Journal Article

Religious Pluralism and US Church Membership: A Reassessment

Daniel V. A. Olson

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 60, issue 2, pages 149-173
Published in print January 1999 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 1999 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
Religious Pluralism and US Church Membership: A Reassessment

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This paper argues that church membership rates are lower in contemporary US counties having greater religious pluralism and that the same negative relationship is found in most historical data on US church membership. Finke and Stark find a positive relationship but in most cases only after statistically controlling for the percent of the population that is Catholic and/or Mormon. Breault has shown that these statistical controls create multicollinearity problems that distort the true, negative effects of pluralism. Finke and Stark counter that such multicollinearity is unavoidable because the statistical controls measure important substantive characteristics of Catholicism that are necessary to accurately observe pluralism's true, positive effects. This paper shows that the statistical controls do not measure substantive effects of Catholicism and that the resulting multicollinearity problems are the result of a mathematical artifact of the way pluralism is calculated and the cases Finke and Stark select for analysis. Without these problematic statistical controls, most contemporary and historical analyses of US data reveal a negative association between religious pluralism and church membership.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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