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  Chapter Six:

  Religious Membership
  Roman Catholics
  Other Religions
  Religious Attendance
  Religious Attitudes



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Religious Membership

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Membership in churches and other religious organizations increased slowly but steadily.
More than 150 years ago, in his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “America is still the place where the Christian religion has kept the greatest real power over men’s souls.” That might still be said at the close of the twentieth century. Tocqueville attributed this phenomenon to the multiplicity of independent sects in the United States, unmatched anywhere else in the world, and to the equally unusual separation of organized religion from the state. 

The official count of denominations increased from 186 in 1906 to 256 in 1936, when the Census Bureau stopped counting them. Although the number of denominations at the end of the century is not known, it included about eighty denominations with more than 60,000 members each. Seventy percent of the U.S. population belonged to a religious organization in 1998, up from 41 percent in the early years of the century. 

At the end of the century, eight of every ten Americans were Christian, one adhered to another religion, and one had no religious preference. The nonChristians included Jews, Buddhists, and a rapidly growing number of Muslims. 

The separation of church and state became more contentious in some respects after 1960, as federal and state courts were called upon to adjudicate a wide range of issues related to religion, from the use of peyote by American Indian cults to the display of Christmas decorations on government property. The 1980s and 1990s saw the active involvement of religious groups in political campaigns, along with the presidential candidacies of two Protestant ministers, Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson.

Chapter 6 chart 1

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. George Lawrence (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), page 291. HS series H 788, H 790, H 791, and A 6–8; SA 1959, table 70; SA 1979, table 77; SA 1988, table 76; SA 1997, table 86; and SA 1999, table 89.


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