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The Creation of a Distinct Subcultural Identity and Denominational Growth

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Scholars have long been concerned with the causes of differential growth in the membership of religious traditions and denominations. In this article I use data from three surveys, matched with census and membership data from U.S. states, to test Smith's recent theory of denominational growth and decline. I find that in the one denomination under study, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the states where membership has declined the least are those states where the members of the denomination are both the most theologically orthodox and have the strongest identity as theological liberals. Although seemingly paradoxical, it fits Smith's theory well. Liberal Protestants do not thrive where they are the most conservative, but rather where they have created a unique identity—a unique social niche—somewhere between evangelicalism and secularism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California, San Diego, USA

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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