Religious Conviction History
February 23, 2005 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Has data ever been assembled showing the religous convictions of Americans over time, starting at the countries conception? A sort of compendium of the religious history of the United States... It seems as though such a thing should certainly exist, but I've yet to find it.
posted by phrontist to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total)
Response by poster: Just to clarify: I'm looking for something that would allow me to figure out, say, what percentage of the popultion was Puritan in 1845, or an estimation of how many people kept kosher in 1950, etc.
posted by phrontist at 6:28 PM on February 23, 2005

This isn't exactly what you're looking for, since it only goes back to 1972, but you could investigate the general social survey as a starting point: it has data on americans' responses to a large number of survey questions (many of which deal with religion) from 1972-2000. (Get started by clicking 'sequential' under the codebook indexes heading on the left and looking under R.)

There's also a built-in tool that will let you search for correlations between variables. Hours o' fun with armchair social analysis!
posted by introcosm at 6:47 PM on February 23, 2005

Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs (book by George Gallup on religous trends since the 50s)

American Religion Data Archive (terribly organized but might have some useful info)

And there's always the U.S. Census.
posted by googly at 6:58 PM on February 23, 2005

Response by poster: I'm looking specifically for the 1800's throught the 1860's.
posted by phrontist at 7:03 PM on February 23, 2005

phrontist, I'm not sure what the answer is to your question but I just wanted to let you know definitively the answer is not in the US Census [sorry googly]. I do genealogy research as part of my library job and the census up through the 1860's in the US is basically name, age, family member's names, amount of livestock and place of birth, not much else. This web page has a bibliography of print material that covers religious life in the US, but you'd have to head to a library to read what they say. The US State Department has many online articles on the history of religion in the US which might also be worth reading.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 PM on February 23, 2005

They hadn't invented survey methods by 1860, so you won't be able to get any really firm numbers. No doubt you'd be able to find estimates constructed somehow.

A few of the later censuses in that period had numbers of churches, but not numbers of adherents. Ones in 1800 would basically count people and stop there; even that was a big chore in 1800.

You might see if the Army or Navy have any data on the religious affiliations of their men and extrapolate from there. You could probably get rough data from the Civil War.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:12 PM on February 23, 2005

I haven't read it, but I heard an interview on NPR recently with Stephen Prothero, the author of "American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon." It might provide some of what you're looking for.

The book is about how Christianity has evolved over the centuries since the start of American colonization. I don't think it'll give you exact population numbers, but it should give you a religious and cultural context, at least.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:53 PM on February 23, 2005

Immigration records would also record the religion (in general terms) of people entering the US. Time periods of mass immigration would have a major effect on the US religious makeup.

Although, for something like, how many people keep Kosher, I don't know how you would find that out. Sure, someone who is Orthodox would. But with Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist you really wouldn't know unless there was a house-to-house survey.
In general, finding the religion people identify themselves with is one thing, finding out how strictly they follow that religion is close to impossible.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:08 AM on February 24, 2005

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