Breaking Down the “Nones,” the Most Unhelpful Term in Religion Research May 24, 2014

Breaking Down the “Nones,” the Most Unhelpful Term in Religion Research

Whenever we see research about religion in America, atheists and agnostics tend to be lumps into a broader category called “Nones” or “Unaffiliated”… which sounds fine, until you realize that the group also includes people who believe in God but just don’t claim a religious label.

Tobin Grant at Religion News Service has been analyzing the non-religious segment of the Nones and gives us some very useful insights:

  1. Atheists and agnostics make up less than a third of all Nones:
  2. Women are more likely than men to call themselves “spiritual but not religious”:
  3. The more education you have, the more likely you are to refer to yourself as atheist or agnostic:

If anything, this just shows how confusing that term “Unaffiliated” is. There’s too much diversity within that umbrella term to really extract meaningful information in religion-related research. We’d be better off separating those who are spiritual, from those who use no label, and from those who are explicitly non-religious. Even if the raw numbers are smaller, lumping us all together only makes things more confusing.


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