CONVERTING THE NONES: Why an Aware Homo Secularis Is Paramount.

Author:Kosmin, Barry

Researcher Barry A. Kosmin is the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC). He coined the term "nones" to describe those who, when asked their religion or religious affiliation, respond "none"--or, if asked to pick from a list on a survey, check "none of the above." It's a staple question on the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), for which Kosmin has served as a principal investigator since its inception in 1990. He's also done national social surveys of religious (or irreligious) identity in Europe, Africa, and Asia and is a research professor of public policy and law at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Kosmin was the founding editor of Secularism 6- Nonreligion, the world's first journal dedicated to the investigation of secularism and nonreligion in all forms, and he is a former joint editor of the journal Patterns of Prejudice. His books, based on ARIS research, include One Nation under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society and Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans.

Kosmin was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Humanist Association at the AHA Annual Conference at the University of Miami on June 9, 2019.

I am very grateful to the AHA for honoring me with their Lifetime Achievement Award.

My claim to fame is directing the American Religious Identification Survey series for three decades. These large-scale representative national samples identified and documented the rise of the nones, those Americans who identify with no religion. This irreligious segment of the adult US population has risen more than 300 percent over the past three decades from 7 percent in 1990 to 23 percent today. The rise of the nones has been the most statistically significant trend in American religion, occurring in every state of the Union and among African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and whites.

So, how and why did we come up with the unusual but now accepted name "nones" for what religionists used to call the "unchurched"? In most religion research prior to the ARIS series, the usual practice was to use questionnaires with a list of religious groups. The form provided a list of religious groups to choose from, and at the bottom was a category for the benighted folk labeled "None of the above." We did away with the list and instead offered an open-ended question: "What is your religion, if any?" Then we classified all those who didn't provide a religious identification or who provided a nontheist response as "nones." This provided amusement because of its satirical association with Catholic sisters. (Nones also had a possible variant pronunciation, an allusion to Monty Pythons Spamalot via Shakespeare: "Hey, Nonny, Nonny!")

In my opinion it's important for activist humanists and secularists to be knowledgeable about the trends in American religion since these account for much of the current polarization in our society. To begin with, you need to distinguish the different aspects of religion: belief, belonging, and behavior. The data shows membership in religious organizations has declined more than belief in the supernatural. As a result, not all those we categorize as nones are nontheists in terms of belief. Moreover, we have to remember that religion is a familial and social activity. Nobody wants to upset their relatives more than is necessary, especially elderly folk who might include you in their will. So, a lot of nones tag along to religious events to show solidarity and keep the peace. Nevertheless, there is a clear generational...

To continue reading