Understanding the Rise of Born-Again Catholics in the United States: The Role of Educational Attainment
Having a “born-again” experience has historically been a marker of sectarian or evangelical Protestantism. Yet the percentage of American Catholics reporting a born-again experience has nearly doubled in the past few decades—from 14% in 2004 to 27% in 2016—a much faster increase than that of evangelicals or any other religious group. How do we explain the disproportionate rise of born-again Catholics? Drawing on data from the 2004–2016 waves of the General Social Survey, this research note tests four potential mechanisms: (1) evangelicals converting to Catholicism; (2) born-again Catholics immigrating to the US; (3) evangelical-to-Catholic diffusion due to growing conservative-political alliances; and (4) having a born-again experience (both an indicator of sectarian religious piety and loose affiliation with more standard Catholic self-perceptions) is becoming more common among Catholics with less formal education. After testing alternative explanations, we show that reporting a born-again experience has increased almost solely among Catholics without a college degree. This suggests that the born-again experience is increasing primarily among those Catholics who tend to be more marginalized within society at large (potentially making sectarian religious experiences like being “born-again” more attractive) and less versed in more mainstream identity-markers of their own religious tradition.
KeywordsCatholicism Born-again Evangelical Trends
- Baggett, Jerome P. 2009. Sense of the Faithful: How American Catholics Live Their Faith. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Baker, Joseph, and Buster G. Smith. 2015. American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
- Barker, Dillon. 2012. Why I Became a Catholic Christian. Rogersville, TN: Lulu.Google Scholar
- Beaumont, Douglas M. 2014. The Mississippi Flows Into the Tiber: A Guide to Notable American Converts to the Catholic Church. South Bend, IN: Fidelity.Google Scholar
- Beaumont, Douglas M. (ed.). 2016. Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths to Rome. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press.Google Scholar
- Bruce, Tricia Colleen. 2017. Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Chaves, Mark. 2017. American Religion: Contemporary Trends. 2nd Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Cherlin, Andrew. 2014. Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
- Chesnut, R.Andrew. 1997. Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
- DeYoung, Kevin. 2012. Two Things to Keep in Mind When Evangelicals Turn Catholic. The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/two-things-to-keep-in-mind-when-evangelicals-turn-catholic/. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Dillon, Michelle. 2018. Postsecular Catholicism: Relevance and Renewal. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Finke, Roger, and Rodney Stark. 2005. The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. Revised ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
- Fitzgerald, Frances. 2017. The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
- Galli, Mark. 2011. The Confidence of the Evangelical: Why the Spirit, Not the Magisterium, Will Lead Us Into All Truth. Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/novemberweb-only/confidenceevangelical.html. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Geisler, Norman L., and Joshua M. Betancourt. 2008. Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.Google Scholar
- Glock, Charles. 1964. “The Role of Deprivation in the Origin and Evolution of Religious Groups.” Pp. 24-36 in Religion and Social Conflict, edited by R. Lee and M. E. Marty. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Glock, Charles, Benjamin B. Ringer, and Earl R. Babbie. 1967. To Comfort and to Challenge: A Delimma of the Contemporary Church. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Glock, Charles, and Rodney Stark. 1968. American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Green, John C. 2009. Exploring the Traditionalist Alliance: Evangelical Protestants, Religious Voters, and the Republican Presidential Vote. In Evangelicals and Democracy in America, vol. 1, ed. S. Brint and J.R. Schroedel, 117–158. Thousand Oaks, CA: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
- Gutierrez, Gustavo. 1988. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.Google Scholar
- Herberg, Will. 1955. Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Huang, Jon, Samuel L. Jacoby, Michael Strickland, and K. K. Rebecca Lai. 2016. Election 2016: Exit Polls. The New York Times. November 8. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Hunter, James Davison. 1983. American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
- McGuire, Meredith B. 1982. Pentecostal Catholics: Power, Charisma, and Order in a Religious Movement. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
- McHugh, John F. 2009. John 1-4, The International Critical Commentary. New York: T&T Clark.Google Scholar
- Mohler, R.Albert. 2015. We Cannot Be Silent. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.Google Scholar
- Mulder, Mark T., Aida I. Ramos, and Gerardo Marti. 2017. Latino Protestants in America: Growing and Diverse. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Neitz, Mary Jo. 1987. Charisma and Community: A Study of Religious Commitment within the Charismatic Renewal. New Brunswich, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
- Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1929. The Social Sources of Denominationalism. New York: Living Age.Google Scholar
- Perry, Samuel L. 2017. Growing God's Family: The Global Orphan Care Movement and the Limits of Evangelical Activism. New York: New York University PressGoogle Scholar
- Pew Research Center. 2014. The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States. Pew Research Center. May 7. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/05/07/the-shifting-religious-identity-of-latinos-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Pew Research Center. 2015. America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Pew Research Center. May 12. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-1-the-changing-religious-composition-of-the-u-s/. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Reich, Robert. 2014. College Shouldn’t Be America’s Only Gateway to the Middle Class. Business Insider. September 1. http://www.businessinsider.com/college-gateway-middle-class-2014-9. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Roof, Wade Clark, and William McKinney. 1987. American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
- Sawhill, Isabel V. 2013. Higher Education and the Opportunity Gap. Brookings. October 8. https://www.brookings.edu/research/higher-education-and-the-opportunity-gap/. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Smidt, Corwin E., Lyman A. Kellstedt, and James L. Guth. 2009. The Role of Religion in American Politics: Explanatory Theories and Associated Analytical and Measurement Issues. In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, ed. C.E. Smidt, L.A. Kellstedt, and J.L. Guth, 3–42. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Smith, Christian. 1998. American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Staples, Tim. 2013. Born Again—The Bible Way. Catholic Answers. October 5. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/born-again-the-bible-way. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Troeltsch, Ernst.  1992. The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox.Google Scholar
- US Catholic Church. 2003. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
- Winseman, Albert L. 2005. Who Has Been Born Again? Gallup. January 18. http://news.gallup.com/poll/14632/who-has-been-born-again.aspx. Accessed 15 May 2018.
- Wuthnow, Robert. 2009. The Cultural Capital of American Evangelicalism. In Evangelicals and Democracy in America, vol. 1, ed. S. Brint and J.R. Schroedel, 27–43. Thousand Oaks, CA: Russell Sage.Google Scholar