Historian Paul Harvey of the Religion in American History blog (and my former grad school professor) has posted the results of a very interesting Gallup Survey on the importance that each state's citizens place on religion in their daily lives. The survey was actually very simple. Respondents were asked one fundamental question: "Is Religion an important part of your daily life?" The results are quite interesting. Here are the top 10 states that responded favorably to the question:
Mississippi: 85%What's fascinating about this study, as Dr. Harvey points out, is that the median score is quite high: at 65%. From the Gallup Poll:
South Carolina: 80%
North Carolina: 76%
And, although there is a wide range in the self-reported importance of religion, from a high of 85% for residents of Mississippi to a low of 42% for residents of Vermont, the distribution of religiosity by state takes the shape of a bell-shaped curve, clustered around the overall nationwide mean of 65%. Twenty-three of the 50 states and District of Columbia are in the range of 60% to 70% saying religion is important.In addition, it's important to note how geography comes into play. Obviously the majority of the high ranking states lie in the south, as is illustrated in the following map from this same Gallup poll:
And here is a more detailed map (from a much earlier study not related to this Gallup poll) that breaks down where certain denominations are strongest:
One can't help but wonder how important of a role the social and cultural factors of a particular region play in determining the religion of a particular geographic area. Take for example this map of the United States prior to the Civil War:
And it doesn't look like a whole lot has changed. Even our voting trends are dramatically impacted by geography. This 2008 electoral map provides at least some insight into how geography can shape our views:
So what are we to make of this? That probably depends on who you ask. In my opinion, this Gallup poll (and the other studies/maps mentioned) prove that religion is still a very intimate, localized, and highly influential factor for most Americans. It can (and does) define our politics, our biases and our future. But most of all, I believe it shows just how diverse we are, and perhaps that is our greatest strength of all.
Or our greatest weakness as well?