The results of a new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life show that the religious beliefs of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories. Large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions and attending worship services of more than one faith or denomination.
Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. These often get mixed with true Christian beliefs for many Americans. For instance, 24 percent of the public overall and 22 percent of Christians say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology. Nearly three in ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one in five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15 percent have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic.
Nearly half of the public (49%) says they have had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening.” This is similar to a survey conducted in 2006, but much higher than in surveys conducted in 1976 and 1994, and more than twice as high as a 1962 Gallup survey (22%). In fact, this year’s survey finds that religious and mystical experiences are more common today among those who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as a whole (22%).
The report also shows that one-third of Americans (35%) say they regularly (9%) or occasionally (26%) attend religious services at more than one place, and most of these (24% of the public overall) indicate that they sometimes attend religious services of a faith different from their own. Three in ten Protestants say they attend multiple types of religious services, including services at denominations different from their own, and one-fifth of Catholics say they sometimes attend non-Catholic services.