Study sees changing face of religion in U.S.

Cardinal Timothy M Dolan and Bishop William Murphy

Cardinal Timothy M Dolan and Bishop William Murphy addresses Long Island Catholics in Hicksville. (March 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

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Decades of immigration to the United States have sharply reduced the nation's Protestant majority -- from two-thirds of the population in the 1960s to about half today, according to a study released Thursday.

Growing numbers of Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and others account for the change, according to the "Faith on the Move" study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

"Religious change is afoot in the world, and immigration is part of that," said the report's main researcher, Phillip Connor.

The study doesn't break down numbers by states or regions such as Long Island. But local religious leaders said they've seen a clear trend toward religious diversity in Nassau and Suffolk counties as the population itself becomes more heterogeneous.

"Long Island has got Sikhs and Hindus and Jains and Baha'is and Mormons, and all kinds of other communities that were just never here in very large numbers," said the Rev. Thomas Goodhue, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, based in Hempstead.

He said the Island is now dotted with Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, Islamic mosques and other places of worship. "It all represents a growing diversity," Goodhue said.

While there are no hard figures on how Long Island is apportioned religiously, Goodhue estimates about half the population identifies itself as Catholic, a quarter as Protestant and another quarter as other religions, including Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.

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Connor said his research found that about 3 percent of the world's population, or 214 million people, have migrated to other nations, bringing with them their religions. Christians make up nearly half of them, with Muslims accounting for about 27 percent.

The United States has by far the largest number of immigrants in the world -- about 43 million of the total of 214 million. The United States' share is more than three times the number that live in any other country.

Connor said compiling the statistics was not easy, since, for instance, the U.S. Census does not track people's religions. But he relied on other available data, such as immigrants' countries of origin to estimate the numbers.

On Long Island, one example of the growing religious diversity is the Great Neck-based Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, whose practices share some commonalities with Hinduism.

One director, Erik Larson, said the center has seen its numbers grow from about a dozen people at Sunday meditation sessions two decades ago to about 150 today.


"The growth has been regular and steady," he said.


Study highlights

3: Percent of world's population (approximate), or 214 million people, that have migrated across international borders.

106M: Number of Christians who have migrated. Muslims are the next largest group, at almost 60 million people.

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43M: Approximate number of immigrants in the United States -- by far the largest number anywhere.

25: Percent of Jews that have left their country for another -- by far the highest percentage of migration.

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