Pew: The state of the states

adherentsA new Pew report entitled “How religious is your state?” is giving reporters an opportunity to spell out local angles of national statistics. Meanwhile, a recent Pew study on worldwide religion freedom has generated less coverage.

The Pew study (which is not related to the 2000 map pictured here) on the states examines four signs of religiosity:

Which of the 50 states has the most religious population? Since there are many ways to define “religious,” there is no single answer to this question. But to give a sense of how the states stack up, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life used polling data to rank them on four measures: the importance of religion in people’s lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God.

Mississippi wins the title of the most religious state, while New Hampshire/Vermont (some small states were combined in the research) ranks last at #46. Julia Duin of The Washington Times explored the national angle by focusing on Mississippi:

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

Utah ranks #2 in worship attendance but #12 overall on the Pew list, leading Scott Taylor of the Deseret News to describe the state as “above normal” in religiosity:

Utah is a leading state for worship service attendance and, when compared to its United States counterparts, is also well above average in frequency of prayer, importance of religion and certainty of belief of God.

Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian writes in his politics blog that his region is no longer the least religious in America:

A new survey of religious attitudes makes is very clear that the Northwest corner of the country is no longer the furthest outside the church pews. That now clearly describes the other side of the continent, in the Northeast.

Oregon and Washington still remain pretty secular states compared to the rest of America.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, the Irregular Times portrayed the results as a verdict on declining American religiosity:

Evangelical activists keep on insisting that the United States is a Christian nation, but a new survey shows that in many parts of the country, the majority population isn’t even serious about religion in general, much less Christianity in particular.

It’s been a busy December for the folks at Pew. Earlier this month Pew released its controversial 22-page report, “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths.” Coverage of that report was explored here.

But another Pew study promoted in a December 16 press release has received less attention. The “Global Restrictions on Religion” study found that two-in-three people in the world today live in countries with high levels of restrictions on religion. The in-depth report focuses on two major areas to compile its Government Restrictions Index and the Social Hostilities Index. From the Pew press release:

The study analyzes more than 30 measures of restrictions on religion, 20 of which are based on government actions, such as constitutional limitations or prohibitions on religious speech. An analysis of social hostilities by private actors, such as religion-related terrorism and violence between religious groups, is also included in the report.

The Christian Science Monitor’s news blog and Religious News Service did brief reports on the study, but most U.S. papers passed on this important story, unlike their foreign counterparts.

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  • Cathy Grossman

    This is a strange item — a wrap up of stories on the new Pew graphic (a repackaging by Pew of data available in their Landscape Study two years ago) in which the illustration is a 2000 map not based on Pew data.
    I would not underestimate the value to community newspapers of having something/anything to say that’s not about Christmas or Hanukkah in December but … where’s the news here?
    As for the comparison to coverage of religous freedom abroad, alas, reader interest in this is very narrow. If you’ve got itty bitty space — and rarely that — for religion coverage, you stand a much better shot of keeping your beat focused on what your readers would most want to know. It’s tough to balance that against what they “should” know but… if you can’t keep editors impressed that your beat connects with readers, that small newshole can easily vanish altogether.

  • Jerry

    Tied in with this story is a just released Gallup poll that I found interesting. It offers quite a bit of scope for “how to lie with statistics”. To me, it seems that there has been little change over the past 20 years or so in some measures such as the personal importance of religion while membership in a church has trended downward. Religious preference has trended downward for Catholics with nones trending upward as was reported earlier with tracks with religion being relevant or old-fashioned.

  • Dave

    Pew’s conventionalist criteria for religiosity exclude those who do not pray or believe in God from the ranks of the religous. That will be a surprise to Religious Humanists. How can the MSM expand their understanding of the religious left if as prestitious a source as Pew implicitly claims that big chunks of it don’t exist?

  • Nancy Reyes

    Uh, might be missing something.

    I checked four Indian Reservations where I practiced medicine, and found them all “35 to 50%”…which is true.
    About 35 to 50% are Christians…but it ignores that many who don’t go to church practice their traditional religion, and some are very religious.

    Other areas in the mountain states are deserts or unpopulated regions. This could represent a statistical error (not to mention that if church is 120 miles away, maybe you don’t go to church).

  • don

    I really am suspect of the methodology of this poll. Pew is a evangelical founded think tank, so take it with a grain of salt.

  • str

    This poll is totally useless, testing merely an arbitrarily defined line between supposed religion and supposed non-religion.