Elizabeth Drescher, PhD

Traveling in the Land Between Religions

DSC00110Elizabeth Drescher, PhD is a scholar, writer, and public speaker on religion in everyday life, and a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University.

Dr. Drescher is the author of numerous books and articles on religion and spirituality in contemporary life, including Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Oxford University Press, 2016), Tweet If You [Heart] Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse, 2011), and, with Keith Anderson, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012). Her writing has appeared in AmericaThe Washington Post, The Atlantic, Salon, The San Francisco ChronicleThe San Jose Mercury NewsAlterNetReligion Dispatches, and other national publications as well as academic journals. Her current research focuses on developing and sustaining religious and spiritual connections, community, and stories among college-aged adults in religiously pluralistic, digitally-integrated culture.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth received an MA in systematic theology from Duquesne University. She earned a doctorate from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California in 2008 for her research on the spiritual lives of ordinary people in late medieval England. She currently lives with her blended two- and four-legged family in the Silicon Valley, where she enjoys exploring the natural beauty of the Northern California coast, sampling local wines, and gossiping about the ups and downs of the hyper-charged real estate market.



Praise for Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones:

“As the rate of religious disaffiliation nears 25% of the American population, the importance of understanding the ‘Nones’-from roving seekers to settled nonbelievers-has risen correspondingly. Drescher offers a splendidly variegated account of the religious practices and engagements that continue to flourish among the unaffiliated. The spiritual voices of the ‘Nones’ emerge with unusual clarity and resonance in these pages.”

~Leigh E. Schmidt, Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University and author of Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality



8 thoughts on “Traveling in the Land Between Religions

  1. I was reading an interview with you on “Confirm not Conform” and really found myself taken with the article. It’s stayed on my mind for days. I have many questions I would love to ask but, as a young female pastor in a new church filled with young adults who is trying to create a diverse community, I found myself wondering about the demographics of your survey. Are the findings based on a mostly white, middle class group or are there people of color or generationally poor people in the mix? I wondered if there was a growing group of “nones” in those categories and if they found the same sense of connection with the “riches of the tradition”? I wondered what the answers of these sorts of groups would be because that is where I spend the majority of my time and would love to connect more deeply.

    • Abigail,

      Glad you saw the CNC piece and that it’s stirring something in your ministry. My cohort was reasonably mixed in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity. More than a third (36%) of the people who talked with me were under age 30. Nearly half (44%) were between 30-49. So, the data skews younger. The US population is 52% Female, 48% Male; the Pew “nones on the rise” report was 44% Female, 46% Male. My cohort was slightly more Male (58%) than female (42%) than the Pew sample. One ethnicity, my cohort tracks to Pew’s data with 73% white, 8% African American, 9% Hispanic, 7% Asian, and 3% Mixed/Other. However, my cohort overall is more educated. A full 93% have high school diplomas. Most had college degrees (52%), and many graduate (18% masters, 9% PhD). Income level likewise skewed a little higher than average, with a mean income of about $50,000/year. About a quarter (26%) earned under $30,000 a year, but a high percentage of the people who talked with me (15%) were still in college or graduate school. Ironically, perhaps, some of the most educated among my interviewees were the least affluent. Given that, I can’t say that there’s a strong read of the research from far beyond the white, middle class core that Pew has also identified as the nucleus of the unaffiliated. HOWEVER — and this is big — new research (not mine) is expanding this field. Pew just today released a study of religion among American Hispanics, showing that 18% are unaffiliated (http://www.pewforum.org/2014/05/07/the-shifting-religious-identity-of-latinos-in-the-united-states/). A 2009 Pew report (http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/a-religious-portrait-of-african-americans/) profiles the religious affiliation patterns of African Americans, but it’s probably dated. What I think we’re seeing across all of these is that the ~20% pattern of unaffiliation holds across racial and ecumenic sectors, but it manifests in different ways. Middle class white people are more likely, it seems, to identify as Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist, SBNR, or some other specific term. Outside of that group, people tend to identify as “nothing in particular.” This suggests to me a certain kind of drift perhaps. Religion becomes less relevant, maybe less affordable in some cases. Nothing really replaces it. But, people of privilege are perhaps more likely to feel a certain need/entitlement to claim a new identity. This is pure speculation, of course. Apply with caution.

      You’re certainly asking the right questions. I wonder if you’ve encountered Jodi Bjornstad Houge at Humble Walk in Minnesota or Emily Scott at St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn. My hunch is that they’d be good conversation partners for you. They’re easily findable on Google.

  2. http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Buddha-Empowering-Buddhist-Movement/dp/0977924564

    I am a happy atheist and have practiced Nichiren’s Buddhism for over 35 years. You don’t need a dogma to have religion. You just need to get your priorities straight. People should always come first!

  3. Thanks for sharing your inspiration!

  4. Any new word on the release of the book?

  5. Dr. Drescher,

    Thank you for your research and articles in this field. I am a current seminary student writing a thesis on how religious and spiritual assessments can be altered in the chaplaincy setting to include those who are considered the “nones.” I have just concluded a half year internship at a public non-profit hospital and found this to be a area in which some adjustments need to be made. Your supposition on the, “meaning-making, self-realization, and self-transcendence” being non-traditional is spot on.

    Like others whom have posted, your much anticipated book would be a great help to my research and paper outcome. I look forward to getting a copy when it hits the shelves. I would also welcome any resources you could point me to that have been valuable to you in understanding this topic. Many Blessings.

  6. Jason, Thanks for sharing your experience in chaplaincy. Certainly, that’s an area that’s ripe for reconsideration in light of changing religious and spiritual demographics. I hope my book (which is now available) will be a help in your important work. You might also look at Kaya Oakes’s wonderful book, “The Kids are All Right,” which is a more personal reflection on unaffiliation among young adults in particular.