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Spiritualism on the Rise

Frank Boosman
While 55% of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, national trends show more and more people are leaving organized religion.

The Pew Research Center reported 65% of Americans described themselves as Christian in 2018 and 2019 — a number that has been in decline for a decade. However, in the 44 years the General Social Survey has conducted studies on Americans’ religious beliefs, 2019 was the first year “No Religion” topped the list above a specific organization.

While more and more people are turning away from organized religions, spiritualism is on the rise. Utah State University professor Patrick Mason, an American Religion historian, said this trend started in the 1960s with changes in U.S. immigration policies and the counter-culture movement. 

“We've only seen those trends accelerate in the past couple of decades as more and more people have become disenchanted with the traditional churches — again, mostly Christian churches here in the United States — but at the same time, wanting to still have some kind of connection to the transcendent, to the other-worldly, to the spiritual," Mason said. "So, yoga and mindfulness and meditation, they've been really popular routes for a lot of people seeking that kind of connection.”

Chantel Gerfen, who owns Transcend Yoga Studio in downtown Logan, said the addition of the yoga studies program at USU has increased the popularity of youth practicing yoga, but ultimately, the rise in options for practitioners is the biggest reason for the growing community.

“I feel like people are becoming more open to it," Gerfen said. "And unless you experience it, you don't really understand the significance of it in your life until you get the opportunity to actually like, do a class or be a part of it or build, you know, like community with that. And so if it's not offered, then it never grows.”

But is the growth a health fad or a transformation of American spiritual practices? Mason said only time will tell. 

“I tend to think it's probably more of the latter, that we're just seeing American religiosity, American spirituality become more diverse," he said. "It's not just in the regular channels of traditional churches, but actually people are finding ways to connect with the transcendent, but also with one another, in ways very different than their parents or their grandparents.”

According to a 2016 study conducted by the Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance, there were about 20 million yoga practitioners in the U.S. in 2012, but that number rose 36 million by 2016.