Declining Religious Authority? Confidence in the Leaders of Religious Organizations, 1973-2010


confidence in religious organizations, declining religious authority, secularization, trend data


One view of secularization is that it can be conceived of as declining religious authority. Although studies conducted in 1990s suggested that confidence in the leaders of religious organizations—a promising indicator of religious authority—decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, research has not examined recent trend. The goals of this study are to (1) examine trends in confidence using data from the early 1970s through 2010 and (2) use recent advances in age-period-cohort analysis to provide a more robust empirical examination of these trends. Using data from the cumulative General Social Surveys, 1973-2010, the results suggest that, even after considering age effects period declines in confidence have continued, but declines by birth cohort were primarily among those born in the boomer and early post-boomer generations (roughly 1945-1970) relative to those born earlier (pre-1945) or later (post-1970). Moreover, these effects appear to be due mainly to differences in religious participation, especially among more recent cohorts. In particular, there has been a rebound in confidence among members of the younger generation who attend religious services.

Original Publication Citation

Hoffmann, John P. 2013. “Declining Religious Authority? Confidence in the Leaders of Religious Organizations, 1973-2010.” Review of Religious Research 55(1): 1-25.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Review of Religious Research




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor