How Irreligious is Oregon, Exactly?

religion-spiritualityThis is something you’ve heard before: Oregon has a low population of church-going citizens, sitting as the 6th least religious state in the union, bested by Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Corvallis in particular sits in Benton County, which was found in 2003 to have the least number of religious individuals per-capita in the entire country. Although USA Today, Gallup and other groups have released polls in recent years showing dramatic decreases in the number of individuals recognizing themselves as religious, a recent study conducted by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) paints these trends in a clearer light.

After surveying 2,971 Oregonians, results showed that some form of spiritualism was present for 61 percent of Oregon state residents, and that the trend shows the number of those identifying as spiritual, but without denominational affiliation, to be on the rise. The signs clearly point towards movement away from the church and towards more individualized practice, rather than simply an outright decrease in those that consider themselves to be spiritual. This a departure from the oft black and white interpretation by the mainstream, which tends to see it as a shift from absolute theism to absolute atheism. This is an important distinction to make when it comes to truly understanding the demographic.

The survey went on to find that 49% of Oregonians feel that religion is important in their daily lives, with a slightly smaller, but similar 48% saying the opposite. Taking into account that religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, it stands to reason that there is no inherent conflict between these numbers and the aforementioned Gallup polls.

Whether these trends are common throughout the rest of the country remains to be seen, but Oregon once again stands up to its reputation as a diverse, tolerant and complex community.

by Johnny Beaver