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Mosques and Mormon temples filling fastest in U.S.

A group of interdenominational religious leaders and their supporters gather outside the Islamic Center of America mosque to rally for peace in Dearborn, Michigan on April 21, 2011.

Rebecca Cook / Reuters

Islam and Mormonism are the fastest-growing faiths in the United States over the last decade, according to a religious census based on self-reporting by congregations.

The numbers of Muslims more than doubled while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, added nearly two million members.

Meanwhile, mainstream Protestant and Catholic congregations lost significant numbers during the same period.

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Evangelical protestant congregations continued to grow, albeit slowly, and now count roughly 50 million members.

The fascinating, if incomplete, portrait of rapidly-changing patterns of faith in still-very-religious America comes from the unofficial 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released this week by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Muslims now outnumber Jews in much of the American Midwest and South. There are, the survey found, 166 mosques in Texas and more than 2,000 across the nation.

The survey, released once a decade, found more than more than 2.6 million Muslims in 2010, up from only 1 million a decade earlier in the United States. That sharp rise, driven by both conversions and immigration, makes Islam the fastest-growing of the world's major faiths in the United States, albeit still tiny in total number of believers.

Although estimates vary, those self-identifying as Jews number about 6 million in the United States.

Nearly half – 158 million – of the U.S. population was considered "unclaimed," by any faith. That measure, derived from the numbers who regularly attend a church, temple, or mosque, tells a significantly different tale from the more than eight in 10 Americans who regularly tell pollsters that they consider themselves 'believers' who regularly attend services at one of the major religions.

In an introductory overview on the survey, David Briggs noted "The U.S. religious landscape is shifting, and no one may be more thankful than GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney"

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While some political pundits predict Mr. Romney's faith – he is a Mormon – may hurt him especially among some Evangelical Christian voters, the survey also found that the number of Mormons grew by 45 per cent to over 6 million between 2000 and 2010.

"Christians are the largest group in every state, but some of the things we found interesting was the growth of the Mormons, who reported the largest numerical gain in 26 states," said Dale Jones, one of the researchers who presented the report to Chicago conference.

Among faiths losing adherants, the Catholic Church, while still the largest single religious group with 59 million members in the United States, lost nearly five per cent in the decade to 2010.

In their introduction, the researchers acknowledged "one limitation of the study is that information on attendance and membership is self-reported by the religious bodies."

Still, its website allows snapshot comparisons not only between faiths and among states but also with other countries.

With a report from Reuters

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Paul More

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