people. 6 The meanings of “spirituality” are complex and highly variable (e.g., Zinnbauer, et al., 1997; Zinnbauer and Pargament, 2000). They range from a distinctly earth-bound and nonsupernatural sense of awe or gratitude or connectedness to a substantively religious experience of the divine, and much in between. 7 The GSS item concerning spirituality (SPRTPRSN) appeared in the 1998 survey and asked “To what extent do you consider yourself a spiritual person . . . very spiritual, moderately spiritual, slightly spiritual, not spiritual?” The number of self-identified nones (RELIG, or religious identification) was 192 respondents. The item concerning peoples' belief in God (GOD) appeared in surveys in 1988-91, 1993, 1994, and 1998. The total number of nones in this cumulative sample was 774 respondents. It should also be noted that, apart from nones, the GSS data indicated that 15 percent of individuals in the U. S. considered themselves “not religious” and 12 percent considered themselves “not spiritual.” In the Northwest, this would mean minimum estimates of 1.5 million who profess to be “not religious” and 1.2 million who profess to be “not spiritual.” 8 Based on the estimate of 2.4 million nones in the Pacific Northwest given earlier (Note 5). 9 The GSS item (RELPERSN) asked respondents in the 1998 survey, “To what extent do you consider yourself a religious person? Are you. . .very religious, moderately religious, slightly religious, not religious at all?” The number of nones sampled was 192 respondents. 10 The GSS item (FEELREL) asked respondents in the 1988-1991 and 1998 surveys, “Would you describe yourself as. . .extremely/very/somewhat religious, neither religious nor non-religious, somewhat/very/extremely non-religious?” The sample of nones was 247 respondents. An additional 12.6 percent professed to be “somewhat religious” and 9.6 percent were “neither religious nor non-religious.” One wonders what these terms and phrases mean to respondents. For example, does “neither religious nor non-religious” reflect mere indecision, a thoroughgoing and affirmative indifference to religion or personal religiosity, or something else? 11 GSS mnemonics for each of these questions are POSTLIFE, MIRACLES, HEAVEN, HELL, PRIVPRAY, and MEDITATE. 12 Cell sizes for Pacific respondents who are also nones are too small to be meaningful. 13 ARIS data indicate fewer “nones” (19 percent) and substantially more Roman Catholics (32 percent), for example, in California than in Oregon (at 21 and 14 percent) or Washington (at 25 and 20 percent, respectively). 14 Some may make uneasy reference to or use of the term “spiritual,” but with careful qualification of the non-religious and non-supernatural meaning they attach to it. 15 Available estimates place affiliates of irreligious organizations in the low hundreds of thousands, at best. This is a very small proportion of substantially or affirmatively irreligious individuals in the U. S., who number in the millions (even on the basis of the most stringent criteria). In the Northwest, affiliates may number in the thousands, at best, while the irreligious number in the many hundreds of thousands, as noted in the text. 16 In Alaska, there is a representative of American Atheists and an informal Internetwork, but apparently no free-standing group, in part due to low population density and distances involved. A free-standing secular humanist discussion group was formed in Anchorage in 2000, but met monthly for only two years. Based on personal communication with the leader of this group, as of October, 2004, Anchorage humanists interested in group affiliation were participating, instead, in a weekly Sunday forum (prior to normal services) at the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship “where the minister is very welcoming to Humanists.” “Another group that has a large number of Humanist members is Alaskans for Peace and Justice,” which, among other things, mobilized in opposition to the U. S. war in Iraq. A pattern of causespecific organizational involvement is characteristic of the irreligious. Although Killen and Silk (2004) do not include Idaho in their definition of the Northwest, the regional irreligious community customarily does. Idaho-based nots often appear at regional events in Seattle or Portland, and Washington or Oregon-based nots sometimes appear at Idaho events. Idaho-based organizations include Humanists of Idaho and Idaho Atheists, Inc., both in Boise. 17 Affiliates of the American Humanist Association. 18 Affiliates of the Council for Secular Humanism. 19 To these may be added organizations that hover between the secular and the religious, and that count substantially irreligious participants among their members, such as the Ethical Culture Society (Seattle) and many Unitarian Universalist fellowships in the region.
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The founder of a local (secular) humanistic Judaism group indicated in a personal communication that she has been frustrated over the years by the substantial number of irreligious Jews who express support for a “secular philosophy of Judaism” or a nonreligious approach to Jewish culture, but who are not members because they are “not joiners.” Some appear for special events (such as secular Seders or Yom Kippur “services”) or participate in particular social or community initiatives. On this basis, she estimates that were such individuals to join as members, the household count would be four or five hundred rather than 73 (as of September, 2005). 21 This refers to an attempt, originating in California, to do for the irreligious what “gay” has done for homosexuals. See, for example: www.the-brights.net. 22 For example, weekly Cable Access programs currently running in Portland, Oregon, include “Bunk Busters” (U. S. Atheists) and “Conversations with Dr. Don” (secular humanist). Eighty weekly installments of “The Humanist Perspective” (produced by the Council for Secular Humanism, Amherst, New York) ran on Portland Cable Access in 2002 and 2003. 23 For example, “Darwin Days” and an annual “Day of Reason” are celebrated by many secular, skeptical, and humanist groups. Following the efforts of a group of irreligious citizens led by a retired school administrator, a “Day of Reason” was declared by the Mayor of Portland (6/23/01) and Governor of Oregon (on the Summer Solstice in 2002, 2004, and 2005). Irreligious individuals and organizations participate in events (often in concert with religious groups) concerning community affairs, drug rehabilitation, the homeless, church-state separation, war and peace, the environment, human rights, gender issues, same-sex marriage, and civil liberties, among others. 24 Another indication of nots unaffiliated with irreligious organizations is the existence of loosely organized friendship networks, discussion groups, and intellectual “salons” that characterize themselves as substantially secular. Datacollection on these “networks” has just begun, but initial indications are that secular, in these cases, encompasses a range of views including subordination of matters religious to this-worldly affairs and social action, a non-committal and arm’slength scientific consideration of both the positive and negative attributes and consequences of religion as a human phenomenon, substantial indifference to organized religion or personal religiosity, and affirmative irreligiosity. Participants in one such network in Portland, Oregon, are current or retired professionals and social scientists who meet regularly and/or maintain active contact via the Internet. Claimed Internet “membership” is 330, with 200 of these in Portland. 25 Personal communications, Powell’s City of Books floor managers, February, 2003, and June, 2005. Interviews with both affiliated and unaffiliated nots in the Northwest suggest that there is limited interest in reading books on atheism, freethought, humanism, or secularism. Some indicate that reading on such matters indicate is confined to related newsletters and periodicals, and that little to be gained from philosophical texts on worldviews they’ve long since internalized. This said, books like Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers and Jennifer Hecht’s Doubt, A History are mentioned by some as recent reads. Jared Diamond’s Germs, Guns, and Steel generated a good deal of “buzz” in the Portland freethought community. 26 Estimates of the number of non/irreligious individuals in the U. S. vary depending upon definitional criteria, survey and sampling methods, and time of survey. At the low (and most stringent) end of the range are those who identify themselves as having no religious identification, being “secular” or “not religious,” and being a-/non-theistic or agnostic, or as “extremely nonreligious” (3 to 4 percent, based on ARIS and GSS data). In the mid-range are estimates from the GSS of a-theists and agnostics over a twenty year period (6.5 percent), a-theists and agnostics who are “not religious” (4.5 percent) or “not” and “slightly religious” (6.2 percent), nones who are “not religious” (5.9 percent), respondents who are “extremely” or “very non-religious” (6.9 percent), and nones who are “extremely” or “very non-religious” (3.9 to 5.6 percent). There are also those who report having “no religious beliefs” (Roper, 6 percent). And there are GSS estimates of a-theists and agnostics in 1998 (8.0 percent), nones who were explicitly “not religious” in 1998 (8.6 percent), and those who “do not believe in God” plus those who “don’t know” (Barna: 7 to 10 percent; Gallup: 8 to 10 percent). At the high end of the range, from 11 to 15 percent of Americans have considered religion “not very important” (Pew and Gallup), and GSS data suggest that 12 percent of Americans consider themselves “not spiritual” and 15.3 percent consider themselves “not religious.” As of the 1990’s some 14 to 16 percent of Americans report “no religious preference.” The Barna Group reports between 6 and 13 percent of Americans who profess to be atheist or agnostic, or to have no religious faith, in the past ten years. At the high end of these estimates, however, we find specific religious beliefs (e.g., in an afterlife) and/or behaviors (e.g., prayer) in evidence. A reasonable estimate may be 6 +/- 3 percent of Americans who are substantially or affirmatively non/irreligious, or from 7 to 21 million Americans, 10 and older, or 6 to 19 million, 18 and older, based on 2000 census data. (See Bishop, 1999, for a review of the surveys from which some of these findings are drawn.) 27 It has never, for example, applied equally well to such phenomena as Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Methodism, Roman Catholicism, Latter Day Saints, Anabaptists, Scientology, or Islam.
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