February 29, 2016

How religious is your state?

Mississippi, Alabama and other Southern states are among the most highly religious states in the nation, while New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine in New England are among the least devout, according to some of the key measures used to determine levels of religiosity in the Pew Research Center’s most recent Religious Landscape Study.

To begin, select a state to see where it ranks in terms of overall religiosity. In exploring the interactive it is important to keep in mind that differences between two states may not always be statistically significant due to the margins of error that are inherent in this survey data.

How religious is your state?

Select a state below to see rankings and data based on an overall combined index and four individual measures of religiosity.

Overall religiosity by state

% of adults who are “highly religious”

All states, ranked by ...

There are many potential ways of defining what it means to be religious, 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. The interactive tool above allows you to rank the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia by each of these measures – and by the percentage of adults in each state who are “highly religious” overall.

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% of residents are highly religious by this definition. In both states, for instance, 82% believe in God with absolute certainty. In addition, three-quarters of Mississippians say they pray at least once a day and 77% of Alabama residents say religion is very important in their lives.

Meanwhile, only about a third of people in New Hampshire (33%), Massachusetts (33%), Vermont (34%) and Maine (34%) 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. 

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a web developer at Pew Research Center.

19 Comments

  1. Anonymous4 months ago

    I’m glad that The Lord is God & Judge … and not the Pew Research Centre ‼️

    1. Anonymous4 months ago

      LOL sure he is.. Hahaha

  2. Anonymous6 months ago

    Why are the most religious states he places you would most want to avoid living? and the least religious the better places to live? Pakistan is a more religious country for example. it all depends on how you treat others, not whether you pray while your mistreating others.

  3. Steve Baker6 months ago

    New Englanders lived under extreme religious Law until it was rejected by the likes of Roger Williams and Thomas Hooker. We have learned our lesson.

    1. Anonymous5 months ago

      Should I move to Massachusetts?

      1. Anonymous4 months ago

        i vote yes

  4. Eric Blair7 months ago

    Specifying “…belief in God…” skews the survey in favor of Judaeo-Christian religion and ignores the religiosity of non-Christians. As such, it it useless.

    1. Tim Dugan6 months ago

      Most religious Americans by far are subscribers to Abrahamic religions. Second to that are probably Hindu religions and Buddhist religions.

      So, in terms of measuring “most religious”, belief in God is probably a good determiner.

      A better question, I think, might be “do you believe the material world is all there is? Or do you believe in some kind of supernatural or parapsychology all forces?”

      Or, shorter still, “are you superstitious?”

      1. Anonymous5 months ago

        I think “are you superstitious” is a good question, but as to this survey and what questions they should ask, one must ask, what’s the point? Maybe those were very good questions for getting to the point, namely the inter-relationality of the people being asked. Religious people discriminate against non-religious people and thus vice versa. Usually, it’s ‘this particular religion’, but when in a comparatively diverse environment, religious people value religiosity of any kind over none because it validates or to them justifies being religious at all. -my guess.

  5. Bill Bruehl7 months ago

    Yours’ is among the most significant indicators of the future ethos of this now fading Patriarchal society. No prophet I, but I’d bet a nickel that – unless some terrible catastrophe hits the planet – by 2100 most people will have dropped an absolute belief in the personal father god symbolized by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel together with their faith in literal superstition. Reason? The Enlightenment tradition of free thinking and its consequences.
    Which brings me back to your surveys; do you define the god of belief in your research, your polls? Is it that Father god or something else?
    I mean it is easy to say I believe in god if the god i believe in is the great cosmic mystery.
    Congratulations for your work.

    1. george mira7 months ago

      You are likely mistakenand may lose your nickel.

      Even while evolutionary science is taught, the obligate social animal with brains that evaluate relative status and need for coalition we are seeks certainty in order to act without reflection.
      In order to avoid cognitive dissonance after doing violence or imagining violence, after early social learning that violence is to be abjured, our kind most likely invents such related imaginative necessities as forgiveness, and unless some unimaginably authoritative giver is invented, there will remain the anxiety of being unworthy to change coalition or group or mate.
      The twists an d complexity of religious ideation are so difficult ; if it were not, a cure would long have occurred.
      I peruse Pew studies following the experience of readers ignoring clear illustration of scope, sample size, the statistical universe being studied, methodology,, and anything, in fact, other than their private availability heuristic.
      We find the largest cohort not under the fantasy sway of religion to be the gen x (which I take to mean born 1965 to 1979, as “baby boom” is up to 64 and “millennial” is not being adult until after 2000). Following them Pew research shows rise in religiosity.

      this is quite a dangerous trend, as the only statistical study I have found on religion and violence shows that the more religious a nation the greater the violence.

      While it is only analogue, and worthy of longitudinal study I merely mention here the anecdote of my mother’s catholic upbringing, her biological and medical education,, and her turn again late in life to nunlike religiosity.
      Shocked by this last year, I attribute such a turn to the uneducated friends and family – her social group. Solomon Asch’s studies are not now as famous as Stanley Milgram’s but need inclusion in a more thorough education.
      I doubt that any madrassah or sunday school is bringing them up for a look by students.

      1. Anonymous6 months ago

        I suppose you don’t speak English by any chance?

  6. Rich Pliskin7 months ago

    Fascinating information. Still, it’s a measure of external things and activities, like praying and going to church. What would be really interesting is to figure out a way to determine to what extent people behave and generally conduct their lives in ways consistent with their faith and the dictates of their religions. But how are we going to measure whether someone’s a good, selfless, empathetic, charitable, loving, kind person?

    1. Psalm 917 months ago

      Great observation, and my thoughts exactly. I currently reside in Alabama and while indeed many around here attend church and identify themselves as religious, there is a criticism among some of the syndrome of “churchianity.” I myself have witnessed in the eight years I have lived here the problem of Pharisaic outward expressions of religiosity in both Protestants and Catholics without much evidence of Christlike love of one’s neighbor. So I agree that its kind of impossible to conduct a study which measures true religiosity.

    2. george mira7 months ago

      Self-report is notoriously inaccurate when dealing with social mores. Some of the most psychopathic subjects will play (that is, for pleasure, lie) with those they believe they can fool.

      Another, more SIGNIFICANT problem here illustrated, is one commentor’s (Rich Pliskin) “a good, selfless, empathetic, charitable, loving, kind person” being conflated by the very next commentor (Psalm 91) with “true religiosity.”
      Any student of history, ancient or recent, will find this highly inaccurate conflation to be quite physically and socially dangerous.

      Psychological tests are and can be rather accurate; even the standard ASPD and psychopathy tests are able to tease out Mr. Pliskin’s variables. Being interested in the often false claims made by the religious, we might find a good number of studies concerning the issues. Pew researches are sociological in nature, descriptive of large groups.
      The studies, when found, will certainly be psychological. Google Scholar is one of the sources to peer-reviewed work and it is free access, although perhaps much of the actual research will require either personal or institutional paid access.
      I have access through a University, and if one is religiously concerned, mere mammon dollars should not impede one’s curiosity.

    3. Anonymous5 months ago

      I agree many people now are using faith as an excuse to do evil or follow it blindly despite it going against their religion because a leader says so. Many religions like islam for example say help the poor and treat people with kindness not oppress women and kill people so their leaders can get power. I wish all humans could just get along and respect on another not based off faith but in who that person is.

  7. Clark Hansen7 months ago

    In your method of analysis you describe four categories used to classify religiosity. I am a Buddhist monk and run a Buddhist center in Portland, Oregon. Buddhism is usually thought of as a religion and is often practiced as such, especially in traditionally Buddhist cultures. However, Buddhism is non-theistic and, therefore, does not believe in a God. Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhists have many deities, however, they are “meditational deities” and not considered “real”. Though many Buddhists practice daily they often do not consider their practice a “religion”. By outward appearances they might seem to be religious and some are. Many could be daily practitioners but by their own self-identification (of course, there is no real “self” in Buddhism) fall outside your classification as being “very religious”.

    1. Michael Lipka7 months ago

      Clark,

      Thank you for your interest in our work and for your excellent comment. It’s true that there is no single measure of religiosity that works equally well for all religious traditions. Attending religious services is more normative in some traditions than in others, for example. Of the four questions, “How important is religion in your life?” is probably the most applicable across the board, to theistic and non-theistic traditions.

      What we’ve tried to do in this post is identify certain religious beliefs and practices that are as widely applicable as possible within the American context. Since most Americans are Christians, and most of those who are not Christians are religious “nones,” we think the four indicators we’ve highlighted here are good, basic indicators of the religiousness of the broadest possible group of Americans, and thus useful for making geographic comparisons, e.g., between states.

      However, these aren’t the only indicators of religiousness, and one can easily imagine alternative scales that could serve different purposes and might produce different results. An analysis designed specifically for understanding religiosity among American Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims, just to cite a few examples, would employ a different set of indicators.

      Thanks again,
      Michael Lipka

    2. Psalm 917 months ago

      I appreciate your comment. I was raised Buddhist and my mother is a devout Buddhist (Nichiren Shoshu) so the question regarding belief in God would not be an indicator of religiousness in her case. There are many Buddhists of all stripes in the SF Bay Area where I grew up so I wonder if California would actually be higher on the religious scale if the God question were omitted or altered.