What aRE "Religious NoneS"?

Or rather, who are they?

Most of the people I provide spiritual care for do not identify as religious–that is, they fall in the category of “Religious Nones”–but what exactly does this mean?

arms open to the sky on Mt. Monadanock

Definition of Religious Nones

The term, “Religious Nones,” is a catchall for those who identify as agnostic, atheist, “spiritual but not religious,” “nothing in particular,” or unaffiliated—that is, individuals with no religious home.

I like the term Religious None not only because it’s a great pun–None, nun, get it?–but also because it doesn’t necessitate disbelief in God or denunciation of religious behavior. The label is more about whether individuals are affiliated with a specific religious tradition, like Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism, to name a few. 

"Religious Nones" vs. "Spiritual but not Religious"

In contrast to the term “spiritual but not religious”–which some people see as directly criticizing religion–the term “Religious Nones” is more broad. For instance, a Religious None may still read a variety of religious texts, from the Bible to the Upanishads, and find these all bring meaning in their life. A Religious None may also pray, but who they believe to be the recipient of their prayer may be different than God as defined in traditional religious texts. There are also many Religious Nones who do not partake in anything religious–belief or practice–and lean toward atheism. All of these variations are acceptable within the category of Religious Nones.

History and demographics of religious nones

The label, “Religious None,” was first used by sociologists in the 1960’s to refer to individuals who chose “none” or “none of the above” when asked “Which religion are you?” on a survey.

The term was revived in the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) and the 2012 Pew Research Center report “Nones on the Rise” as researchers sought to describe the increasing number of individuals who do not identify as religious.

Over the last sixty years, the number of Religious Nones in the United States has risen from 3% in 1957 to 21% in 2014. According to sociologist, Mark Chaves, this number is continuing to rise and this is true in Canada, Australia, and Europe, too.

Spiritual Needs of Religious Nones

The thing is, even if we’re not religious, humans still have spiritual needs. This means Religious Nones–atheist or otherwise–still feel an inherent desire for Connectedness and need to care for their spiritual health. 

Without a traditional religious affiliation, though, Religious Nones have to be clever about how they fulfill their spiritual needs. Some Nones turn to sports, yoga, book clubs, hiking, and a variety of other activities that help them feel connected with themselves, their communities, their environment, and their orientation with the transcendent (God for some, Love or the expansiveness of the cosmos for others). 

However, not all Religious Nones are fulfilling their spiritual needs, which is where Science of Connectedness comes in. My goal with this company is to provide research-based resources and spiritual care services for Religious Nones in order to help them better meet their spiritual needs. Interested? Check out my index of research-based spiritual health tools or read about the spiritual services I offer.

On a personal note

In 2013, students at Harvard Divinity School formed the HDS Religious Nones, which I ended up leading as president from 2016-2018 after the original leaders graduated. The Nones provided a community for students at the divinity school with no religious home (a rarity, but becoming more common), and the  New York Times wrote a story about the group in 2015. If you have any questions about this or want to start your own group, feel free to reach out–I love chatting about the Nones!