The 7 new classifications of religious styles

The Pew Research Center has classified Americans into seven distinct religious types.

Religious typology has never been accurate. The range by which one can claim to be Christian, for example, is much broader than one simple term can encompass. The same holds true for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — not the umbrella term, per se, but the level of devotion. Religious Buddhists can be as fundamentalist as Evangelicals; they can also be secular and even atheistic.

Instead of defining Americans in terms of stated religion, the Pew Research Center created a 16-question survey about the participant's level of practice and belief. The questions were pulled from years of similar research, factoring for redundancies. This process has resulted in a new typology of seven religious styles that will serve as the organization's classification system for better understanding how we practice faith in this country.

The survey was conducted during a two-week period in December 2017 and included 4,729 respondents. As Rich Morin, a senior editor at the center, comments on this classification system,

Our goal was not to replace traditional religious categories but instead to create categories built around personal religious and spiritual beliefs, as well as behaviors and experiences that are broadly shared by people of different faiths.

Morin believes this is even more telling than the label we choose for our belief system because it offers researchers an opportunity to better understand what unites people across various faiths, as well as what divides members of the same religion. He found it particularly interesting that even those on the far end of the religious spectrum, New Age beliefs still influenced their outlook. More expectable realities — the right is more religious, liberals less so — are expressed in the report.

The Seven Types

Sunday Stalwarts. These believers are actively involved in their communities and their faith. Sunday morning is only for one thing for 80 percent of this group. Their level of belief in their doctrines and texts are unquestioned, even though 30 percent believe in psychics and the energetic importance of crystals and trees. Their identity is intimately tied to their faith. This is the oldest of any group, with 32 percent over age 65. Stalwarts are predominately Protestant, but also include Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and many others.

God-and-Country Believers. This group's level of faith rivals the stalwarts, but they are much more politically focused. These are the nationalists and populists that are likely to believe America has a manifest destiny. They are also more intolerant of immigrants and those of other faiths. Evangelical Protestants are the largest contingent of this group, though Catholics, Mormons, and even religiously unaffiliated are included. Fifty percent of this group lives in the South, the highest of any group.

Diversely Devout. For those immigrants and ethnic minorities that are as faithful as the above groups, this category fills the void. A majority of this group — the majority of whom are textural literalists — also believe in crystals and reincarnation. While this might sound odd from an American perspective, New Age beliefs and traditional religious ideology are intertwined in many Latin American and African communities. Being a good person, as in the two previous groups, requires a belief in God. Interestingly, a percentage of this population includes those who claim their religion is “nothing in particular." This is the only group that is not majority white.

Solidly Secular. This group is comprised predominantly of white men that are relatively affluent and highly educated — 45 percent hold a college degree, the highest of any group; 46 percent earn over $75,000 a year, also tops in this survey. This is where atheists and agnostics conspire, relying more on science and provable facts over speculation and blind faith. Twenty percent of this group describes themselves as agnostic, while it boasts the largest collection of atheists of any group.

Religion Resisters. The previous group might not have much faith, but they're not necessarily rebelling against ideologies. That's the domain of this cohort, which resists traditional religious assumptions, choosing instead to place emphasis on energies and spiritual awakenings. These people are, to use a common phrase, “spiritual, not religious." This group, as with the previous, is more likely to be liberal and vote Democratic. This group has the youngest median age, at 38. They also disapprove of Donald Trump's performance more than any group; 84 percent believe he's not helping.

Relaxed Religious. This interesting collection features 70 percent who believe in the biblical God and about 40 percent who pray daily, yet they rarely attend services and do not feel a higher power is necessary to be a good person. Faith is more ambiguous and less proactive. The two top sources of meaning for those in this group are spending time with family and spending time with friends, with caring for pets coming in a close third.

Spiritually Awake. Every member of this group holds some New Age belief, even if some think the Bible is the way to go. Some form of higher power is involved in the daily orchestration of events. This group features the highest percentage of women of any group, at 62 percent.


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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.