The biggest gains due to change in religious affiliation in the US have been among those who say they are not affiliated with any particular faith, according to a new study.
The survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life found that Americans change their religious affiliation early and often and the reasons they give for changing - or leaving religion altogether - differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert.
'Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the US'is a follow-up to the 'US Religious Landscape Survey', conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007 and released in 2008. It is based on over 2,800 callback interviews with members of the largest segments of the population that have changed religious affiliation.
The poll results offer a fuller picture of the 'churn' within religion in America, where about half of adults have changed religious affiliation at least once in their life.
According to the survey, most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before the age of 24 and many of those who change religion do so more than once.
Many people who have left a religion to become unaffiliated - the group that has grown the most from religious switching - say they did so in part because they stopped believing in the teachings of their childhood faith. Many also cite disillusionment with religious people and institutions as reasons for becoming unaffiliated.
Those leaving the Catholic Church often say they did so because they stopped believing in Catholic teachings. This is true for half of Catholics who have become Protestant as well as two-thirds of Catholics who have become unaffiliated. Fewer say they left because of clergy sexual abuse scandals.
In contrast with other groups, Americans who have switched from one Protestant denominational family (e.g., Baptist, Methodist) to another tend to do so because of changes in life circumstances, such as marriage or moving to a new community.
The report, including a detailed executive summary, methodology and topline questionnaire, is available here: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=409