Confidence in Religious Institutions and Secularizations: Trends and Implications


religious institutions, secularization, Protestantism, financial institutions, social surveys, religious identity, demography, cohort effect, worship services


The debate over the secularization theory, has generated numbers studies that focus on patterns of religious attendance or on religious beliefs and practices. However, there has been a subtle shift in focus in this debate as some have argued that secularization should be viewed as declining religious authority. A recent study suggests that declining religious authority may be operationalized by examining the public's confidence in religious institutions over time. This study uses 2 years of GSS data (1974-94) to investigate trends in confidence measures across a range of institutions, including religious institutions. The results indicate. general decline in confidence that cuts across several American institutions, but the declines among younger cohorts have been particularly great for religious institutions and financial institutions. A more detailed analysis reveals that, unlike older cohort members, younger cohorts members who attend religious services less frequency report significantly lower confidence in religious institutions than younger cohort members who attend religious services more frequently. This finding has important implications for the ability of religious organizations to retain or bolster legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the American public.

Original Publication Citation

Hoffmann, John P. 1998. “Confidence in Religious Institutions and Secularization: Trends and Implications.” Review of Religious Research 39(4): 340-362.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Review of Religious Research




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor