“Religion plays a less important role in American life.” Or maybe, “Religion declines as powerful source of American public authority.”
I doubt those headlines would have garnered the attention the Pew Center recently received with its subtitle “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population.”
This is no criticism of Pew. It gets full credit for bringing religious demographics to the public’s attention. And the story of Christian decline is an obvious hook, as is the story of the rapidly growing number of “nones,” people with no particular religious affiliation.
But behind the story of Christian decline and the rise of “nones” is a long-standing debate about what religion theorists call “secularization,” the broad process by which religion gradually loses its social influence.