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The Bible Suspender is clearer than the Bible Belt

December 19, 2013

The Washington Post has put 6 fascinating maps of the U.S. religious landscape online. The maps are based on statistics from religious organizations in the 2010 U.S. Religion Census.

I am particularly intrigued by the 5th map, on religious participation, by county.

First, take a look at the map here: View interactive map.

Then, consider this comment from the Post article:

This map, made from RCMS data, shows the counties where religious participation per capita—adherents divided by population—was highest. Utah, the Midwest and parts of the South reign supreme. Religious participation was lowest in California’s Alpine County (4.3 percent), Hawaii’s Kalawao County (3.3 percent) and Nevada’s Esmeralda County (3.1 percent). The latter two have incredibly small populations, so are easily distorted by the religious inaction of a few.

Third, what strikes me is how this illustrates what historian Philip Barlow in Religion and Public Life in the Midwest: America’s Common Denominator? Alta Mira Press, 2004 (co-edited with Mark Silk) has termed the Bible Suspender. That is, despite the notoriety of the Bible Belt, the actual geography of religious affiliation is stronger in a north-south “suspender” in the Midwest rather than an east-west “belt” in the Sunbelt.

(Full disclosure: I participated in the larger study of which Barlow’s volume was one chunk. For my modest contribution, see my comments on California and Nevada from the Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Region [Wade Clark Rook and Mark Silk co-editors].

Time for some rethinking about American religion geographically–rethinking that takes account of a Prairie-Plains Midwest in which religion, whether or not of an evangelical Protestant ethos, is firmly rooted, and thus central to interpreting not only electoral politics but many other things as well.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 19, 2013 9:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Buffalo Doug.

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