Mis­sis­sippi earns ‘most re­li­gious’ nod

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY JU­LIA DUIN

The South has risen again, at least in terms of be­lief in God.

Mis­sis­sippi is the Amer­ica’s most re­li­gious state, ac­cord­ing to a Pew Fo­rum study on the lev­els of de­vo­tion in Amer­ica, which asked re­spon­dents whether re­li­gion is im­por­tant in their lives. Eighty-two per­cent of Mis­sis­sip­i­ans said yes.

“That is not too sur­pris­ing,” said William F. Law­head, chair­man of the re­li­gion and phi­los­o­phy depart­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­sis­sippi. “This is the Bi­ble Belt. We are pri­mar­ily made up of small towns — not many ur­ban ar­eas like Dal­las and so on, where there’s a lot of peo­ple com­ing and go­ing — so most of the peo­ple are home­grown.”

The state is over­whelm­ingly Chris­tian, he added, al­though an in­flux of Viet­namese im­mi­grants who are in­volved in the state’s coastal fish­ing in­dus­try has brought in Bud­dhist ad­her­ents.

Alabama and Arkansas (both at 74 per­cent), Louisiana (72 per­cent), Ten­nessee (71 per­cent) and South Carolina (70 per­cent) fol­low. The least-re­li­gious are New Hamp­shire and Ver­mont, each at 36 per­cent, Alaska (37 per­cent) and Mas­sachusetts (40 per­cent), which con­firms other re­cent sur­veys that say New Eng­land is the “new North­west” in terms of unchurched mul­ti­tudes.

The Pa­cific North­west used to be the countr y’s leastchurched sec­tor, but Ore­gon (sev­enth from the bot­tom at 46 per­cent) and Wash­ing­ton (11th from the bot­tom at 48 per­cent), have risen in the rank­ings.

The poll was re­leased Dec. 21 with data drawn from the Fo­rum’s 2007 U.S. Re­li­gious Land­scape Sur­vey of 35,556 U.S. res­i­dents. It has an er­ror mar­gin of 0.6 per­cent.

Re­spon­dents were asked four ques­tions: about the im­por­tance of re­li­gion in their lives, their fre­quency of at­ten­dance at wor­ship ser vices, fre­quency of daily prayer and ab­so­lute cer­tainty of be­lief in God. Mis­sis- sippi polled high­est on all four ques­tions.

On the at­ten­dance ques­tion, Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans polled at 60 per­cent, say­ing they go at least once a week. Heav­ily Mor­mon Utah (57 per­cent) is sec­ond, with South Carolina (54 per- cent) fol­low­ing.

Alaska is at the bot­tom of this list, with only 22 per­cent of re­spon­dents say­ing they at­tend weekly. New Hamp­shire, Ver­mont and Maine polled next high­est at 23 per­cent.

The Rev. Ed Vatagliano, re- search di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Fam­ily As­so­ci­a­tion in Tu­pelo, pointed out that Mis­sis­sippi’s 3 mil­lion res­i­dents are more likely to have been raised in church.

“Part of it is tra­di­tion,” he said. “My kids and all their friends are in church on Sun­day. That’s the ex­pec­ta­tion. If you are a politi­cian down here, you’re ex­pected to have a church track record.”

The ques­tion about fre­quency of daily prayer, had Mis­sis­sippi oc­cu­py­ing the top spot at 77 per­cent, fol­lowed by Louisiana at 76 per­cent and Alabama at 73 per­cent. Maine, at 40 per­cent, oc­cu­pied the low­est rung, fol­lowed by Mas­sachusetts and Alaska, each at 41 per­cent.

The fourth ques­tion, mea­sur­ing per­cent­age of those who be­lieve in God, had Mis­sis­sip­i­ans at the top at 91 per­cent, fol­lowed by South Carolina and Alabama at 86 per­cent. States with the low­est be­lief in God are New Hamp­shire and Ver­mont at 54 per­cent and Con­necti­cut and Rhode Is­land at 57 per­cent.

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