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Giving a face to the ‘nones’: who makes up America’s religiously unaffiliated population?

Organized religion, a once traditional aspect of American culture, is becoming increasingly sporadic within major demographics across the nation. Pew Research Center reports that “one in five Americans have no religious affiliation”, and, “one third of the adult population under 30 are rel

Mark Zahar and Taylor Stessney, juniors at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University.

Mark Zahar and Taylor Stessney, juniors at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University who are not religiously affiliated.

igiously unaffiliated”. This study has sparked a massive reaction in most major media outlets, deeming the non-religious sect of Americans as the ‘nones’. Pew made a slight differentiation between atheists and agnostics, noting that 13 million people describe them

selves as such. However, major newspapers like The Washington Post and CNN have ran st

ories with kitschy headlines like “Losing Our Religion: One in five Americans are now ‘nones’”, reducing the non-religious population to a haphazardly placed label.

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Facebook offers a slot to add religious views, but one in five Americans have nothing to add.

However, many Americans that are not part of any branch of organized religion still have spiritual principles that guide them. In a lot of cases, the dismissal of religious labels comes from an unwillingness to be associated with extremely conservative religious groups. Despite the nation’s best efforts to separate church and state, the so-called ‘nones’ have no particular religious title because many sects of organized religion have traditional views on modern humanist issues gay marriage or women’s rights, according to a Washington Post article.


Loretta Myers, a religious youth group leader at a nondenominational church in Leesburg, VA understands these political differences are becoming closely related to religion.

“In my youth group, I encourage the kids to pursue their own spirituality, regardless of a religious label. Including all is important, especially when heated political issues are so prevalent in religion. We have to keep an open mind,” said Myers.

According to PEW, College aged Americans make up a large percentage of the ‘nones’. Duquesne University, a local Pittsburgh institution with a Catholic background, has a number of students who, despite the school’s views have no particular religious affiliation. They represent a great number of ideologies—whether it be atheist, agnostic, or simply looking to a certain moral idea as an example of a higher power. In some cases, those who belong to traditional religious sects may attend church with their parents at home, but when they arrive at college, they aren’t as dedicated to practicing their faith.

stock-photo-16458898-human-hand-insirting-bible-to-ballot-box-before-american-flagTaylor Stessney, a 20-year-old junior at Duquesne, believes it’s not hard to find religiously unaffiliated students, even on a college campus with such a large Catholic influence.

“College is a liberalizing experience. We want to challenge our beliefs. Our first time without parental invention is a big revealer of how much people had faith at heart. When people get married and have kids, I think that’s when they make a final religious decision.” she said.

For some, labeling non-religious Americans as ‘nones’ is precisely one of the reasons why many have strayed from large, controlling group of faith. Many people with individual faiths feel forgotten in the midst of powerful religious groups.

stock-photo-22438017-faith-wood-letter-word“I don’t think people who have no religious affiliation should be ‘nones’. I don’t affiliate with one particular religion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have beliefs or morals that I look to,” said Mark Zahar, a 20-year-old junior at Duquesne University.

Spirituality and organized religion are two concepts that require separation, especially in cases of  religiously unaffiliated people. One in five Americans are not ‘nones’, but modern examples of how the American tradition is rapidly broadening to include a variety of faiths.


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