How Religious is America?
Gallup conducted a tracking survey through telephone calls made during 2011. The results are based on a random sample of 353,492 adults, aged 18 and older, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The results include calls made on land lines and cell phones and are weighted by gender, age, race, ethnicity, education, geographic region and adults in the household. What this means is the results conform to the current population profile of this country.
The overall conclusion reached by this study is that America is “generally a religious nation, with more than two-thirds of the nation’s residents classified as very or moderately religious.”
More specifically, 40% of the respondents were classified as “very religious” based on self-assessment (they state that religion is an important part of their daily lives) and they attend religious services weekly or regularly. An additional 28% were classified as “moderately religious” based on their statement about religion in their lives or regular attendance at religious services. The remaining 32% were classified as “nonreligious” based on their statement about the importance of religion and their lack of attendance at religious services.
One question that always comes to mind when reading these surveys is the validity of the data. Are self-assessment and self-reported attendance at services valid measures of religiosity? What does being religious really mean? Does it have to do with faith and actions? Is it based on beliefs alone? Perhaps you have ideas about this you would be willing to share.
But if we assume for the moment that religiosity is accurately measured to some degree by these results, this study provides interesting perspectives. For example, there are eight states (led by Mississippi at 59%) in which 50% or more of the residents are classified as very religious. There are eight states (led by Vermont and New Hampshire at 23%) with 30% or fewer residents classified as very religious. Massachusetts ranks as the fourth least religious with only 28%, tied with Alaska.
It is interesting to note these regional differences and what Gallup describes as differences in “state culture.” Eight of the ten most religious states are in the South and six of the least religious states are in New England. None of the most religious states are in the Middle Atlantic, New England or the West Coast regions.
Deeper analysis reflects the impact of “state culture.” These significant differences are not a result of “underlying demographics or religious identities in the states.” Catholics and Protestants, for example, are less religious in Vermont than in Mississippi. And blacks and whites are equally religious in Mississippi and Vermont. Simply said, the people in Mississippi are more religious than the people in Vermont.
It is no surprise for those who follow political campaigns that the most religious states tend to be more heavily Republican and the least are more heavily Democratic. The study points to the attention being paid in campaigns to the states that are in the middle of the religiosity scale.
But more important than geography and political party affiliation is the question of religiosity and its meaning. This past weekend churches and synagogues were packed as people who rarely attend services celebrated Easter and Passover. Does this make people “religious?” And what is the relationship between attending religious services and practicing faith every day through our lives of service and our personal behavior? Are there signs in culture and society that support Gallup’s conclusion that America is a religious nation?
That’s something to think about. That’s something to pray about.
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)