Americans Feel Need to Believe

by George H. Gallup Jr.
Senior Staff Writer

Even as scientists continue to advance humankind's knowledge about everything from the age of the universe to the protein sequence in a DNA strand, Gallup polls indicate that Americans' need to believe in matters beyond mortal ken is greater than ever.

Though the importance of religion in Americans' lives has remained relatively constant, the last 10 years have seen an upsurge of interest among the U. S. populace in spiritual matters. Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Gallup found* that the percentage of Americans who said they would like to experience spiritual growth in their lives had risen to eight in 10 in 2001 from six in 10 in the early 1990s. The initial analysis of the terrorist attacks' impact on the nation's spirituality shows that there has been no increase in church attendance or in the importance of religion in Americans' daily lives. The long-term impact of the attacks remains to be explored in future studies.

Religious beliefs

Looking back over the last decade, Gallup surveys have recorded increases in belief in supernatural, paranormal and psychic phenomena. Some of these that fall within the scope of traditional religions have reached record highs. The percentage of Americans who believe in the devil, for example, has grown from 55% to 68% over the last decade. The percentage of Americans who believe in hell has increased 15 points in just four years, while belief in heaven has grown 11 points over a comparable period.

Non-religious beliefs

Paralleling these upward trends have been increases in the number of Americans who believe in the following: that houses can be haunted; that ghosts or spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations; that people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died; that extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth at some time in the past; and who believe in witches. As Gallup surveys have repeatedly shown, many Americans hold both traditional and nontraditional beliefs at the same time.

*Based on telephone interviews with 1,015 adults, aged 18+, conducted Nov. 20-22, 1998. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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