Why are the most religious states in the South?



The last time I checked the statistics from the Gallup poll regarding religious fervor, which was a few years ago,  America’s so-called Bible Belt was living up to that nickname. Eight of the 10 most religious states were in the South, while nine of the 10 least religious states were in the Northeast or Northwest. Midwestern states were about average in religiousness.

Mississippi was the single most religious state, and Vermont was the single least religious state.

Gallup began compiling these statistics on religion in 2008, polling tens of thousands of Americans and lumping them into three categories — very religious, somewhat religious and non-religious. Subsequent surveys over the years have shown little change in the state-by-state numbers.

The factors that contribute to the overall pattern are varying and complicated, but here’s some of what Gallup had to say about the matter:

Gallup research has shown that these state differences appear to be part of a “state culture” phenomenon, and are not the result of differences in the underlying demographics or religious identities in the states. For example, while Mississippi has the highest percentage of blacks of any state in the union, and while blacks are the most religious of any major race or ethnic group in the country, the Magnolia State’s white residents are highly religious on a relative basis compared with whites in other states.

And, Vermonters who identify as Catholics or with Protestant denominations are less religious than Southern state residents who identify with the same religions. It appears there is something about the culture and normative structure of a state, no doubt based partly on that state’s history, that affects its residents’ propensity to attend religious services and to declare that religion is important in their daily lives.

As I see it, lots more research on this subject is warranted every now and then.  Countless questions arise from the prevailing patterns.

Why, for example, is religious fervor strongest in the states of the old Confederacy, where the populace fought a bloody war over the sinful establishment of slavery?

Why have religious patterns in the South remained persistently unchanged as the region has switched over the past 50 years from solidly Democratic to staunchly Republican?

Why are members of certain religious denominations considerably different in some states and regions from their counterparts in other locales?

It’s almost as if notions of God, Holy Scripture and eternal life vary among members of the same religion depending on the region in which  they live.