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Dec. 12, 2005 Press Contact: William Harms
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Religious transformation is a common American experience, University of Chicago study shows

    Read the Complete Study:
Spiritual and Religious Transformations in America: The National Spiritual Transformation Study


Christmas is a time for many Americans to be reminded of their religious values, and for about half of the nation’s population, their religious life includes having experienced a spiritual transformation that altered their lives, according to new research by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

“Spiritual and religious change experiences are common, with 50 percent of Americans having undergone one or more,” said Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey (GSS) at NORC. People who experienced transformation said they either had been “born again” or had another spiritual or religious experience that changed their lives.

“Spiritual change is a powerful experience in America. Such change is strongly related to current religious beliefs and behaviors and strengthening of faith is the most common consequence of this experience,” Smith said.

Smith said people most frequently experience religious transformation in early adulthood and are usually already participants in a religious community at the time. In many cases, people experienced transformation at time they were dealing with problems in their life, especially illnesses and accidents to themselves or those near-and-dear to them according to “Spiritual and Religious Transformations in America: The National Spiritual Transformation Study” based on a 2004 survey 1,328 randomly chosen people taking part in the GSS, a survey routinely used by social scientists to study American attitudes and behaviors.

Smith’s work showed that while transformations often take place early in a person's life, the commitment to change does not dissipate over time for most believers. The people who reported having a religious change in their lives, changed their behavior and their outlook on life, the survey found.

“The main difference that changers reported was in their spiritual or religious life,” he said. People reported that they wanted to share their faith and increased their daily praying and other devotional activities. They also said they changed their behavior such as becoming more compassionate, and enabled to give up bad habits. “Very few mentioned any material improvements or worldly successes,” he said.

The survey found there were few meaningful differences by gender, Hispanic ethnicity, marital status or education or income among people reporting a religious transformation. The study did find these differences, however:

  • More blacks (64 percent) than whites (50 percent) or people of other backgrounds (46 percent) report spiritual transformations.
  • Transformations are least common in New England (24 percent) and most common in the South (about 60 percent reported a change). Figures for elsewhere in the country were Mid-Atlantic (40 percent), Western mountain region (52 percent), Pacific region (50 percent), eastern Midwest (43 percent), western Midwest (54 percent).
  • Transformation was more common among Protestants (62 percent) than Catholics (30 percent).
  • Among Protestants, those in conservative, evangelical denominations reported the highest percentage of people experiencing transformation (72 percent), compared with adherents of moderate denominations (44 percent).

“Spiritual and Religious Transformations in America: The National Spiritual Transformation Study,” was supported by Metanexus Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. The General Social Survey, an in-person survey of a representative sample of Americans 18 and older, is conducted every one to two years with support from the National Science Foundation.
Last modified at 09:40 AM CST on Monday, December 12, 2005.

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