In a way, the new survey from the Pew Research Center confirms some stereotypes. When you look at the U.S. map illustrating the findings, the states colored in dark blue are in the area known as “the Bible Belt,” while those in lighter blue are scattered around New England and the West Coast.
Pew has ranked the 50 states according to religiosity, and the most religious state in the Union is, by most measures, Alabama, right smack in the middle of the Bible Belt, where Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas vie for the top spot.
The least religious is Maine, competing for last place with the rest of New England and New York.
“There are many potential ways of defining what it means to be religious,” Pew cautioned in introducing its latest Religious Landscape Study. “But for the purposes of this analysis, we looked at four common measures of religious observance: worship attendance, prayer frequency, belief in God and the self-described importance of religion in one’s life.”
What does it mean to be “highly religious”? In our analysis, this includes any adult who reports at least two of four highly observant behaviors – attending religious services at least weekly, praying at least daily, believing in God with absolute certainty and saying that religion is very important to them — while not reporting a low level of religious observance in any of these areas, such as seldom or never attending religious services, seldom or never praying, not believing in God and saying that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important in their life. We also define a person as “highly religious” if they report three highly religious behaviors and a low level of religiosity on a fourth measure.
In Alabama and Mississippi, 77 percent of residents are highly religious by this definition, the survey reports. In both states, for instance, 82 percent believe in God with absolute certainty. In addition, three-quarters of Mississippians say they pray at least once a day, and 77 percent of Alabama residents say religion is very important in their lives.
Meanwhile, only about a third of people in New Hampshire (33 percent), Massachusetts (33 percent), Vermont (34 percent) and Maine (34 percent) qualify as highly religious by these criteria. Roughly one in five residents of these states report attending religious services at least weekly, and roughly half or fewer say they are certain of God’s existence.