Peter Steinfels comments on a new report released by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which claims to be “the most comprehensive analysis to date of global religious trends”:

“Religious change around the world is a complex phenomenon,” the report begins, in an almost comic understatement. “No simple description such as secularization, religious revival, or believing without belonging captures the complexity of the process.”


Surveys of belief and practice are only one way of exploring religious change, but they have grown increasingly sophisticated. The NORC report comes on the heels of useful surveys examining in detail religious political activists on the right and the left; the growing number of Americans who do not identify with any religion; and congregations coping with declining church attendance and financial strains.

In the face of all this data, it is tempting to grasp for simplifying patterns: growth or decline, the religious United States or secular Europe, scientific modernity or traditional faith. The reports suggests that when it comes to tracking religious change, there is a strong case for suspending belief.

Read the full article in the New York Times.