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Article

There is growing scholarly recognition of the prominent role that religion can play in empowering, shaping, and constraining political mobilization. Conceptually, religion can intersect with political opportunity structure in two general ways. First, it can be a component of the political opportunity structure: degrees of religious diversity, varieties of religion-state relations, levels of religiosity, and prevailing religious norms can substantially affect how social movements mobilize supporters. Second, religion can be an attribute of movements operating within a given political opportunity structure: a set of distinctive frames and resources available to religious actors that are unavailable to their secular counterparts. Understanding the intersection of religion and political opportunity structure requires addressing both of these dimensions of religion. One key challenge derives from the diversity of religious beliefs and organizations across and within faith traditions. There is persistent scholarly disagreement regarding the importance of specific ideological or doctrinal tenets and how these shape the salience of particular religions as both a component of the political opportunity structure and as a set of resources available to social movements. Scholarly understanding of these dynamics is hampered by the limited amount of research across faith traditions. Works focusing on Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, or Protestant movements, among others, tend to emphasize different features of religion, in ways that make their findings hard to aggregate. Despite this and other challenges, the consolidation of religion as a topic of scholarly attention has resulted in increasingly sophisticated arguments and improved the scope and quality of data on religion and politics. Scholars now have access to a variety of global, regional, and national surveys that describe patterns of religious belief, behavior, and belonging. There is also a growing repertoire of country-level measures covering religion-state relations, denominational diversity, and religious conflict. In addition, a growing body of in-depth case studies focusing on particular religious movements and organizations has enriched our understanding of the dynamic interaction between religious groups and the institutional, structural, and cultural opportunities they face.

Article

Despite predictions that urbanization, economic development and globalization would lead to the recession of religion from public life, populations around the world continue to be highly religious. This pattern holds in most parts of the Global South and also in some advanced industrial democracies in the North, including in the United States. In grappling with the influence (or lack thereof) of religion on political life, a growing body of literature pays attention to how clergy–congregant communication might shape listeners’ political attitudes and behaviors. Considerable debate remains as to whether clergy–congregant communication is likely to change political attitudes and behavior, but there is a greater consensus around the idea that exposure to religious communication can at the very least prime (that is, increase the salience of) certain considerations that in turn affect how people evaluate political issues and whether they participate in politics. Religious communication is more likely to exert a persuasive and a priming influence among those already inclined to select into the communication and when the source of the communication is credible. More research is needed on the duration of religious primes and on the effects of religious communication in different political and social contexts around the world.

Article

Despite the predictions of Marxists and secularization theorists alike, the relationship between religion and government legitimacy is mixed. Religion, in its various forms, can serve to promote regimes of virtually any type—democratic or otherwise—and can just as easily undermine such regimes. Observers hoping for a one-size-fits-all account of the link between religion and legitimacy will surely be disappointed; the reality is far more complicated. Religion, encompassing a nearly infinite variety of beliefs, behaviors, and actors, exercises a diverse set of influences on its political context. For regimes, this diversity can be either helpful or dangerous. Religion is neither inherently pro-status quo nor revolutionary; it can be either one depending on the context. Likewise, religion is neither necessarily pro- nor anti-democratic. Political and theological conditions influence the ways in which religion interacts with politics, and in particular, the role it plays in building or undermining legitimacy. Twenty-first-century research highlights the Janus-faced relationship between religion and political legitimacy. In some settings, religion has been the foundation of non-democratic rule. In others, it has been a crucial catalyst for unseating dictators in favor of democratic alternatives. Theological differences can only explain part of this variation. The same religious tradition may serve as a defense of authoritarianism in one instance but a spark for democracy in another. Political factors play a key role in explaining why religion sometimes supports the status quo but in other instances may fuel revolutionary fervor.

Article

In its early stages the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was dominated by two secular nationalist movements, which marginalized religious practices and institutions. However, since the early 1980s, it has gradually become a struggle that includes, and some may argue also is led by, fundamentalist parties that justify their national aspirations via religious texts, principles, and practices. It is no wonder then that a conciliation seems less and less of a realistic endeavor. On the Palestinian side, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are the main forces that dominant the violent Palestinian struggle, while aspiring to establish a Palestinian state that will operate as a theocracy. In Israel, Religious Zionist militant organizations engaged in violent campaigns to solidify Israel’s control over the West Bank as part of a theological framework that sees such a control as a crucial phase in the re-creation of a Jewish kingdom. Moreover, Jewish ultra-orthodox parties, which in the past refrained from engaging with the conflict with the Palestinians, in the last couple of decades became strong opposition to any conciliation efforts which will include territorial concessions by Israel.

Article

Vesna Malešević

While three-quarters of the population in Ireland still declare to be Catholic in census data collection, the position and role of the Catholic Church has changed dramatically. A fruitful relationship between the state, church, and nation that developed in the 19th century became meaningfully embedded in social and political relations from the 1920s. Involvement of the church in the running of education, health, and welfare meant that its “moral monopoly” extended into both the institutional and individual spheres of life. The Irish Republic relied on the church organizations and personnel to provide education and guidance in absence of the state’s infrastructure and Will to consolidate the new political entity around a state-building project based on inclusivity, reciprocity, and diversity. The confessional state that emerged with its own constitution favored one religion over others, economic stagnation over progress, and patriarchal social values over equality. The internal processes of social change and the external impetus for economic development sent Ireland into modernization and changes in attitudes and behaviors. It became obvious that the church did not hold a monopoly on truth and that accountability of the relations between the state and the church should be called into question. Economic prosperity propelled Ireland into the world of consumerism, materialism, and instant gratification, teaching a new generation that religion helps keep your parents appeased and at times can provide solace, and that the Catholic Church is just an institution that seems to be around but nobody is quite sure what its role is. The vicariousness of the church coupled with cultural Catholicism makes the Ireland of today more open to change.

Article

Lebanon is a multisectarian society of four million people, divided among eighteen sectarian affiliations, many of which are highly salient in Lebanese society. The country experienced a complex, multifaceted civil conflict from 1975 to 1990, the aftermath of which continues to shape political interaction in the country. Sectarian identity has evolved, both before as well as after the civil conflict, shaped by clientelism, individual identities, and Islamist political movements. Despite years of conflict, identity in post-war Lebanon has remained fluid, and while sect is still a relevant identity marker, it is neither as deterministic nor as linked to religious piety as outside observers may expect. Research shows that Lebanese citizens face pressures to conform to sectarian beliefs due to the control that sectarian political parties have over goods distribution, but, at the same time, conforming to the sectarian democratic system may moderate the absolutist claims of Islamist political movements, especially Hizbollah. Despite the institutional and demographic idiosyncrasies of the Lebanese political system, each of these findings do much to inform outside literature on religion and post-conflict processes, along with tangential work on clientelism, the role of identity and politics and Islamic politics. However, there is still much to be done. Researchers should devote more attention to the growing backlash against sectarianism among popular movements within Lebanon and do more to explore the links between clientelism and sectarian identity in more precise and greater detail.

Article

Religion has historically played a central role in motivating rulers to start and individuals to participate in war. However, the decline of religion in international politics following the Peace of Westphalia and the inception of the modern nation-state system, which built and highlighted a sense of national identity, undermined the contribution of religion to politics and consequently, conflict. The case of the Iran−Iraq War, however, shows a different pattern in which religion did play a crucial role in motivating individuals to participate in war. Although the evidence suggests that religious motivations by no means contributed to Saddam’s decision to launch the war, an overview of the Iranian leaders’ speeches and martyrs’ statements reveals that religion significantly motivated people to take part in the war. While Iraqi leaders tried to mobilize the population by highlighting the allegedly Persian-Arab historical antagonism and propagating an Iraqi-centered form of Arab nationalism, Iranian leaders exploited religious symbols and emotions to encourage war participation, garner public support, alleviate the suffering of the people, and build military morale. The Iranian leadership painted the war as a battle between believers and unbelievers, Muslims and infidels, and the true and the false. This strategy turned out to be an effective tool of mobilization during wartime.

Article

Religion was a relatively overlooked factor in the study of political science until the 21st century. Even when the focus on religion increased in the aftermath of 9/11, a majority of the scholarship still dealt with religion and violence. “Religion and peace” has arguably been a less popular topic, yet there is still a vibrant literature that has contributed to our understanding of religion and social dynamics, especially given the significant number of religiously inspired organizations that are active in postconflict processes, such as Network of Engaged Buddhists, Sant’Egidio, and American Jewish World Service. Religion can play a critical role in conflict resolution and negotiation, especially in settings where secular approaches fall short of resolving the tensions, and where religious actors are seen as more neutral than the political actors. Peacebuilding literature has also recognized the importance of religion. Every religious tradition has its own sources of nonviolence within itself, and under the right conditions, these sources can help with reconciliation, peacebuilding, and transitional justice. At the same time, involvement of religious actors in postconflict processes poses its own challenges. Religious actors are rarely fully neutral, their assistance usually comes with conditions attached, and their involvement in political processes can undermine their moral authority. In addition, there are religious leaders who work against reconciliation to protect their own status in conflict settings. Recognizing that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of faith-inspired initiatives, more scholarship is needed to explore the dynamics of religious initiatives in postconflict processes. There are gaps especially when it comes to non-Christian actors’ involvement in peace processes, and how the faith-inspired initiatives of individuals differ from those of religious institutions and organizations.

Article

Scholars have identified a variety of mechanisms through which religion could impact vote choice in the United States. Researchers have long recognized that, like other social identities, religion is an important factor in the development of party identification. In the United States, evangelical Protestants and highly committed members of other religious traditions tend to favor the Republican Party, while seculars and low-commitment members of other religious traditions tend to favor the Democratic Party. Religion also impacts views on a variety of issues, including abortion, social welfare policy, and foreign affairs. Under the right circumstances, religious voters may incorporate these policy positions into their vote choice. Finally, a growing body of research recognizes that voters use a candidate’s religious views as a heuristic to infer partisanship, ideology, competence, trustworthiness, and a variety of other traits. Given these numerous paths of influence, it is no surprise that researchers regularly find that religion is an important factor in electoral choice. Researchers have also identified a variety of ways in which religion can impact turnout, thereby creating a second means for religion to influence American elections. Religion helps in the development of social networks and civic skills, thus reducing the costs of political participation. Religion can also be a factor in the development of sociopsychological traits such as threat, thereby facilitating mobilization. By understanding the capacity of religion to impact both turnout and electoral choice, scholars can better understand the myriad ways in which religion influences elections in the United States.

Article

Religion has played a constant role in the United States–Israel relationship. Christian and Jewish interests have shaped U.S. foreign policy, especially after the rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The role of religion Israel has historically depended on three interlinking factors: the influence of domestic political considerations in the calculations of American policymakers, the prominence of the Middle East in U.S. diplomatic and strategic thinking, and the beliefs and attitudes of individual policymakers, both their own religious convictions and their assessment of how important religious beliefs are to the American people. Religion has alternately strengthened and strained the U.S. relationship with the Zionist movement and the state of Israel. At some moments, such as the 1930s, religious attitudes and prejudices worked against closer cooperation. At other times, such as the Israeli–Egyptian peace summit of 1978, religious forces played a prominent role. As a state with special religious significance for many Americans, Israel provides a window into how religion functions in U.S. foreign policy, how its function has changed over time, and how religion has acted as an independent variable in political and policy outcomes.

Article

Evangelical Christians have drawn attention for electoral victories throughout Latin America, yet their engagement and success with electoral politics also varies significantly across countries and over time. Scholars’ explanations for this cross-national variation generally fall into one of several categories. Sociological or demographic explanations argue that evangelicals should be better represented in countries where they are a larger share of either the population or the socioeconomic elite. A second set of explanations focuses on factors that might politicize evangelical identity and provide the motivation for contesting elections. Among these are the postmillennial and prosperity theology associated with neo-Pentecostalism; the influence of co-religionists from abroad, particularly the United States; historical struggles for religious freedom and legal equality with the Catholic Church; and the rise of values issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. A third set of arguments focuses on the degree to which electoral and party systems are open to new entrants, thus facilitating the electoral ambitions of a mobilized faith community. Finally, arguments focused on voting behavior examine how a candidate’s religion affects electoral support, especially among fellow believers, and whether this tendency varies across countries. Explanations for cross-national variation in evangelical political representation also help us understand their electoral surge in the early 21st century, as issues such as same-sex marriage have arrived on the political agenda in a roughly contemporaneous fashion in much of the region, providing a common motivation for electoral contestation.

Article

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals have historically been considered non-religious. This disconnect has typically been due to the anti-LGBTQ stances that many religions have taken. However, as many Christian denominations begin to take more open and progressive stances on issues related to sexuality, gender, and identity, there are some in the LGBTQ community who desire and are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. This is especially true for members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in Christian spaces. Prior research has explored LGBTQ participation in religious communities and has found that participation in these activities has positive implications for the well-being of the LGBTQ community. However, despite the growing number of Christian churches welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, the literature has not explored the implications for LGBTQ collective action and civic behavior within the context of progressive church communities. Participation in social justice work, whether in formal or informal ways, can offer individuals an altruistic outlet to become actively involved in causes impacting the world around them. This social justice work may include attending a justice-themed rally, volunteering for an organization promoting equality, or engaging in dialogue with others to promote a justice-themed cause. Social justice work like this can be a form of activism, which has been found to be an important stage of LGBTQ identity development. Prior research has found that higher levels of minority group identification are associated with a higher likelihood of participation in collective action and that higher levels of church attendance are associated with higher levels of civic participation. The church has historically been a space for social justice behavior and thus can connect LGBTQ individuals to a deeper passion for social justice and civic behavior. Members of the LGBTQ community are able to reconcile their LGBTQ and religious identities. And through the connection to a church, they can engage in collective action connected to LGBTQ-related and other issues (e.g., women’s rights, the environment, poverty, immigration, and housing).

Article

The terrorist attacks of 9/11—in which al-Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and attempted to crash an additional plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, DC—highlighted for many the role religion could play in terrorism. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist network striving to undermine U.S. influence in Muslim countries, combined a global religious ideology with brutal violence in a way that caught the attention of policymakers and scholars. Since then, academics have been attempting to analyze and understand how religion and terrorism intersect. Scholars have debated whether religion is a distinctive aspect of contemporary terrorism or is secondary in importance to other factors, such as nationalism and rational calculations. Some scholars take a critical approach to the topic, pointing to normative concerns with the study of religion and terrorism, and disparate other scholars have analyzed how religion and terrorism relate to a vast array of topics from public opinion to political repression. After surveying the literature, it is difficult to question the distinctiveness of religious terrorism. Yet it also appears that terrorism does not arise inevitably from religious beliefs, nor is it unique to Islam. Moreover, religion seems to be connected to the transnational nature of contemporary terrorism. One particularly useful approach moving forward may be to draw on the relational approach to contentious politics that scholars such as Charles Tilly have formulated. This article’s approaches religious terrorism as violence or the threat of violence motivated by religion that intends to effect political change. This article will thus focus on how acts of violence that fall within the above definition relate to “religious imperatives,” and what the effects of these connections are. Charles Tilly’s approach to political violence, which conceptualizes terrorism as one manifestation of the range of political violence types, extends from brawls and riots to full-scale civil war. As a result, insights into how religion affects related forms of political violence can inform our understanding of religion and terrorism. Terrorism can also be understood as a nonstate phenomenon. Although states can commit terroristic acts, terrorism as a distinct tactic involves nonstate actors. State behavior—particularly religious repression—can have significant impact on the incidence and severity of religious terrorism in a country, however.

Article

Elizabeth A. Oldmixon

Churches are at the fulcrum of religious politics, and as church leaders, religious elites have an important role to play in the political milieu. They possess many of the resources associated with potent activism, but more importantly their job is to provide guidance to participants in a vast voluntary network. They can engage in agenda setting, encourage the faithful to apply their religious values to political engagement, and create opportunities to learn civic skills. Even so, religious leaders are subject to influence even as they try to exercise influence. In the foreground, religious leaders have a predictable set of goals, the substance of which varies by race, ethnicity, gender, and social theology. In the background, religious leaders pursue their goals in different sociodemographic and institutional contexts. The political behavior of religious leaders, then, is the product of background and foreground balancing.

Article

The inclusion-moderation thesis hinges on the idea that competitive electoral processes tame radical ideas thereby leading to the transformation of extremist parties into more moderate ones. The theory offers a causal process: as parties are included in their electoral systems, the competitive processes and negotiations move them from the tail end of their ideological spectrums to positions that are more acceptable to broader constituencies. While the theory offers an affirmative view of the incorporation of all parties to electoral competition, it poses many questions ranging from whether such transformations are inevitable or strategic to if and how inclusion leads to the capture of the entire political system by radical ideas. A review of the existing research shows that it pays more attention to parties' overall policy commitments and privileges the position of party leadership. Focusing on the overall impact of moderation much research disregards the impact of internal party dynamics, emphasizes the utility of centralization of power or hierarchical structures and their tendency to promote moderation. One of the paradoxical findings of such studies is the assumption that moderation does not require democracy yet still promotes democratic results. More important, the theory makes several assumptions about inclusion without carefully identifying how democratic the electoral context is, the ways in which voters stand in their respective political spectrums or how they reward and punish parties that subscribe to extremist or moderate positions. The evidence suggests that inclusion-moderation cannot be reduced to a mechanical process; the ideologies of extreme parties, the overall context of competition and electorates’ decision making processes need to be taken into account to understand if and how electoral inclusion can alter parties’ commitments and policies. Inclusion may lead not only to procedural adjustments, while keeping extremist ideologies in tact but also to ideational transformation that makes extremist parties more prone to recognize and negotiate with other groups. When the context is not democratic moderation might mean domestication of parties with what may appear to be “extremist” or “radical” in context thereby thwarting the overall democratization of the system. Some analyses also show exclusion may lead to the moderation of extremist parties. Given the contradictory evidence, the insights of the inclusion moderation model cannot serve as a one-size-fits all model but help to understand how the inclusion process works by presenting an ideal type for both party and electoral behavior while both conformity and divergence from the model offer important insight to democratic processes and democratization.

Article

Despite international guarantees to respect religious freedom, governments around the world often impose substantial restrictions on the abilities of some religious groups to openly practice their faith. These regulations on religious freedom are often justified to promote social stability. However, research has demonstrated a positive correlation between restrictions on religious freedom and religious violence. This violence is often thought to be a result of grievances arising from the denial of a religious group’s right to openly practice its faith. These grievances encourage violence by (a) encouraging a sense of common group identity, (b) encouraging feelings of hostility toward groups imposing those regulations, and (c) facilitating the mobilization of religious resources for political violence.

Article

The key to understanding the political role of the Catholic hierarchy is acknowledging that the leadership of the Catholic Church is remarkably well suited to participate at all levels of political contestation. Individual diocesan bishops often play active political roles in their specific contexts, generally framed around protecting the institutional interests of local churches, schools, and social service providers, as well as representing the social interests of Catholic communities in local political discourse and conflict. For their part, national conferences of bishops serve in many countries as vehicles for advancing the church’s positions within nationally defined policy debates and political contestation. These conferences have limited formal teaching authority according to Catholic ecclesiology. But in many contexts, these coneferences have come to play important roles as policy issues of interest to the Catholic hierarchy get played out on national rather than local political stages. Finally, the Pope, as leader not only of the transnational church but also of the sovereign entity of the Holy See is able to participate in world politics in ways that would be unthinkable for virtually any other religious leader. Enjoying formal diplomatic relations with over 180 countries and occupying a seat as Permanent Observer at the UN, the Holy See is deeply engaged in international diplomacy and firmly entrenched as a prominent element of global civil society. In sum, it is precisely this institutional complexity and multileveled breadth that renders the Catholic hierarchy uniquely well positioned to play meaningful roles at all levels of politics: local, national, and global. Moreover, the multifaceted ways in which these levels of the church’s leadership structure interact with and intersect with each other also grant complexity, nuance, and pervasiveness to the hierarchy’s political role. The first requirement for scholars seeking to conceptualize and explicate this role, therefore, is to be careful about what we mean when we use the term “the Catholic hierarchy,” and to be cognizant of the many different “levels of analysis” at which the Catholic Church operates as a universal institution.

Article

Youngmin Kim, Se-Hyun Kim, and Ji Hye Song

Because of the missionary activities of Jesuits in late imperial China and the world religions paradigm that emerged in the late 19th century, scholars tend to view Confucianism as a world religion. However, Confucianism does not fit into disciplinary boxes neatly. Accordingly, Confucian religiosity has been the subject of much debate among scholars. The answer depends largely upon how one defines religion and Confucianism. However, Confucianism and religion are not self-evident categories, but historically conditioned entities. Central to the theoretical discussion of Confucian religiosity has been the idea of transcendence. To many, Confucianism does not seem a type of religion because it does not put God at the center of attention. To others, Confucianism upholds immanent transcendence as its ideal, which does not impose an other-worldly standard but instead suggests human perfectibility. By invoking the notion of immanent transcendence, scholars caution us not to take European Christianity for granted and not to close our eyes to the array of alternative forms of religion. In addition to this theoretical debate, there have been other types of study on religious aspects of Confucianism. Anthropologists and historians have been studying practices of Confucian religious rituals in Chinese history. Rituals were a powerful method that rulers, throughout the dynasties, have employed to legitimize their rule. As with other rituals, imperial authorities patronized various rituals in the hope of attaining the support of their subjects. However, from its inception, Confucian rituals became complex interpretive arenas in which various social actors disputed, accommodated, negotiated, and rearticulated the Confucian orthodoxy according to their interests. Throughout the 20th century, mainland Chinese politicians and intellectuals often stigmatized Confucianism as the cause of China’s downfall. However, Confucianism, which had been regarded as only a hindrance by the Communists, currently appears to be a resource with which to remake China.

Article

The Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) is one of the most popular and influential socioreligious movements in the Muslim world. Over the past century, the movement dominated the religious sphere in several countries, with its extraordinary ability to blend religion, politics, and activism. With its comprehensive and elastic ideology, disciplined structure, and enormous resources, the Muslim Brotherhood (hereafter, the Brotherhood) was able to galvanize and mobilize Muslims in order to achieve its political, social, and religious objectives. Over the past few years, the Brotherhood has been a subject of debate and disagreement among scholars, particularly regarding its ideology, tactics, and objectives. Also, scholars disagree whether the Brotherhood should be studied as a religious, social, or political movement. In fact, the multifaceted character of the Brotherhood, which is part of its very nature since the beginning, has something to do with this confusion and disagreement. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, adopted a comprehensive vision of Islam that encompasses religion, politics, preaching, activism, and charity. He envisioned the Brotherhood as a movement that combines the mundane and spirituality, religion and politics, and charity with activism. Also, some scholars tend to apply the so-called “inclusion-moderation” hypothesis in order to explain the behavior, ideology, and strategy of Islamist movements. It assumes that the integration of the anti-establishment parties and movements can lead to the moderation of their ideology, behavior, and strategy. However, the “inclusion-moderation” hypothesis suffers two key limitations. The first one relates to the controversial nature of the concept of “moderation” itself and the disagreement among scholars over its definition. And the second lies in the mechanical and linear thrust of the hypothesis. Moderation is an ambiguous and highly controversial term in the scholarship about Islamists. Although some scholars equate it with nonviolence, others stretch it to include liberal and progressive views. Also, the integration of Islamist movements is not inevitably conducive to moderation, nor does it necessarily lead to democratization. Similarly, the exclusion of Islamists does not necessarily result in radicalization or extremism. Surprisingly, in some cases exclusion led to the moderation of Islamists, such as in Tunisia under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Therefore, it is more useful to focus on the processes and dynamics of Islamists’ inclusion than focusing on the outcome of these processes and dynamics. The case of the Brotherhood after the Egyptian uprising of 2011 provides an important example for examining the limits and shortcomings of the inclusion-moderation hypothesis and to what extent it can be applied to Islamist movements. It also helps us to understand the relationship between the internal and external factors and how they shape the ideology and behavior of Islamist movements.

Article

After years of exceptionally high levels of religious adherence and identity, the latter part of the 20th century saw the start of a trend: increasing numbers of Americans reported they had no religious affiliation when asked by pollsters. From the start of polling on religious beliefs and identity in the mid-20th century, Americans were unlikely to report they had “none” when asked to name their religious identity. National surveys in the 1970s and 1980s found fewer than one-in-ten American adults reported they had no religious affiliation. After decades of reported religious belief levels and religious identity patterns that remained robust, America is experiencing a decline in religiosity in the 21st century. Research in 2016 found that nearly one-quarter of those surveyed identified as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular,” nearly triple the 9% reporting the same during the General Social Survey in 1992. Those without a religious identification are now the second largest “religious” group in America What accounts for the observed changes in American’s religious affiliation responses over time? Social researchers have identified more than one possible source of change. One could be changing social forces; a second source of variation might come from changes in which people, how people, and why people answer religious affiliation questions over time; and third, the factors people say were the source of change in their religious affiliation.