Patricia O’Connell Killen is the primary editor of the book Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest. Professor Killen has worked regularly with Northwest pastors, congregations, and community organizations on understanding the religious ecology of the region and how it shapes both individual and institutional religious sensibilities and possibilities. She is a nationally recognized scholar in American religious history and is currently serving Gonzaga University as its Academic Vice President. She was kind enough to sit down with Christ and Cascadia’s editor Matthew Kaemingk for an interview about her findings.
Kaemingk: Reflecting on your research could you explain how the Pacific Northwest compares to the rest of the United States in terms of religious affiliation statistics?
Killen: Three things stood out about religious affiliation numbers in the Pacific Northwest.
First, most Northwesterners are outside the doors of the church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, and always has been. In 2000, the figure was 62.8%. A smaller percentage of the Pacific Northwest is “churched” that is, counted as adherents, than in any other region of the country. Adherents comprised 37.2% of the total population in 2000. That compares to a national figure of 59.5%.
Second, those who are in religious organizations are divided and dispersed amongst more different religious bodies than is the case in other regions of the U.S. The top five religious bodies in other parts of the U.S. capture 75% to 80% of the adherents. Hence these top five groups dominate the “religious marketplace.”
In the Pacific Northwest, however, the top five groups capture only 66% of adherents. Because the total “pie” of adherents is so small in the Northwest, it makes it difficult for any single denomination to exert significant social or political influence. For example, Roman Catholics, the largest group in the region, accounted for only 11.3% of the population in 2000.
The third fact that stood out from the 2000 data was the unique make up of the top religious communities in the Pacific Northwest. The list is strikingly different from the national pattern.
The top six religious communities nationally, in descending order were: Catholic, Baptist, Historically African-American Protestant, United Methodist, Other Conservative Christian, and Holiness/Wesleyan/Pentecostal.
But in the Pacific Northwest the top six were: Catholic, Holiness/Wesleyan/Pentecostal, Other Conservative Christian, LDS, Baptist, and Lutheran (ELCA).