Note: This post is adapted from one I wrote for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog last year about Winnifred Sullivan’s book A Ministry of Presence. See the original post here. For more on the book, see Kolby Knight’s review at the Bulletin and Mike Graziano’s here at RiAH.
According to the new Pew study “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” 6.9% of respondents identified their religious affiliation or belief as “nothing in particular” and also reported that religion was somewhat or very important to their lives. For a minute, let’s set aside questions about the reliability of the survey, the phrasing of the questions, whether the “nones” exist and/or matter, and why we need to distinguish between Older and Younger Millennials (I’m in the latter camp apparently, and I feel [insert emoji] about that.) For now, let’s think about how these people—a group Pew labeled the “Nothing in particulars (religion important)”—came to their position, or at least how that position became possible. At first, this position struck me as funny. Who could believe deeply and sincerely in nothing in particular? What does a life look like when the belief and practice of nothing in particular is central to it? And perhaps it is funny. But it might also tell us something about the state of “religion” in the United States. In a couple weeks at the Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture, a panel and audience will consider the question, “What do we mean by ‘religion’ in a time of ‘spirituality,’ ‘lived religion,’ and ‘non-religion’”? The answer I’d give: nothing in particular, and it’s very important.
We are all Nothing in particulars (religion important) now.