50 experts on the evolving religious landscape

Muslims worship in Bangladesh during Bishwa Ijtema, an annual religious gathering. (Jubair1985 via Creative Commons)

In 2018, 51 percent of U.S. adults said religion was “very important” in their life, compared with 70 percent in 1965, according to Gallup.

In 2017, nonpracticing Christians outnumbered practicing ones more than 2-to-1 in Western Europe, according to Pew Research Center.

In 2016, 24 percent of U.S. adults, including 38 percent of those aged 18 to 29, identified as religiously unaffiliated, compared with 7 percent in 1980, according to Public Religion Research Institute.

Findings like these dominate discussions of religious trends. But they don’t tell the whole story of what’s happening inside and outside of faith communities around the world.

Amid a decline in organized religion in the U.S. and Europe, many religious or spiritual practices are flourishing. Some of the so-called nones are more like religious “alls” because they mix and match rituals from multiple faith groups.

In 2014, 59 percent of U.S. adults said they felt a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week, compared with 52 percent in 2007, Pew reported. This shift was driven by the religiously affiliated and unaffiliated and Americans of all ages.

Across the globe, Muslim births are predicted to outnumber Christian births by 2035. Religious nones are expected to decline as a share of the world’s population due, in large part, to fertility rates.

In the U.S., the religious landscape as a whole and individual faith groups are growing more diverse. “Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41 percent of Catholics (up from 35 percent in 2007), 24 percent of evangelical Protestants (up from 19 percent) and 14 percent of mainline Protestants (up from 9 percent),” Pew reported in 2015.

This edition of ReligionLink features researchers, surveys and articles that complicate the typical stories we tell about the state of faith around the world. Use it to deepen your coverage of the evolving religious landscape.

Demographic research

U.S. trends

International data 

Surging spirituality

National sources

  • Afeosemime Adogame

    Afe Adogame is a professor of religion and society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studies religious experiences in Africa and the African diaspora. He previously served as senior lecturer in religious studies and world Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, U.K.

  • Christopher Bader

    Christopher Bader is a professor of sociology at Chapman University. He serves as associate director of the Association of Religion Data Archives and was principal investigator of the first two waves of the Baylor Religion Survey.

  • Diana Butler Bass

    Diana Butler Bass is an author, speaker and scholar who specializes in American religion and culture. She is the author of many books, including Christianity After Religion and Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual RevolutionArrange an interview through Melinda Mullin at HarperCollins.

  • Ryan Burge

    Ryan Burge studies the intersection of religious beliefs and political behavior and is an expert on survey methodology. He teaches political science at Eastern Illinois University.

  • Tara Isabella Burton

    Tara Isabella Burton is a religion columnist, theologian and novelist. She’s currently working on a book about religious “nones.”

  • David Campbell

    David Campbell is a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written widely on religion and politics. His books include, as editor, A Matter of Faith: Religion in the 2004 Presidential Election and, as co-author, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.

  • Rebecca Catto

    Rebecca Catto is an assistant professor of sociology at Kent State University in Ohio. She studies the interplay between religion and secularism in North America and Europe.

  • Mark A. Chaves

    Mark A. Chaves is professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on religious organizations in the United States and leads the National Congregations Study.

  • Daniel Cox

    Daniel Cox is a research fellow in polling and public opinion with American Enterprise Institute. He previously served as research director for Public Religion Research Institute.

  • Harvey Cox

    Harvey Cox is the Hollis Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School and a renowned author and commentator on religious issues. He has written many books on the future of religion and theology, including The Future of Faith and The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective.

  • Ryan T. Cragun

    Ryan T. Cragun is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa, where he studies secularization, the nonreligious and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • William V. D’Antonio

    William V. D’Antonio is an associate researcher at The Catholic University of America and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. He is a leading analyst of the changing roles of Catholic laity in society and politics.

  • Kevin Dougherty

    Kevin Dougherty is an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. His research focuses on the sociology of religious congregations, including racial diversity in churches.

  • Roger Finke

    Roger Finke is a professor of sociology, religious studies and international affairs at Penn State University. He’s also director of the Association of Religion Data Archives.

  • Paul Froese

    Paul Froese is a professor of sociology at Baylor University and research fellow for the school’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of several books, including On Purpose: How We Create the Meaning of Life.

  • Mary Gautier

    Mary Gautier is a senior research associate with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which studies Catholic demographic trends.

  • John C. Green

    John C. Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics. He also serves as interim university president, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron.

  • Conrad Hackett

    Conrad Hackett is Pew Research Center’s associate director of research and senior demographer. Contact him through Anna Schiller.

  • Rachel Heath

    Rachel Heath is a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University, where she researches multiple religious belonging.

  • Bethamie Horowitz

    Bethamie Horowitz is co-director of the programs in education and Jewish studies at New York University. She also has a research and consulting practice and has spent the last two decades tracking major issues facing the Jewish community.

  • Michael Hout

    Michael Hout is director of the Center for Advanced Social Science Research at New York University, where he also teaches sociology. He has studied and written on the rise of the nonreligious and is the author or co-author of multiple books, including Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years.

  • Robert P. Jones

    Robert P. Jones is CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI.

  • Rebekka King

    Rebekka King is an assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at Middle Tennessee State University, where she teaches courses on global Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Her research focuses on the secular and religious elements of progressive Christianity. She is co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Sociology of Religion program unit.

  • David Kinnaman

    David Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, which conducts research on religious life within the United States and around the world.

  • Barry Kosmin

    Barry Kosmin directs the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He has conducted polls on religion and society in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia.

  • Jennifer McClure

    Jennifer McClure is an assistant professor of religion at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. She is also the senior associate for congregational resources with the Association of Religion Data Archives and consults with congregations on organizational health.

  • Scott McConnell

    Scott McConnell is the executive director of LifeWay Research, which conducts surveys on issues affecting American religious life and Protestant pastors. Arrange an interview through Aaron Earls.

  • Donald E. Miller

    Donald E. Miller is a professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California and executive director of the school’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. His books include Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium, for which he looked at “new paradigm” churches, in particular three megachurches that began in Southern California.

  • Dalia Mogahed

    Dalia Mogahed is director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which specializes in the study of American Muslims. She previously served as executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.


  • Robert Putnam

    Robert Putnam is the Malkin Research Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, where he studies civic connectedness, social capital, and religion and public life. He is author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again and Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

  • Jana Riess

    Jana Riess is a scholar and journalist known for her coverage and research of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is the author of The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church.
  • Gregory A. Smith

    Gregory A. Smith is the associate director of research at the Pew Research Center. He’s an expert on religion in America. Arrange interviews through Anna Schiller.

  • Scott L. Thumma

    Scott L. Thumma is a sociology of religion professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, where he also directs the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He studies megachurches, nondenominational Christianity and congregational trends.

  • Andrew Whitehead

    Andrew Whitehead is an associate professor of sociology and director of the Association of Religion Data Archives at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He researches the relationship between religion and other social forces, such as the family.

  • Gina Zurlo

    Gina Zurlo is associate director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. She is also co-editor of the Journal of Religion and Demography and a visiting research fellow at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.

International sources

  • Rosa Maria de Aquino

    Rosa Maria de Aquino is a professor of social sciences at the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco. She represents Brazil and Latin America for the International Society for the Sociology of Religion.

  • Lori G. Beaman

    Lori G. Beaman is a professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa. She is principal investigator for the Religion and Diversity Project, which explores how to promote peace in religiously diverse societies.

  • Gary Bouma

    Gary Bouma is an emeritus professor of sociology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where he studies religious diversity, pluralism, terror and the relationship between religion and public policy. He is the author or co-author of more than two dozen books, including Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century, and an Anglican priest.

  • Pierre Brechon

    Pierre Brechon is an emeritus professor of political science at the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies in France. He co-edited European Values: Trends and Divides Over Thirty Years, which was published in 2017.

  • Renee de la Torre Castellanos

    Renee de la Torre Castellanos studies religious history and anthropology at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology in Mexico City.

  • Grace Davie

    Grace Davie is a professor of sociology at the University of Exeter. She studies religion-related demographic trends in Europe.

  • Jonathan Fox

    Jonathan Fox is a professor of religion and politics at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. He directs the Religion and State Project, which tracks faith-related policies around the world.

  • Katja Rakow

    Katja Rakow is an assistant professor of religious studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She studies Christian megachurches in the United States and Singapore and contemporary Pentecostalism more broadly.

  • Cristina Rocha

    Cristina Rocha is a professor at Western Sydney University, where she researches Pentecostal Christianity, Buddhism in the West, New Age spirituality and transnational links between Australia and Brazil, where she grew up. She is president of the Australian Association for the Study of Religion and co-editor of the Journal of Global Buddhism and Religion in the Americas.

  • Yoshihide Sakurai

    Yoshihide Sakurai is a professor of human sciences and sociology at Hokkaido University in Japan, where he studies how Asian religions are evolving in a global age.

  • Nicolas M. Somma

    Nicolas M. Somma is an associate professor of sociology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. He is co-author of the book Links, Beliefs and Hopes: The Social Cohesion of Latin Americans and a 2017 article on religious change in the region.

  • Jorg Stolz

    Jorg Stolz is a sociologist of religion at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. His serves as president of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion.

  • David Voas

    Davis Voas is a professor of social science at University College London, where he studies religious change.  He helps lead the European Values Survey and British Religion in Numbers project.

  • Heidemarie Winkel

    Heidemarie Winkel is a professor of sociology at Bielefeld University in Germany. She’s also a senior research associate with the Von Hugel Institute for Critical Catholic Inquiry at the University of Cambridge.

  • Linda Woodhead

    Linda Woodhead is a professor of philosophy and religion at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. She researches sources of meaning in people’s lives and how the rise of the nonreligious will affect church-state relations and society in general.

Background reading