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ARDA Guiding Papers Series

Recognizing secular Christians: Toward an unexcluded middle in the study of religion

by David Voas and Abby Day


Many people are neither especially religious nor completely irreligious. This intermediate zone in religiosity is large and important, including as it does about half of Europeans and an increasing number of Americans. It is worth understanding the varying degrees of religious affiliation, belief and practice and what combinations of these characteristics are typically found.

‘Secular Christians’ are the most important component of the broad middle group in the developed West. These are people who call themselves Christian but who for all practical purposes are secular. They live in a world centered on their social relationships, in which God has no everyday role.

This category is a product of the declining social authority of religion, the substantial growth in the non-Christian population, and the increasingly common tendency to identify with no religion. In these circumstances it becomes meaningful to have a religious identity in the absence of a religious worldview. The challenge is to understand just what that meaning might be.

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Please use the following when citing this paper:

Voas, David and Abby Day. 2010. Recognizing secular Christians: Toward an unexcluded middle in the study of religion (ARDA Guiding Paper Series). State College, PA: The Association of Religion Data Archives at The Pennsylvania State University, from http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/guidingpapers.asp.

David Voas, University of Manchester

Abby Day, University of Sussex and Birkbeck, University of London