Dr. S. Helbing
29 March 2012
Religious Culture of the United States
According to recent surveys, an estimated 83 percent of adult Americans identify with a religious denomination, 40 percent admit to attending a religious service once or more each week, and 58 percent claim to pray at least weekly (Putnam Ch. 1, p. 5). Furthermore, a 2008 “American Religious Identification Survey” identified that there currently exist a total of 313 different religious sects and denominations in the United States (Kosmin 3). These statistical figures clearly indicate that the United States is characterized by both a wide diversity in religious beliefs and practices as well as by a high adherence level (in comparison to other developed countries). Religion has played a pivotal role in shaping what can be considered today’s American culture and value system since (and prior to) its inception. More than a century before the former 13 original British colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island ) became the United States of America, the earliest settlers (popularly referred to as “the pilgrims”) consisted of men and women of deep religious convictions. The religious intensity of the original settlers later waned off with time but new waves of 17th century immigrants, escaping religious persecution in Europe, brought their own religious fervor across the Atlantic. The Puritans, consisting of English Protestants who wished to reform and purify the Church of England of what they considered to be unacceptable residues of Roman Catholicism, were the first major sect to ride this wave of migration to America. Beginning in 1630, as many as 20,000 Puritans migrated to America to gain the liberty to worship as they chose. Most Puritans settled and were later well established as a religious sect in Massachusetts, in New England (Johnson 11). Although the Puritans were victims of religious persecution in Europe themselves, they supported the “Old World Theory” that sanctioned it. Once gaining control of New England, they strictly opposed any form of dissent or schism. The "business" of the first settlers, a Puritan minister recalled in 1681, "was not toleration, but [they] were professed enemies of it" (Johnson 185). They forcefully expelled any dissenter, a fate that befell one of its former leaders, Roger Williams. Williams later founded Rhode Island on the principle of religious freedom; one of the first recorded insinuation of the idea of the “freedom to worship” in the annals of American religious history. The next historically renowned sect to arrive the shores of America, also fleeing religious persecution in Europe, were the Quakers. The Quakers were considered as a more extreme and radical form of the Puritans. They were severely persecuted in England for daring to deviate so far from orthodox Christianity and by 1680, about 10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England and 243 had died of torture and mistreatment in jail. This reign of terror compelled them to seek refuge in New Jersey in the 1670s. In 1681, Quaker leader William Penn parlayed a debt owed by Charles II to his father into a charter for the province of Pennsylvania. By 1685, as many as 8,000 Quakers had moved from England, Wales, and Ireland to Pennsylvania, where they could worship freely (Bacon 249). Other religious groups that sought refuge in the United States as a result of facing persecution in their former homelands included Jews, who fled from persecution they faced in Dutch Brazil, as well as Lutheran Germans. The Jews established themselves in what we now know as New York City, and the Lutheran Germans were settled in Virginia. The Roman Catholics in England also fled to America, owing to persecution and harassment in England, and were mostly settled in Maryland where they consisted of a very small minority...
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