The Aim of the NSRI
Just as collecting of statistics is an act of selection, so is producing information about these statistics. In designating the NSRI, our aim was not just to fill an information gap and contribute to human knowledge but to describe the societal implications of America’s religious statistics to a wider audience.
This survey was a social experiment and a study in self-identification. The essence of our approach was an open-ended question posed to the adult civilian population of the forty-eight contiguous states. It provided a “bottom-up” and grass-roots view of religion in America. Our objective was to capture the most spontaneous response to the question “What is your religion?” Obviously, the question generates a different order to meaning to different people, and the meanings vary. To the chagrin of some, those meanings are often more imprecise than the neat categories that would be so helpful to elegant analysis. However, since religion is a voluntary form of association in this society, we tried as far as possible to allow the answers we received to stand with as little relabeling as possible.