January 21, 2016

Americans may be getting less religious, but feelings of spirituality are on the rise

Growing share of people regularly feel spiritual peace, sense of wonderThe phrase “spiritual but not religious” has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity. While Pew Research Center does not categorize survey respondents in such a way, our surveys do find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious – but also somewhat more spiritual.

Americans have become less religious in recent years by standard measures such as how important they say religion is to them and their frequency of religious service attendance and prayer. But, at the same time, the share of people across a wide variety of religious identities who say they often feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe has risen.

The drop in religiosity in the U.S. has been limited to religious “nones” (that is, those who describe themselves as atheists or agnostics and those who say they have no particular religion). The growth of the unaffiliated population and their decreasing religiosity have been the main factors behind the emergence of a less religious public overall. But, interestingly, the rise in spirituality has been happening among both highly religious people and the religiously unaffiliated.

Most Americans experience regular feelings of spiritual peace and well-beingFor instance, among U.S. Christians, there has been an increase of 7 percentage points between 2007 and 2014 in the share who say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe at least weekly (from 38% to 45%). And there has been a similar rise in the share of religious “nones” who say the same (from 39% to 47%) – not to mention a 17-point jump among self-described atheists.

To be sure, the most religious segments of the population are still the most likely to say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly, including 81% of Mormons and 75% of evangelical Protestants. Overall, 64% of religiously affiliated adults say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly, compared with only 40% those who are unaffiliated.

But even among the “nones,” there has been a 5-point rise in recent years in the share who say they frequently feel spiritual peace (from 35% in 2007 to 40% in 2014).

Topics: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Liza Smith1 year ago

    This superficial “spirituality” isn’t doing much good, collectively. Fatal drug overdoses are at an all-time high. The number of suicides is up roughly 50%. Depression and anxiety have never been worse. Research shows there is a connection to the rise of the religious “nones” and I’d suggest milquetoast “spirituality” also plays a role. Excellent data and discussion in this article: mbird.com/2016/05/everybody-else…

  2. Dan Slaby2 years ago

    Spirituality is a trend of individualization of religious (and secular) feelings that enable people to feel comfortable with alienation from institutional norms of communal beliefs; It is part of the moral autonomy that exists in the libertarian ethos of individual freedom.

  3. Evan Lewis (Ecostarr)2 years ago

    I would be curious about what people mean when they say they are spiritual or more often spiritual. i wasn’t surprised by the increase in spirituality among atheists, because i personally know some people, who consider themselves spiritual atheists. But how they define spirituality tends to be very different from how I might expect a religious person to define it. Might be worth exploring in focus groups, or teasing out in a questionnaire. Regardless, very interesting results.

    1. Milly Pal2 years ago

      I agree with you. And I thought the same when I read this article. How does the individual define ‘spirituality’ and the sense of ‘wonder about the universe’. It may vary from one individual to another. And how does one observe/feel/achieve that. For instance, one might achieve that through meditation and yoga, nothing to do with religion. For someone else, it might be different.

  4. Papa Foote2 years ago

    JANUARY 21, 2016
    Americans may be getting less religious, but feelings of spirituality are on the rise

    The Old Mountain Goat does not follow any religious sect, but does know this:

    “Faith” and “Religion”

    The Old Mountain Goat “thinks” that “Faith” and “Religion” should be “separated”, with it’s “own” definitions:

    Faith: “…complete trust or confidence in someone or something…”

    Religion: “… strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof…”

    These “words” can be “confused” – there is/has “Power”, behind our Universe, which “we” can see/feel, but probably will never “understand”, known as “Faith”; while “Religion” is/has “Power” behind “human thinking”, that “we” cannot see/feel, but decide to want to “understand”!

    “Faith” can guide a “human” into a better “path” towards the “Future”, with each “mind” choosing only “good thinking”, all by themselves!

    “Religion” can guide a “human” into a better/worser “path” towards the “Future”, with each “mind” choosing either “good/bad thinking”, and normally by “Others”!

    1. Dan Slaby2 years ago

      An interesting dichotomy between faith and religion.

      You may be interested in reading: John Wathey,
      The Illusion of God’s Presence: the biological origins of spiritual longing