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79 Soc. F. 291 (2000-2001)
The Measure of American Religion: Toward Improving the State of the Art

handle is hein.journals/josf79 and id is 303 raw text is: The Measure of American Religion:
Toward Improving the State of the Art*
BRIAN STEENSLAND, Princeton University
JERRY Z. PARK, University of Notre Dame
MARK D. REGNERUS, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
LYNN D. ROBINSON, Princeton University
W. BRADFORD WILCOX, Princeton University
ROBERT D. WOODBERRY, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Recently, scholars have devoted renewed attention to the role of religion in American
life. Thus, it is important that they use the most effective means available to categorize
and study religious groups. However, the most widely used classification scheme in survey
research (TW Smith 1990) does not capture essential differences between American
religious traditions and overlooks significant new trends in religious affiliation. We
critique this scheme based on its historical, terminological and taxonomical inaccuracy
and offer a new approach that addresses its shortcomings by using denominational
affiliation to place respondents into seven categories grounded in the historical
development ofAmerican religious traditions. Most important, this new scheme yields
more meaningful interpretations because the categories refer to concrete religious
traditions. Because of increased accuracy in classification, it also improves model fit
and reduces measurement error.
Since the rise of the Christian Right in the late 1970s, scholars have devoted renewed
attention to the role of religion in American public life. Social commentators now
widely acknowledge that Americans are more religious than citizens in most other
*Early versions of this article were presented at the meetings of the Southern Association for
Public Opinion Research (1997) and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (1998).
The article grew from discussions between the authors at the Seminar on Survey Research
and American Religion sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts. We are grateful to Jim Guth,
Bud Kellstedt, and Corwin Smidt for organizing the seminar and for their encouragement
on the project. We also thank the anonymous Social Forces reviewers for their helpful
suggestions. Direct correspondence to Brian Steensland, 2-N-1 Green Hall, Princeton
University, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail:

Social Forces, September 2000, 79(1):291-318

@ The University of North Carolina Press

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