Arkansas is among the “Bible Belt” states, a group of states in the US where Christianity is the predominant religion. Of the three million people in Arkansas, 82% are religious, 2% are atheists, and 13% do not know whether they are religious or not. The Quapaw and Caddo peoples were the original inhabitants of Arkansas; they engaged in traditional beliefs until the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century and destabilized the local culture. Christianity began taking root in the state in the mid-16th century when Roman Catholics arrived and began preaching sermons. The arrival of the French in the mid-seventeenth century cemented the state position as a Christian state when Christians began building churches in several parts of Arkansas.
Christianity is the dominant religion in the state, with 79% of the population of Arkansas considering themselves Christians. Of these, 46% are evangelical Protestants while 16% are mainline Protestants. Historically Black Protestant and Catholics each account for 8% while Mormons account for 1%. The rest of the Christian denomination account for less than a percentage.
Roman Catholicism was the earliest religion in Arkansas. It was introduced by Spanish explorers in the mid-sixteenth century. Hernando De Soto conducted the first recorded Catholic expedition in 1541. In 1673 Father Zenobe Membre, a French priest, conducted sermons across the state. Throughout the century, Spanish and French missionaries visited Arkansas but did not establish a Christian settlement until 1796 when Father Pierre Janin established the “Parish of Arkansas” and built a chapel. In 1834 the oldest congregation in Arkansas the St. Mary’s Mission was established in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).
The French and the Spanish prohibited the establishment of Protestant churches in Arkansas until 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was completed. By the 1820s, the protestant had outnumbered the Catholics. A majority of protestant are Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Unlike the Catholics, the Protestants did not establish schools or chapels but conducted their sermons on simple structures or congregated at a member’s home.
Other Religions of Arkansas
Non-Christian faiths account for 3% of the state’s population. Muslims account for 2%, while Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other world religions account for less than one percent each. Freedom of religion in Arkansas is protected by the constitution.