The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans most likely to say pandemic has deepened their faith

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith begins a live-streamed service in an empty Washington National Cathedral in March. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Faith is one way some people cope with crisis. But according to a new Pew Research survey of 14 countries, the coronavirus pandemic has not significantly boosted people’s faith.

Of the countries surveyed — all advanced economies with significant secular populations — Americans were most likely to say the pandemic made their faith stronger. But even in the United States, only 28 percent reported a stronger personal faith as a result of covid-19.

The coronavirus has infected 100 million people worldwide and killed more than 2 million.

The survey, which was fielded this past summer, showed majorities or pluralities in all the countries surveyed did not feel their faith has been strengthened by the pandemic, including 68 percent of U.S. adults who say their own faith has not changed much.

Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly half of White evangelicals in the United States (49 percent) said their faith grew stronger due to the coronavirus outbreak — more than any other group. U.S. Catholics came in second, with 35 percent saying their faith increased. Among mainline Protestants, 21 percent said their faith was bolstered by the pandemic, while 5 percent of people who do not affiliate with any religion said their faith grew.

By contrast, in Denmark only 2 percent said their faith had grown; in the United Kingdom, 10 percent said it had grown.

The impact of the pandemic, faith-wise, seems to be concentrated on Americans who were already religious. Asked to rank how important religion is in their lives, the percent of people who said “very” went from 47 percent in spring 2019 to 49 percent in summer 2020. Those who said “somewhat” went from 23 to 21 percent, “not too” stayed at 13 percent and “not at all” remained at 16 percent.

However, 45 percent of Americans who say religion is important in their lives said their faith has become stronger as a result of the pandemic compared with 11 percent of those who say religion is somewhat important, not too important or not at all important.

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In times of crisis, people also turn to family. Researchers for the survey asked respondents if their relationships with immediate family members have grown. The survey found that among the 14 countries, a median of 32 percent said relationships have grown stronger. Only 8 percent said the opposite.

In the United States, young Americans, many of whom have moved back in with their parents, are more likely than their older counterparts to say their relationships with immediate family members have strengthened. Half of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 said their family bonds have tightened, compared with 38 percent of those ages 50 and older.

The survey was conducted from June 10 to Aug. 3, 2020, among 14,276 adults in 14 countries: the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

— Religion News Service