Year in Review – 2020

by Ryan P. Burge and Paul A. Djupe

This is the year that most of us would be glad to forget. All of us have suffered in various demoralizing ways. But for us at Religion in Public, we are able to celebrate the most successful year in the history of our blog. We have logged over 175,000 visits in the last 12 months – that’s an increase of over 75% from last year. We got more traffic this last year than the previous three combined. This endeavor has been successful far beyond our wildest dreams.

As is our custom, we are going to highlight the five most popular posts in 2020, almost half of which are not by Burge and Djupe.

1. Atheists are the Most Politically Active Group in the United States – Ryan Burge

We’ve been doing this long enough to know that we have no clue what is going to go viral on social media and this is a prime example. The findings here are pretty straightforward: atheists are deeply involved in politics of all types including attending city council meetings, putting up yard signs, and voting. It would be easy to chalk this up to their high levels of education, but even controlling for a number of demographic atheists’ political activity is off the charts.


There are lots of implications for this and it will be especially consequential if atheists can become a larger part of the American population. I do wonder if that same drive to engage will persist even after Donald Trump leaves the White House, though.

2. Christian Nationalism Talks Religion, But Walks Fascism – Sam Perry and Andrew Whitehead

One of the most important books published in the last year has been Perry and Whitehead’s Taking Back America for God, which is a comprehensive analysis of an emerging concept in social science – Christian Nationalism. This post is a distillation of their argument in short form. Their definition of the concept is simple yet profound: “(Christian Nationalism) is an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation.”


Perry and Whitehead argue that Christian Nationalism extends beyond the borders of evangelical Christianity and that even those without a strong religious devotion can still be Christian Nationalists. This post still bounces around social media a few times per week even ten months after its initial publication in February.

3. Trump The Anointed? – Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge

The only people who think that writing survey questions are easy are those who have never done it before. This one started with the two of us trying to see just how strong support was for Donald Trump among Christian conservatives. We were kicking ideas around on gChat as we were working on a new survey to put into the field and then we settled on the idea of Trump being anointed by God to be President. After some discussion we wanted to widen the scope and ask if all presidents were anointed by God, too.


Those simple survey questions lead to something that we could have never imagined: Trump was asked in an interview by David Brody of CBN if he thought that he was anointed by God. The Daily Wire even made the connection between our work and that interview question in an article on their website in June. I don’t know if you can put, “conducted research that prompted an interview question to the President” on a CV, but we are going to find a way to include it.

4. For White Evangelical Republicans, Approval of Trump is About Immigration more than Abortion – Ryan Burge

This was an idea that I had been nibbling around the edges of for a while but wanted to condense my thoughts into a single article. I kept seeing the same tired argument on social media – evangelicals like Trump because he will fight to end abortion in the United States. On a superficial level, it makes a lot of sense. There’s only one problem: the data don’t really support it. In the post, I make a data-driven argument that for white evangelical Republicans immigration is really the key issue and that abortion is in a secondary position.


This post got a big boost in just the last few weeks when David French highlighted it on his Substack in a post entitled, “The Cultural Consequences of Very, Very Republican Christianity.” French’s argument is key to the future of American religion. If Christianity and the Republican Party continue to be so closely linked, it will inevitably become a smaller share of the population. That might be a trade-off that many Christians are willing to make, but they need to be aware of the consequences of that course of action.

5. Generation Z and Religion: What New Data Show – Melissa Deckman

Everyone wants to know the future, especially when it comes to religious demography. Melissa Deckman was able to pull the curtain back on Generation Z when she put a survey in the field that focused on just those born in 1995 or later. For people of faith, Deckman’s findings are disheartening. Nearly half of Gen Z say that they rarely or never attend church services. The share of Gen Z who are unaffiliated largely mirrors that of millennials, as well.

genz - figure 1

Tracking the rate of disaffiliation has always been part of what we do on Religion in Public with posts like: “The Decline of Religion May Be Slowing,” and “The Decline of Religion Continues – Nones Gain 3 Percent in One Year” They show our commitment to reporting the latest data trends, even when the results can portray a somewhat inconsistent narrative.

We will continue to do our best in 2021 to inform the general public about the changing shape of American religion. On top of posts by Djupe and Burge on a regular basis we will continue to encourage other scholars of American religion to use our platform to disseminate their work to a much wider audience than those who have access to paywalled journals. Public scholarship is some of the most rewarding and gratifying work that academics can do and we hope that others will follow our lead in the coming year.

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