Faith and Geography
April 12, 2006 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Mapping religion in America "Using 2000 Census information on a county-by-county basis, the maps focus on various aspects of religion." Fascinating maps from Geitner Simmons of the Omaha World-Herald. [via]
posted by LarryC (61 comments total)
 
(Geitner Simmons' blog links to Languagehat--is Simmons a Mefite?)
posted by LarryC at 9:58 PM on April 12, 2006


I know I've seen these maps around here before - I'm not sure it was in the form of an entire front-page post, though. It was probably in one of the election map threads.
posted by odinsdream at 10:14 PM on April 12, 2006


These maps are really interesting, but I wish they were larger.

From the article: The Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians and the Scandinavian Lutherans — members of "pietistic," or non-liturgical denominations — leaned toward the Republican Party, he said.

Quakers vote Republican? I guess it depends on which flavor of the church you belong to. I've only met Quakers who went to traditional, "unprogrammed" Meeting for Worship, and those folks definitely skew left (of course, the quoted author is focused on Nebraska and "programmed" meetings are more common in the Midwest).
posted by the_bone at 10:43 PM on April 12, 2006


Based on my sophisticated statistical methods, I conclude that water breeds anti-religious sentiment.

Burn the water!
posted by Alex404 at 10:55 PM on April 12, 2006


If you would like to find the originals of these maps, they can all be accessed via the links here. /FTA
posted by HyperBlue at 10:56 PM on April 12, 2006


Nixon was a Quaker.
posted by nyxxxx at 11:03 PM on April 12, 2006


Burn the water!

Flood the desert!!
posted by pompomtom at 11:09 PM on April 12, 2006


I've heard that Oregon is the least religious state in the union, and based on the number of churches in my town (a billion, approximately) I always thought it was bullshit.

But the maps seems to point to it being true. Woot!
posted by mathowie at 11:31 PM on April 12, 2006


The distribution in this one was a surprise to me
posted by Rumple at 11:32 PM on April 12, 2006


Great link, LarryC. Thanks!
posted by jtron at 12:00 AM on April 13, 2006


Look at that upper-midwestern Lutheran-belt.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:19 AM on April 13, 2006


the_bone: Believe it or not the Quakers here in Orange County, CA (that I've come across... and we have a large population of them) skew right. They've become QINO's: Quakers In Name Only. They are, essentially, a more polite strain of Evangelism these days. Definitely a whacky, mixed-up world we live in when pacifists vote for Bush.
posted by basicchannel at 12:21 AM on April 13, 2006


I'm really surprised that there are so many Catholics. I always thought of the Christian religious-type people in the US as being mainly Protestant.

Obviously the Catholics need more billboards outside their churches.
posted by fshgrl at 12:24 AM on April 13, 2006


The mormon map (which is from HyperBlue's link) is pretty funny. They're almost entirely confined to Utah and the surrounding area.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:58 AM on April 13, 2006


What, no Jedis?
posted by slater at 1:18 AM on April 13, 2006


Where's the atheist map?
In case anyone's wondering: In 2001, 16.2% of Canadians, and (according to this PDF) about 14.2% of Americans considered themselves to be non-religious. Taking the survey/census results from 1990/91 into consideration, this makes it one of the largest and fastest growing "religions" in our respective countries.
Since it's illegal for the US government to ask you what your favourite deity is, I have to wonder about the objectivity of the data collected by the people who do.
posted by Pseudonumb at 1:23 AM on April 13, 2006


collected published
posted by Pseudonumb at 1:46 AM on April 13, 2006


Excellent link, thanks LarryC
posted by Meatbomb at 2:32 AM on April 13, 2006


The mormon map (which is from HyperBlue's link) is pretty funny. They're almost entirely confined to Utah and the surrounding area.

Take a look at this map and you'll see they are everywhere in the West. Their influence throughout the western US is greater than you'd expect just by looking at the maps. Although their base is in Utah, they played a pivotal role as pioneers all over the west. The Mormon Batallion was the 1st party to cross the desert from Arizona to San Diego as they made a forced march to secure California for the US. It was remnants of that party that built Sutter's Mill and were on hand for the discovery that started Gold Rush of 1849. Many of the first rich gold strikes were by Mormons and the profits allowed them to expand across the west and establish many of the first American settlements. It was during this time that they began aquiring land, lots of land for raising cattle, But it was the water rights that came with that land that is the real legacy of those early pioneers. The Mormons control much of the desert water rights and water = political power in the desert.

I grew up in a Mormon county (San Bernardino) in California and although they represent a much smaller segment of the population today than in the past, their influence is everywhere and they make great neighbors. My grandfather was just a baptist cowboy when he arrived here in 1919 but the Mormons took him under their wing and helped him become a successful citrus farmer. When he lost nearly half his grove to fire, the local Mormons pitched in and helped him replant. It wasn't a totally altruistic act on their part, citrus trees need lots of water and they owned the water company but he would have lost everything if not for their help in those early days.

They still own most of the water in these parts and they still male great neighbors and friends. We've had 2 earthquakes greater than 7.0 magnitude in the last decade or so and the Mormons are always the first group out to offer their assistance and supplies to those in need.
posted by buggzzee23 at 2:35 AM on April 13, 2006


Believe it or not the Quakers here in Orange County, CA (that I've come across... and we have a large population of them) skew right.

Richard Nixon was not only a Quaker, but came from Orange County.
posted by plep at 3:40 AM on April 13, 2006


> Based on my sophisticated statistical methods, I conclude that water breeds
> anti-religious sentiment.

Not Mississippi or Gulf water, oddly. Must be something in the water where it has this effect. Medical waste?

posted by jfuller at 3:44 AM on April 13, 2006


The "adherence" map is misleading. Some states (particularly in the great plains) have vast amounts of land separating towns of less than a thousand people each. Church for these people is a place to congregate and gossip; the religious aspects are secondary at best.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:28 AM on April 13, 2006


Hm. My county has the highest percentage of Pentecostals (to include charismatics) in North Carolina.

I knew my church was big, but dang! ;-)
posted by konolia at 5:52 AM on April 13, 2006


2 irreligious hotspots: Pacific Northwest, Southern Ohio/West Virginia (surprising, that).

2 religious hotspots: Utah, North Dakota.

Really there's just one giant inexplicable religious zone with rather clear cut borders in the center. Start at the east end of Mississippi and draw a straight line up, and the west end of Texas and draw a straight line up. Utah is really the only dense religious spot outside that citadel.
posted by dgaicun at 5:59 AM on April 13, 2006


Wow. I grew up in a Reformed Christian (cyan on the Church Bodies map) family in Sioux County IA. We had family and friends in and around Pella IA, and Grand Rapids MI. Little did I know that this is basically ALL of the Reformed Christians.
posted by rlk at 6:02 AM on April 13, 2006


I am a product of the great Lutheran cult in the upper-midwest, as were all of my Norwegian ancestors. My twice-great grandfather built the first version of what is now the largest Lutheran church in Duluth, MN.

Interestingly (I think), most of the Lutherans I know are particularly liberal. The religion is definitely mainstream Christian, but the "tolerance factor" is particularly high. I have a good memory of a few weeks during confirmation when we'd visit other places of worship around town, and learned about other beliefs and their origins. The coolest thing, in my 13 year old mind, was visiting the only Mosque in town.

So, when I say "cult", I mean it in a kidding tone. Ahem. No one's out to get me. I think.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:08 AM on April 13, 2006


Here's my map of the four religious zones.
posted by dgaicun at 6:27 AM on April 13, 2006


I wonder what's up with that Ohio / Indiana / West Virgina godless region. I grew up in Indiana and now live in Washington; my perception is that Hoosiers are much more church-going than Northwesterners.
posted by mwhybark at 6:44 AM on April 13, 2006


This map showing Muslims should be of interest.

This is his single comment on the Muslim map
posted by poppo at 6:46 AM on April 13, 2006


interesting--there's a big match bet. Southern Baptists and former slave-owning states, and with Catholicism and Judaism in border states with high immigration. And is it Tornado Alley that's the most religious?

i'd like to see this put on those population maps that adjust size for amount of people per area.
posted by amberglow at 6:47 AM on April 13, 2006


It is interesting that the NYC metropolitan area (NYC, Long Island, Westchester, NJ and CT) has a higher percentage of religious adherents than most of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and about the same as most of the bible belt.
posted by caddis at 6:49 AM on April 13, 2006


Muslims too, for border states. It's weird how once you cross the Mississippi, people get more religious all of a sudden.
posted by amberglow at 6:51 AM on April 13, 2006


My experience is that the Luthers in the upper midwest are, but-by-bit, converting to Fundamentalism. There are entire towns up north that have gone fundie. But Minnesota was apparently always a hotbed of fundamentalism -- after all. Tammy Faye Bakker is from International Falls, and met Jim Bakker at Minneapolis's North Central Bible College.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:57 AM on April 13, 2006


It is interesting that the NYC metropolitan area (NYC, Long Island, Westchester, NJ and CT) has a higher percentage of religious adherents than most of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and about the same as most of the bible belt.

Well, yeah, Caddis, but they're all Catholics and Jews, so they aren't total lunatics.
posted by dame at 6:57 AM on April 13, 2006


Lutherans.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:57 AM on April 13, 2006


Really there's just one giant inexplicable religious zone with rather clear cut borders in the center. Start at the east end of Mississippi and draw a straight line up, and the west end of Texas and draw a straight line up.

You can see the same zone on this map of the 2004 election results and this simpler example from 2000. Proportional cartogram of the 2004 election results; both 2004 maps are from here.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:59 AM on April 13, 2006


Pseudonumb: "Where's the atheist map?
In case anyone's wondering: In 2001, 16.2% of Canadians, and (according to this PDF) about 14.2% of Americans considered themselves to be non-religious."


Nonreligious ≠ Atheist.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:11 AM on April 13, 2006


From the article: The Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians and the Scandinavian Lutherans — members of "pietistic," or non-liturgical denominations — leaned toward the Republican Party, he said.

I suspect this as just plain being a mistake. If that list of religions actually goes with "Republican", I'd be really surprised.

Orange County and Nixon aside, most Quakers are pretty left-leaning. There are two kinds of Quakers - evangelistic Quakers, whose meetings are led by a designated clergyman (programmed worship), and traditional Quakers (whose meetings are unprogrammed silent workship). The evangelistic Quakers only came into being during the revivial of religious fervor that came with the reform era in the late 1800s. PRogrammed-worship Quakers are a minority of Quakers. For a good sense of Quaker stances on current issues and political leanings, see Quaker.org.

BUt even leaving the Quakers out of it, the Congregationalists are also one of the most progressive Christian denominations. In truth, Congregationalism by that name doesn't exactly exist any more; some Congregational beliefs morphed into Unitarian Universalist ones, and other Congregational churches joined the UCC, a federation of associated demoninations who follow a common order of worship but emphasize matters of conscience above matters of dogma. So, even here in New England, you'll often see churches whose old sign says "First Congregational", but which is now actually a UCC church.

Finally, the other demoninations mentioned there are not especially righty, either. Lutherans are evangelical, but spend quite a lot of time on social-justice issues, and Methodists are also pretty well known for inclusive and progressive theology. I wonder if the article's author got their terms backwards. This isn't the list of religions I'd expect to "skew Republican". I
posted by Miko at 7:13 AM on April 13, 2006


It is interesting that the NYC metropolitan area (NYC, Long Island, Westchester, NJ and CT) has a higher percentage of religious adherents than most of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and about the same as most of the bible belt.

Well, yeah, Caddis, but they're all Catholics and Jews, so they aren't total lunatics.


Heh. And Buddhists, and Hindus, and Muslims.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on April 13, 2006


It's weird how once you cross the Mississippi, people get more religious all of a sudden.

Not exactly. The religious zone actually starts east of the Miss-a-sip. Look at Illinois, Wisconsin, and Mississippi.

You can see the same zone on this map of the 2004 election results

Not exactly this either. The whole Atlantic south doesn't match. Significant regions in the great lakes and north central. Not to mention large areas in the West.
posted by dgaicun at 7:15 AM on April 13, 2006


thanotopsis writes "Interestingly (I think), most of the Lutherans I know are particularly liberal. The religion is definitely mainstream Christian, but the 'tolerance factor' is particularly high."

Try the Missouri Synod flavor. It has a much darker body with a cold, fishy mouth feel, and an allegedly satisfying bitter aftertaste. Forced to switch from my earlier palatte of bland Wesleyanism, I found it to be quite shocking. To this day i don't do the organized version of religion very well thanks to this abrupt shift in childhood feed.

The maps are quite interesting even though he had to fiddle with the contrast for each family of denominations to get nice pictures. I really like the one comparing the various sects. It goes a long ways in describing what's left of regionalism in this increasingly homogenized country.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:25 AM on April 13, 2006


I was thinking of the stack of states from North Dakota to Texas, which you can see in the 2000 map and maps of the 1992 and 1996 elections.

Southern Baptists and former slave-owning states

The Baptist church split in 1845 because Southern Baptists were pro-slavery.

I always thought of the Christian religious-type people in the US as being mainly Protestant.

That's because the Religious Right has a harder time following Jesus advice and loves to pray on the street corners to be seen by men. Who wants displays of the 10 Commandments, and which version do they want? Somehow I don't think it's Catholics arguing for display of the Catholic version.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2006


I wish they were larger

You're probably referring to the originals, but just in case anyone missed it, he links to a slightly larger and clearer set.
posted by dreamsign at 7:43 AM on April 13, 2006


I wonder what's up with that Ohio / Indiana / West Virgina godless region

Acid rain.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:52 AM on April 13, 2006


Acid rain.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:59 AM on April 13, 2006


Seems like the denomination that settlers/immigrants brought with them (Lutherans, Mormons) are still dominate in the areas where adherants settled.

The churches of the Second Great Awakening (Southern Baptist, Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ, Unitarians) still dominate the areas that were either settled during the SGA or are areas where the church was founded.

The Northwest and West were settled after the SGA; in the case of Washington, major settlement didn't start happening until after the Civil War. Washington and Oregon have always been in the bottom five of church attendance. That said, the Pentecostal map (which includes the Charismatics) shows that they've made better inroads into the West than any other Protestant denominational group. (It helps that the Pentecostal movement started in LA.)
posted by dw at 8:00 AM on April 13, 2006


I've heard that Oregon is the least religious state in the union, and based on the number of churches in my town (a billion, approximately) I always thought it was bullshit.

But the maps seems to point to it being true. Woot!

posted by mathowie at 2:31 AM EST on April 13

Matt, if there are a billion churches in your town, there must be...oh... elventy trizillion, squared where I live. My town (Garner) is a small (20,000) suburb outside Raleigh and within three blocks of my house there are 6 churches: 3 dedicated and 2 "store front" and 1 congregation that rents out the local Shriner's hall on Wednesday nights. Even as I type this another church is being built on the same street. Every time we see a new construction site, my husband and I make a bet whether it will be a new bank or a new church: it is usually a new church.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:08 AM on April 13, 2006


I know I've seen these maps around here before

Yep, in this post. Here's a link to the section on religion.
posted by Gamblor at 8:29 AM on April 13, 2006


Sorry, here's the correct link to the section on religion.
posted by Gamblor at 8:35 AM on April 13, 2006


The American Religious Data Archive does a far more extensive job although these maps are very pretty.
posted by troutfishing at 8:36 AM on April 13, 2006


These maps are just too depressing.
posted by thefreek at 9:25 AM on April 13, 2006


Looks like THE JEWS are not to "blame" for Iraq...
posted by ParisParamus at 9:27 AM on April 13, 2006


Paris you just broke my brain.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:39 AM on April 13, 2006


Something tells me the table conversation at the ParisParamus household's Seder is very angry and unpleasant.
posted by Gamblor at 9:44 AM on April 13, 2006


I got all nostalgic and stuff noting the higher-than-background proportion of ELCA Lutherans in Newberry County, SC.
posted by pax digita at 10:43 AM on April 13, 2006


A possible explanation for the "irreligiousness" of the Northwest, etc., could just be that the mapmaker left out all the podunk 4-square, charismatic, Church of the Open Bible, independent fundamentalist, etc. churches. Sure they compiled the data from 149 denominations, but I bet there are a lot more denominations out there, and I bet those are just more common on the West Coast. Did they count the Jesus People?
posted by fuerloins at 10:49 AM on April 13, 2006


Are the maps based on population? he did note that North Dakota seemed to be more colourful because of its fairly low population. I see more churches than I can shake a stick at in Sacramento, CA but last time we were in Grand Forks, ND, I think that I saw one church.

Also interesting to note is the Muslim population in ND - seems to be centered in 3 areas, Minot, Grand Forks, and Fargo. Probably due to the colleges and maybe even the military facilities.

And I didn't know that the mormons had spread into Eastern Nevada like that, but again, it could be because of the fairly sparse population density.

I think that a map of just the SF Bay Area would be pretty neat to see. Heck, there's an Iranian Christian Church about a mile from here.
posted by drstein at 10:53 AM on April 13, 2006


A possible explanation for the "irreligiousness" of the Northwest, etc., could just be that the mapmaker left out all the podunk 4-square, charismatic, Church of the Open Bible, independent fundamentalist, etc. churches.

Actually, the Charismatics are covered by the Pentecostal map. Since Foursquare and Open Bible are considered Pentecostals as well, one could deduce they're also covered by this map.
posted by dw at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2006


"Paris you just broke my brain.
posted by Baby_Balrog"

Mission accomplished. Returning to base. LOL
posted by ParisParamus at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2006


Coloring maps by county is bound to introduce some problems:
Area is not proportional to population, and visual impact is not proportional to area. I'm best qualified to comment on the Mormon maps, so I'll take them for an example.

Essentially all of the Utah state line runs through uninhabited (or scarce-inhabited) wilderness, but each county has got a couple of towns someplace where there's water. (Until you've seen a rural Utah town, you have not grokked in fulness the phrase 'in the middle of nowhere'.) Only Mormons live in these places, for the most part, because only Mormons were listening when Brigham Young told them to up and settle there. The rest of the land is populated by those few who have an outstanding need for big empty spaces. (The Tooele chemical weapons depot, Thiokol's plant for manufacturing solid-fuel rockets ... things that need to be alone in case they blow up. Also, an astonishing proportion of Utah's west desert is devoted to various weapons testing ranges.) But the human population, sparse as it is, is thoroughly dominated by those Mormon settlements. So on the map it looks like you cross the state line inbound and *bam*, suddenly everyone's Mormon; but in reality, you cross the state line and *bam*, suddenly the desolate sagebrush waste looks exactly the same as it did a minute ago -- and half an hour later at the next watering hole, there's a few less 'Gentiles' than at the last one. If there were any at the last one. Or even the one before that. If the map showed Mormons per square mile, or better yet one dot for every two thousand Mormons, the state line would not stick out like a sore thumb. (The Wasatch Front probably would, because after all there is a concentrated heartland, but that's a little beside the point.)

And drstein, most of the Mormon presence in eastern Nevada goes back to Brigham Young, too. He planted colonies all the way from Alberta (Cardston) into Chihuahua (Colonía Juarez, not to be confused with nearby Cíudad Juarez), including (off the top of my head) places that are now in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, defining an area still known as 'the Mormon corridor'. (For most states of the Intermountain West, the first settlement on their present territory was Mormon. For nearly all the others, Mormon settlements dominate the first five. I saw all of this on an annotated list some time ago, but memory fails as to where I'd find it now.) Anyway, the reason those Nevada counties aren't as deeply-tinted as their adjoining Utah counties probably has very little to do with the people near the state line, and much to do with settlement bias deeper into Utah (for the Mormons) or further from it (for everyone else).

So in conclusion, coloring the graph by adherents per square mile, rather than per capita, would have conveyed the real situation better, and using uniform-sized tracts (preferably small ones) better still.
posted by eritain at 11:54 PM on April 14, 2006


What about the general boom in Nevada, and job growth? It's been the fastest-growing state for a few years now, i think. That's why there are so many of us Jews there now (100k now, i've heard, where there used to be very few).
posted by amberglow at 12:12 AM on April 15, 2006


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