Ye of little faith (in the Pacific Northwest)

Dr. Patricia O'Connell Killen

The Pacific Northwest is the None Zone, a home for the unchurched, where faith goes to die.

Well, kinda’.

Religion doesn’t have the traction here that it does in other states. “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,”, a 2004 study, reported that 63 percent of Pacific Northwesterners claimed no religious affiliation, compared to 41 percent of the country as a whole.

Patricia O’Connell  Killen, academic vice president and professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University, said the Pacific Northwest is more religious now than it ever has been. That could be, she said Tuesday at a Greater Gonzaga Guild meeting, because people are finding faith “outside the doors.” That is, they feel one doesn’t need an organized religious institution to have a relationship with the almighty. And therefore, because they don’t belong to a particular denomination, they’re considered “nones” and hence, this is the None Zone.

“The rest of the nation is beginning to look more like us,” she said, adding that the Pacific Northwest is the ‘canary in the mine.’ The area has always been less religious than other areas, but Vermont and Massachusetts now have the most nones.

However, the ‘unchurched’ population here can be broken down even further. The nones, O’Connell Killen explained, claim no religious affiliation. That makes up 25 percent of the Pacific Northwest population. Identifiers make up almost 28 percent. Identifiers are those who belong to a religion, but don’t attend services anymore, according to the American Religious Identification Survey (2008).

O’Connell Killen says there are three reasons why the Pacific Northwest has been labeled the None Zone:

– Most people in the region have never participated in religious institutions.

– Successive waves of immigrants and economics shape the story.

–  There’s no dominant religious reference here that’s conventionally understood.

“No one (no religious group) has a lock here,” she said.

For the record, 37.2 percent of the Pacific Northwest population are religious adherents of some sort. O’Connell Killen says that the Pentecostal, nondenominational and independent churches are growing in this area, as well as globally, while traditional churches continue to shrink.

She didn’t have specific numbers for Spokane, but said the top five faith groups here are Catholics, Latter-day Saints, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Southern Baptists and Presbyterians.

– Tracy Simmons

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