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One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In the United States today black Catholics are more educated than other blacks and white Protestants, "mega-churches" are in among baby boomers, most Catholics live in the Northeast and most Irish-Americans are Protestant, not Catholic.

These observations and perhaps all you ever wanted to know about the social impact and importance of religion in America can be found in the new book, One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society. In it, the authors, Barry A. Kosmin and Seymour P. Lachman, report and analyze the findings of the most extensive study ever conducted of American religious identification.

The data was attained through a computer-generated telephone survey of 113,000 Americans in 1990. The National Survey of Religious Identification, NSRI, was conducted by the Graduate School of the City of New York, where Lachman is dean for community development and Kosmin is a sociologist at the university's graduate center.

The study offers unique insight into America's religious scene. It includes, for instance, religious profiles of ethnic groups and the geographical distributions of religions in this country. It even ranks religions based on education, income, home ownership and employment.

One finding of particular note is on the subject of black Catholic educational achievement. The survey showed that more black Catholics are graduates of high school and college than other blacks. Black Catholics are "roughly equal" in educational attainment to other Catholics and greater than the overall American average regardless of race.

"It appears that black Catholics are 40 percent more likely to graduate from college than other black Americans. In the 40- to 50-year age group, 26 percent of black Catholics, 25 percent of white Catholics, 24 percent of all whites and 15 percent of all blacks are college graduates," authors note. "Though we have no quotable statistics, analysis of parochial school enrollment figures by race suggests that a majority of black Catholics attended parochial schools."

On another topic, the study confirms the existence of "homogeneous religious subcultures" in the United States and their persistence throughout the last century. The authors said, "Though the geographical unity of Colonial times could not be maintained as evangelists persuaded, colonies united, immigrants arrived, frontiers expanded and pioneers migrated, distinctive heartlands still persist, especially for four religious families: Baptists in the South, Lutherans in the Upper Midwest farm belt, Roman Catholics in the Northeast, and Mormons in Utah and the other Rocky Mountain states.

"To some extent this finding belies conventional wisdom, which suggests that American society as a whole has become more socially uniform and thereby religiously integrated under the influence of a pervasive mass culture and high mobility."

Although Catholics are present in significant numbers in 48 states, the survey revealed, 55 percent of them reside in the Northeast and Midwest. A unique exception in this analysis of Catholicism's heartland is Louisiana (46.8 percent Catholics and 29.2 Baptists). The southern half of the state has the highest percentage of Catholics and the lowest percentage of unchurched in any region of the United States, according to the survey.

Some of the survey's findings may come as a surprise to many. The following are among the discoveries:

* The majority of Americans (86.2 percent) consider themselves to be Christians. Roman Catholics represent the largest (26.2 percent) Christian group. They are followed by Baptists with 19.4 percent.

* Only two-thirds (65.8 percent) of Hispanics identify themselves as Catholic. "The Catholic church tends to exaggerate the size and importance of the Hispanic population. ... Church spokesmen have claimed that up to a quarter of all Catholics are Hispanic, but NSRI figures suggest that only 14 percent of the people who identify themselves as Catholic are Hispanic." The survey found that 24.6 percent of Hispanic-Americans are Protestant.

* "Numbering nearly 30 million, the African-American population is the nation's largest and, historically, its most important minority. Today it comprises almost 12 percent of the total U.S. population." The results show that 81.8 percent identify themselves as Protestant; 9.2 percent Catholic.

* One in four Asian-Americans is Catholic, according to the survey. It is noted that many Filipinos as well as many among the ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese communities are Catholic. "The Catholic component of the Asian population is not as noteworthy as the high level of Protestantism. Between one in three and one in four Asian-Americans identifies with a Protestant denomination."

* Contrary to conventional thought, most (51 percent) Irish-Americans are Protestant. Only 33 percent are Catholic, according to NSRI. "Our data suggest that outside the larger cities of the Northeast and Midwest, intermarriage of Irish people with those of other origins often leads to the adoption of Irish self-identification but the loss of Catholicism in the next generation."

* Most of the nation's 1.5 million Arab-Americans identify themselves as Christians. Based on responses to the survey, it appears only around 30 percent of them are Muslim.

* The "most successful churches" - apparently more popular among baby boomers - are mega-churches. These churches are commonly associated with a new evangelical style and expanded attention to personal issues, such as drug abuse. "Already, there are more than 5,000 such congregations nationwide, each with a membership in excess of 5,000 persons. ... The mega-church is to the old-style chapel what the suburban shopping mall is to the small stores on Main Street - a replacement."

Perhaps most interesting is the survey's ranking of Americans' social standing based on their respective religions. For instance, Unitarians have the highest percentage of college graduates (49.5 percent), compared to Jehovah's Witnesses who ranked lowest (4.7 percent). Catholics ranked 18th on the list, with 20 percent.

As for income ranking by religious group, the Jewish have the highest median annual household income, about $36,000; members of the Holiness religious group ranked lowest with about $13,000. Catholics ranked 11th, with a median income of around $27,000.

The survey attempted to answer questions on a subject that the Bureau of the Census seems to shy away from: religion. The bureau conducted the closest previous study of religious identification - a March 1957 survey of 35,000 households on a question about religious affiliation. However, the authors note, the census does not ask questions about religion, because of this country's "high premium" placed on the separation of church and state. The authors say the study was undertaken because the United States lacked "an adequate religious profile."
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Author:Edwards, Robin T.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 17, 1993
Words:1066
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