Today Razib talks to Lyman Stone, a demographer and Ph.D. candidate at McGill University, about the fall, rise and fall of religion in America. In 2020, Stone published a report, Promise and Peril: The History of American Religiosity and Its Recent Decline, where he outlined the demographic and religious history of the US, and its possible future. They first cover the historical context of American religion in the 18th century, reviewing the elite rise in secularism, the radicalism of the founding’s Disestablishmentarianism and the early 19th-century legislation against the mixing of church and state. Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early 1800’s that the US combined religious pluralism on a social scale, high levels of personal piety and governmental secularism. This was a sharp break from European traditions, and Stone addresses the thesis whether this explains why America still remains much more religious in terms of observance than nations like England and Germany.
But despite America’s comparative religiosity, it has become much more secular in the last generation. Razib talks to Stone about the rise of the religious “nones” across the Western world, and the decline of social conservatives within the Republican party. Stone points out that for most, religious identity and level of practice are established during the teen years, with religious education (or lack thereof) being the biggest predictor of religious adherence (or lack thereof). The relative secularism of Zoomers and Millennials, Americans born after 1980, presages a much less Christian America as the 21st century’s first half progresses. But Stone argues that this is not necessarily the final state of American religiosity; secular America in 1800 underwent the Second Great Awakening, which led to a much more evangelical nation by 1900. Rather than a linear progress toward an end state, religious history seems cyclical.