Religion is deeply ingrained in the culture of the United States and its beginnings, such as “one nation under God” being in the US Pledge of Allegiance, and early Pilgrims coming to America for religious freedom, for instance. Today, however, the degree to which American citizens consider themselves religious and practice religion varies dramatically throughout the country from state to state. Gallup recently conducted a poll to observe the level of disparity between states in their religious zeal and lack thereof, and published a list of the most religious states in the US.
Religion in the South
It will likely come as no surprise to most that the vast majority of states in which the most self-proclaimed “religious” people live are located in the Southern United States. Mississippi is the leading state in this category, with 58 percent of its population identifying as very religious. Although not considered in the South themselves, Oklahoma and Missouri lie between the South and the central Midwest, and can hence be considered to be affected by Southern culture and beliefs to a high degree, as they border the region. Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia all fall within the top ten of the list in terms of “very religious” population percentages, and nearby Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri fall closely behind. Many factors contribute to the religiosity of the so-called “Bible Belt,” including specific cultural traditions and lifestyles. Religion as part of southern culture can be tied back to the Antebellum period in American history before the Civil War, as well as the Second Great Awakening, a period of Protestant revival in the early 19th century, when it received another great boost that still lingers today.
Utah: A Unique Case in the Western US
An exception of a very religious state which does not belong in or adjacent to the southern states can be found in the state of Utah, which comes in at third place. The residents in Utah are predominately Mormon, who are very religious in nature and follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Featuring the headquarters of the church, Utah’s population is actually 62% Mormon, making it the most religiously homogenous state in the country. What is even more unique is the fact that it is the only state with a majority population belonging to a single church.
Unique Cultural Factors Creating a “Bible Belt”
States such as Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, and much of the South have had different historical and cultural factors that have caused them to be influenced by specific changes in belief systems globally. While not in the Bible Belt itself, Utah’s history has been dominated by the story of a group of believers who settled it as a place to express their beliefs freely and in peace. Many of these states also have large populations of Latin American immigrants, who are statistically more likely to be devout Roman Catholics, which is also the case among many other citizens in Louisiana and Texas. Large followings of African-American protestant congregations are also well-established in many of these states, such as the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Another important aspect that factors into religious beliefs is politics, with states that are more conservative as a whole being more statistically likely to also have populations that are more religious as a whole. Conversely, those who consider themselves to be liberal are less likely to practice religion devoutly. In the end, while much of the developed world is becoming less and less religious by the year, the United States, and its Bible Belt in particular, appears to be a counterexample of this trend.