Why is the U.S. so religious?

Essay, 2008
13 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. What is religion

2. The U.S.- a religious country

3. Impact of the religious founding fathers on American religion today

3. A wall of separation between church and state

4. Patriotism and religiousness in the U.S

5. American civil religion

6. Entrepreneurial churches

7. Religion and identity

8. Summary

Bibliography I

1. What is religion

Talking about religion in the United States, it is necessary to give a definition of the term “religion” first. So, what is religion?

A very popular definition comes from Clifford Geertz who defined religion as

“a system of symbols, which acts to establish powerful, persuasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order and clothing these conceptions which such an aura of factuality, that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic”.[1]

Ludwig Feuerbach takes a totally different, atheist approach, describing religion as a projection of man’s inner nature. God therefore is a projection of our own values.

There are a lot more definitions about religion. What they most have in common is the fact, that religion describes a specific relationship between mankind and some transcendental sphere. Moreover religion gives answers to the elemental questions of life: Where do we come from? Where do we go? What happens after death? What is the meaning of life etc..

Another definition comes from Emile Durkheim who described religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, […] beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a church, all those who adhere to them”.[2] This definition implicates two aspects of the term religion: One is the aspect of belief, the other one is the aspect of religious practice. This essay will lean on this definition of religion but unlike Durkheim will make a clear distinction between religious belief and religious practice.

2. The U.S.- a religious country

The question “Is the U.S. a religious country” therefore has to be subdivided into two questions:

1. Are the Americans “believers”?
2. How active are the Americans in terms of religious practice.?

In fact in the latest poll in 2007, Gallup institute found out, that 78 per cent of the people asked, declared they believe in god. 14 per cent said, they believe in some kind of “universal spirit” and just seven per cent said, they don’t believe in either.[3]

This statistic alone doesn’t proof a specific American religiousness. In fact, 79 per cent of the Germans can be considered as religious believers, too![4]

What makes religion in America so distinctive is the religious practice! Religion practice plays a far more important role for most Americans than it does for Europeans.

To the question “how important is religion in your own life”, 82 per cent declared, religion is important and 56 per cent of them even said, religion does play a very important role in their lives. But the best way to proof the high significance of religious practice in America is, by measuring church attendance of the American believers. 43 per cent of the Americans claim to go to church at least once a week[5] whereas in Germany, according to the SPIEGEL magazine, just 25 per cent of the Catholics attend church regularly[6] (Protestant numbers are even lower!). Although sociologist believe that the true percentage of the people who go to church in America is lower than measured in the polls, it is an interesting fact, that Americans do more likely state to go to church regularly than they actually do. This implicates, that going to church is popular in the American society, while in Europe no one would lie about his religious practice.

But how does the religiousness of the American people affect the organizations of religion in the United States?

Unlike in Europe, a vast number of religious organizations exists in the U.S.. In 2007, more then 1500 different religious groups were counted.

The largest religious community in the United States are the Protestants to which about 49 per cent of the American people belong. Twenty-three per cent are Catholic and two per cent are Jewish[7]

Unlike in Europe, the Protestants are not a homogeneous community but are subdivided into several, so called, denominations. Today, the largest protestant denominations are the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Episcopal, the Lutherans and the Pentecostals.[8]

So, why is America such a religious country?

To answer this question it is necessary to have a look on some specific historical events that had a great impact on religious life in America today. Another approach is to have a look on the development of religion in Europe and work out the differences to the development of religion in the U.S..

3. Impact of the religious founding fathers on American religion today

To understand the religiousness of Americans today, one has to understand the roots of religion in America and American history itself. In fact it is basically impossible to have a look on American history without mentioning the aspect of religion.

In 1620 the Pilgrims landed with their ship, the Mayflower, on the shore of Massachusetts.[9] The Pilgrims were a group of people who came from England and were separatists from the Anglican Church. They were persecuted in England and Holland because of their religious belief.[10]

In America they found a new home were they could practice their faith.

Until 1630 about 20.000 more Pilgrims came to America.[11]

More and more European religious refugees immigrated to America, as persecutions of religious minorities continued all over Europe, due to the conviction of Catholics and Protestants alike, that “that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society”[12]

From the very beginning the first settlers on the new continent developed a specific religious affected spirit, comparing their exodus from Europe with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. “The more they read in the holy bible- and they fervently did- the more they saw themselves as Israelites, or God’s chosen people”[13]


[1] Website: Anpere.net, A scientific definition of religion

[2] Website: Jeramyt, Marx, Weber and Durkheim on religion

[3] Cp. Website: Gallup institute, Religion

[4] Vgl. Website: Statista, Sind Sie ein religiöser und gläubiger Mensch?

[5] Cp. Website: Gallup institute, Religion

[6] Cp. Website: Spiegel, Warten auf Sünder

[7] ibidem

[8] Cp. Website: Gallup institute, Religion

[9] Cp. Braunger, M. (2008), p. 129

[10] Cp. Website: Pilgrim Hall Museum, Who were the pilgrims

[11] Cp. Website: Library of Congress, Religion and the founding of the American Republic

[12] ibidem

[13] Mitri, T. (2005), p. 20

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Why is the U.S. so religious?
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg  (Politikwissenschaft)
Proseminar American Politics in Comparative and Historical Perspective
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Christoph Dressler (Author), 2008, Why is the U.S. so religious?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/167051


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