from Emily Mace, USC Annenberg:
In recent posts about religious "nones," or individuals without a religious affiliation, Mark Silk and Chris Stedman at the Religion News Service address the potential relationship between the emergence of the "New Atheists" and the rise of the "nones." According to Silk, it's unlikely that the New Atheists are responsible for the growing statistical prominence of "nones" as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins hit the bestseller lists a good 10-15 years after the uptick in "nones" back in the 1990s. It's important to recall, however, that the presence of Americans who find Saturday-- or Sunday-- morning solace in nature or the newspaper goes back quite a bit further, though the questions have remained eerily consistent from one era to another.
Today's religious "nones" encompass both atheists and those who believe in God (68% of nones are believers, according to Pew). Indeed, both secular and religious unaffiliated people draw on a much longer history that reaches back into the late nineteenth century. Several scholars of American religious history, including Leigh Eric Schmidt and Catherine Albanese (whose relevant works were cited in RD's "Five Must-Reads on the Nones") have teased out strands of this older pattern of life on the margins of religious affiliation. A century ago, the religious "nones" were coming, and just as today, religious leaders wondered what they could do to stop the flow away from church or synagogue.
The types of people... leaving the churches sound eerily similar to today's unaffiliated believers and nonbelievers.
The entire article can can read here.