Though the 2010 U.S. Census is (understandably) prohibited from asking mandatory questions about religious expression, it is important for researchers to consider how religious polarization might shape faith in the next decade.

Polarization driven by religion is often inextricably bound with polarization based on political, cultural, socio-economic or racial grounds, so it’s difficult to isolate.  However, some organizations are trying to track these questions–to establish a baseline for today & to begin to sense the context for the decade that lies ahead.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life completed the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2008, and they ask questions like this, that begin to get at religious beliefs that have a polarizing effect:

Granted, the question itself is biased toward presuming “eternal life” is a concept inherent in the respondent’s religion, which it is not in all cases. Exact question wording from Gallup:

[IF RESPONDENT HAS A RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION, ASK:] Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR: many religions can lead to eternal life.)

Pew also tracks other metrics that can be helpful in thinking through how religiously polarized the U.S. will be in the coming decade.  Here are just a few:

  1. How many people experience religion through a fusion of multiple faith traditions (see Pew’s Dec. 2009 article, Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths:  Eastern, New Age Beliefs Widespread)
  2. Changes in religious affiliation, which in some cases could hint at further openness to other religions (see Pew’s April 2009 article, Faith in Flux:  Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.)
  3. Religiously mixed marriages.  Pew’s 2008 Landscape Survey found that 27% of married folks are in religiously mixed marriages.  Could this lead to better understanding and less polarization?