Once again, it has happened, and I am happy. Every time I think my field of study (religion in the South) is disappearing as a distinctive entity -- every time I start assuming that regional homogeneity is the order of the day, that immigration has fundamentally changed religious patterns, that the Journal of Southern Religion will have to close up shop -- Gallup or somebody does a survey and finds plus ça change, and all that.
Here's the latest one from Gallup:
Man, I knew Mississippi was religious, but 85% -- wow. And yes, I know there are all sorts of conceptual issues that come with these kinds of surveys, and they can be considered questionable on a number of grounds (like, for example, how they define "religion"). I know all that, but I still love them anyway, because I see them giving me job security. Religion in the South evidently ain't going anywhere.
Where's Utah, you ask? In 14th place, at 69%, just 4 percentage points over the national mean. Hey Utahans, Mississippi has totally kicked your butt.
Just as interesting is the list of "least religious" states, meaning those which polled low on the question "Is religion an important part of your daily life." Heading the pack there is Vermont, at 42% I would have guessed Oregon, but it's not even in the top ten of least religious states (Alaska, however, is -- take that, Gov. Palin).
The "bottom ten" list is interesting in another way as well -- the high rate of perceived self-reported religiosity even among Vermonters, New Hampshire-ites (whatever they are called), Maine-liners, Bay Staters, etc. I mean, I've never met a single person from Vermont who has expressed the slightest interest (except maybe in a New-Agey or environmental-y kind of way) in religion as part of their everyday life. Why bother when you have such natural beauty, wonderful college towns, the fall foliage, family dairies, and great ice cream. But apparently, a lot bother.
The national figure remains remarkably high -- a median of 65%. As the survey article shows,
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.
There's a lot out there for us to study, folks! Especially Southern folks, but even you Vermonters have plenty on your plate besides Ben and Jerry's.
Here's a map graphing the Gallup survey: