New Index Tracks "Spiritual State of the Union"

by George H. Gallup Jr. and Byron R. Johnson

President Bush's State of the Union address this evening will focus on the critical, material issues of the day. But given the relatively high level of religiosity in the United States and the fact that the majority of Americans believe that the health of the country also depends on the spiritual health of its citizens, it's also important to ask: What is the spiritual state of the union?

The CRRUCS/Gallup Spiritual Index

The CRRUCS/Gallup Spiritual Index*, for which the initial data are being released today, represents the combined efforts of the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (CRRUCS) at the University of Pennsylvania, The Gallup Organization, and The George H. Gallup International Institute. The new Index seeks to regularly monitor the breadth and depth of spirituality and religious faith in the United States, and to shed light on the relationship of these factors to national wellbeing.

The CRRUCS/Gallup Spiritual Index stands today at 74.7%, out of a possible score of 100%. Although scores for individual respondents run the full gamut from 0 to 100, the average score is 74.7% (plus or minus 1.4 points). This figure, which will serve as a baseline for monitoring future change, is the average of the measures for two key components:

  1. Inner Commitment -- These questions are designed to gauge feelings of connection with God, a divine will, a higher power, etc. The average score on this set of questions is 79.8% (plus or minus 1.5 points) out of a possible 100%.
  2. Outer Commitment -- These questions tap the ways inner commitment is being lived out in service to others, to one's community, and to society as a whole. The average American's score on this scale stands at 69.5% (plus or minus 1.5 points) out of a possible 100%.

Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, these components would be specifically defined as "love of God" and "love of neighbor." Though these initial figures have little interpretive value, future measurements will determine whether the gap between inner and outer commitment has increased or decreased.

Survey Methodology

The CRRUCS/Gallup Spiritual Index is based on a June 2002 survey of 1,509 U.S. adults. The findings can be projected to the entire U.S. adult population of 200 million people, representing every shade of spiritual and religious beliefs.

The large majority of people surveyed, 80%, said they consider themselves part of the Christian religious tradition, while 6% indicated a non-Christian religious tradition and 13% said they were part of no religious tradition. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they are "religious," while 39% said they are "spiritual but not religious." Another 9% said "both."

In assessing the findings from this study, it is important to bear in mind that the CRRUCS/Gallup Spiritual Index is intended to monitor the growth or decline of spirituality and religious faith, rather than to draw conclusions about absolute levels. The Index is the result of many years of experimentation and testing. In the current survey, a 6-point scale was used to allow nuanced responses. The final scale included 14 carefully selected questions, half of them focusing on "inner commitment" and half on "outer commitment."

Key Findings

Among the major findings of this study are the following:

  • Most Americans yearn for spiritual growth. A large majority (69%) of respondents said they completely or to a considerable extent feel the need to experience spiritual growth in their daily lives. Closely paralleling this is the finding that 68% of respondents said they are "spiritually committed" (choosing one of the top 2 points on a 6-point scale).
  • Most Americans rely on their faith for a sense of meaning. A full 85% said that because of their faith, they have meaning and purpose in their lives.
  • Most Americans believe in absolute good and evil. Eighty percent of people surveyed said the following statement applies to them completely or to a considerable extent: "I believe there are clear guidelines about what is good or evil that apply to everyone regardless of his or her situation."
  • Many Americans report having had profound religious experiences. As reported in an earlier Tuesday Briefing article (see "Religious Awakenings Bolster Americans' Faith" in Related Items), 40% of respondents said that they have had a religious experience that changed the direction of their lives. A similar percentage said they had experienced a profound healing -- physical, emotional, or spiritual -- in their lives.

The major findings of this study will be presented at a press conference March 4 in Washington, D.C.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,509 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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