For Many Americans, Religious Identity Is No Longer a Given

February 12, 2007

Author: Andrea Useem

Source: Pew Forum

Wire Service: RNS

When Aurora Turk was growing up in Mexico City, being Catholic was a given. "It was taught to me by the nuns at school and my mother at home," she recalled. "My whole world was Catholic."

But Turk's adult life has been marked by religious exploration.

Married to a Brooklyn-born Jew, the 38-year-old mother now follows the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian spiritual teacher; she and her husband plan to raise their infant son in the Self-Realization Fellowship, a group founded by Yogananda, at their home in Springfield, Va.

While Turk's story seems unique, her experience of switching religious identities is a common one for many Americans. According to experts who study the phenomenon, believers are exercising their freedom of choice more than ever before.

Sixteen percent of Americans have switched their religious identities at some point in their lives, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, one of the largest studies of its kind.