The number of Mainers calling themselves Christian is in sharp decline, according to a nationwide survey on religion released today by the Pew Research Center.
The study, which surveyed more than 35,000 Americans about their religious identity, found that the number of Mainers who identified as Christian declined to 60 percent of the population, down from 72 percent when the survey was last conducted in 2007.
Meanwhile, more Mainers identify as “unaffiliated with any religion” — that includes individuals who identify as agnostic, atheist, or “nothing in particular.” Nearly a third of Maine’s population identifies as having no religion, a proportion that’s still higher than the Northeast region (25 percent) and the United States as a whole (23 percent), but did not increase as fast as the region or the country between the two studies.
Catholics’ share of the population dropped the most of any religion in Maine. Roughly one in five Mainers identify as Catholic, down from 29 percent seven years ago. Catholics experienced big drops throughout the Northeast region, but especially in New Jersey, where 12 percent of the population stopped identifying as Catholic, or Massachusetts (9 percent). Nationwide, Catholics’ share of the population dropped three percent.
(Last month, The Bangor Daily News took a look at how the Catholic Church in Maine is changing in light of Mainers’ changing religious identity. The Catholic Church remains the largest religious affiliation in the state.)
Some religious groups in Maine did grow. The fastest growing religions in Maine were in the “other faiths” category, comprising of Unitarian, new age or Native American religious, which is how now roughly one in 20 Mainers identify themselves, up from one in 50. Other religious traditions that also grew include the historically black protestant tradition (2 percent), Mormonism (2 percent), Judaism (2 percent) and other Christian (1 percent).
Nationwide, the number of people not affiliated with any religion increased nearly seven percent in since 2007. Fewer people are likely to be Christian, regardless of their gender, age or race — but young people are even more like to not identify with a religion.
That said, the United States is still the country with most Christians in the world, according to a Pew study released in 2010 of the world’s religions.
To see how Maine compares with the country and the rest of the Northeast, Pew has compiled the data from this study in an interactive map.