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Secular and Liminal: Discovering Heterogeneity Among Religious Nones


Correspondence should be addressed to Chaeyoon Lim, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2446 Sewell Social Sciences Building, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706. Email:


This study examines the stability of religious preference among people who claim no religious preference in national surveys (i.e., religious nones). Using data from the Faith Matters Study, General Social Survey, and American National Election Study, we show that about 30 percent of religious nones in the first wave of the survey claim an affiliation with a religious group a year later. The percentage of religious nones remained stable in the two waves because a similar number of respondents moved in the opposite direction. Using various measures of religiosity, we show that most of these unstable nones report no significant change in religious belief or practice. We call them liminal nones as they stand halfway in and halfway out of a religious identity. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings on the controversies surrounding the rise of religious nones in recent years.