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Bible Belt

The area roughly considered to constitute the Bible belt

The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in society and politics, and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation's average. The Bible belt consists of much of the Southern United States. During the colonial period (1607–1776), the South was a stronghold of the Anglican church. Its transition to a stronghold of non-Anglican Protestantism occurred gradually over the next century as a series of religious revival movements, many associated with the Baptist denomination, gained great popularity in the region.[1]

The region is usually contrasted with the mainline Protestantism and Catholicism of the Northeastern United States, the religiously diverse Midwest and Great Lakes, the Mormon Corridor in Utah and southern Idaho, and the relatively secular Western United States. Whereas the state with the highest percentage of residents identifying as non-religious is the New England state of Vermont at 34%, in the Bible Belt state of Alabama it is just 3%.[2] Mississippi has the highest proportion of Baptists, at 75%.[2] The earliest known usage of the term "Bible belt" was by American journalist and social commentator H. L. Mencken, who in 1924 wrote in the Chicago Daily Tribune: "The old game, I suspect, is beginning to play out in the Bible belt."[3] Mencken claimed the term as his invention in 1927.[4]


  • Geography 1
  • Buckle 2
  • Political and cultural context 3
  • Outside the United States 4
    • Australia 4.1
    • Canada 4.2
    • Denmark 4.3
    • Finland 4.4
    • India 4.5
    • Italy 4.6
    • Netherlands 4.7
    • New Zealand 4.8
    • Northern Ireland 4.9
    • Slovakia 4.10
    • Sweden 4.11
    • Ukraine 4.12
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


The name "Bible belt" has been applied historically to the South and parts of the Midwest, but is more commonly identified with the South. In a 1961 study, Wilbur Zelinsky delineated the region as the area in which Protestant denominations, especially Southern Baptist, Methodist, and evangelical, are the predominant religious affiliation. The region thus defined included most of the Southern United States, including most of Texas and Oklahoma in the southwest, and in the states south of the Ohio River, and extending east to include central West Virginia and Virginia south of Northern Virginia. In addition, the Bible belt covers most of Missouri and Kentucky and southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. On the other hand, areas in the South which are not considered part of the Bible belt include heavily Catholic Southern Louisiana, central and southern Florida, which have been settled mainly by immigrants and Americans from elsewhere in the country, and overwhelmingly Hispanic South Texas. A 1978 study by Charles Heatwole identified the Bible belt as the region dominated by 24 fundamentalist Protestant denominations, corresponding to essentially the same area mapped by Zielinski.[5]

According to Stephen W. Tweedie, the Associate Professor Emeritus at the Department of Geography in the Oklahoma State University, the Bible belt is now viewed in terms of numerical concentration of the audience for religious television.[6] He finds two belts: one more eastern that stretches from Florida, (excluding Miami, South Carolina, and into Virginia (excluding Northern Virginia) ; and another that concentrated in Texas (excluding El Paso, and South Texas), Arkansas, Louisiana, (excluding New Orleans and Acadiana), Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Mississippi.[7] "[H]is research also broke the Bible Belt into two core regions, a western region and an eastern region. Tweedie's western Bible Belt was focused on a core that extended from Little Rock, Arkansas to Tulsa, Oklahoma. His eastern Bible Belt was focused on a core that included the major population centers of Virginia and North Carolina.[8]

Bible-minded Cities map

A study was commissioned by the American Bible Society to survey the importance of the Bible in the metropolitan areas of the United States. The report was based on 42,855 interviews conducted between 2005 and 2012. It determined the 10 most "Bible-minded" cities were Knoxville, TN; Shreveport, LA; Chattanooga, TN; Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; Springfield, MO; Charlotte, NC;, Lynchburg, VA; Huntsville-Decatur, AL; and Charleston, WV.[9]

In addition to the South, there is a smaller Bible belt in West Michigan, centered around the heavily Dutch-influenced Holland and Grand Rapids. Christian colleges in that region include Calvin College, Hope College, Cornerstone University, Grace Bible College, and Kuyper College. West Michigan is generally fiscally and socially conservative. Similarly conservative is the suburban Chicago area; Christian colleges in that region include Wheaton College, Judson University, North Central College, Elmhurst College, Trinity Christian College, and Trinity International University.


This billboard near the center of Alabama is an example of the widespread, socially accepted proselytism in the region.

Several locations are occasionally referred to as "the Buckle of the Bible belt":

Political and cultural context

The term Bible belt is used informally by journalists and by its detractors, who suggest that religious conservatives allow their religion to influence politics, science, and education. There has been research that links evangelical Protestantism with social conservatism.[14] In 1950, President Harry Truman told Catholic leaders he wanted to send an ambassador to the Vatican. Truman said the leading Democrats in Congress approved, but they warned him, "it would defeat Democratic Senators and Congressmen in the Bible belt."[15]

In presidential elections, the Bible belt states of Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas have voted for the Republican candidate in all elections since 1980; Oklahoma has supported the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1968. Other Bible belt states have voted for the Republican presidential candidate in the majority of elections since 1980, but have gone to the Democratic candidate either once or twice since then. However, with the exception of Mississippi, historical geographer Barry Vann shows that counties in the upland areas of the Appalachians and the Ozarks have a more conservative voting pattern than the counties located in the coastal plains (Vann, 2008; 2014).[16]

A separate nation entitled the "The Bible belt" is also mentioned in Robert Ferrigno's Assassin novels and comprises roughly the same area.[17]

Outside the United States


In Australia, the term usually refers to tracts within individual cities, for example the Hills District (including Baulkham Hills) in the north-western suburbs of Sydney or in Melbourne the eastern suburbs between Box Hill and the Dandenongs. Also included are the north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide such as Paradise, Modbury and Golden Grove. There is a section of south-eastern Queensland comprising the towns of Laidley, Gatton and Toowoomba which is referred to as the Bible belt. In Tasmania, the North-Western portion of the state is regarded in this context.


In Canada, the term is also sometimes used to describe several disparate regions which have a higher than average level of church attendance. These include some rural areas of the Prairies, the rural and more traditional parts of the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia and the Saint John River Valley of New Brunswick.[18]


In Denmark, the area of northwestern Jutland is often mentioned as a Bible belt. The region has a large number of members of the Lutheran movement called "Indre Mission" (English: "Inner Mission").


In Finland, the Ostrobothnia region has the highest birth rate[19] and the lowest number of abortions[20] in the country. Many Christian revival movements are present there. The largest revival movement in the area is Laestadianism. The other ones are The Awakening and Evankelinen herätysliike.


In India, the north eastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and the hill districts of Manipur form a continuous Bible belt. In fact in Nagaland, Christians constitute 90.02% (2001 census) of the population, with 80% professing the Baptist faith and thereby earning the sobriquet of The most Baptist state in the world.

Kerala is also sometimes referred as the Bible belt of India.[21][22] Kerala's Christian population is concentrated in the districts of Kottayam,[23] Idukki,[24] Ernakulam,[25] Pathanamthitta,[24] Alappuzha[26] and Thrissur[27] which are historically dominated by Saint Thomas Christians.[23][24][26]

In Mizoram the majority (over 90%) is Christian, predominantly members of the Presbyterian Church in India and the Mizoram Presbyterian Church.[28]


North-eastern Italian regions, such as Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia used to be considered the Italian Bible belt or "Sacrestia d'Italia", which means "Italy's sacristy", for the high average level of church attendance and the general devotion towards the Catholic religion.


In the Netherlands, De Bijbelgordel stretches from the provinces of Zeeland to Overijssel. It was essentially the border between the Protestant and Catholic parts of the Netherlands after the Protestant Reformation (around 1560). The Dutch Bible belt developed more explicitly in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the Bijbelgordel, the popular SGP favored a theocracy, and women were, until recently, denied full party membership and the ability to be political representatives, although this was changed in respectively 1996 and 2012 when women were allowed to be members of the SGP and the party granted passive suffrage to its female members. Many people in the Dutch Bible belt oppose vaccinations. In 1971 this led to an outbreak of polio at Staphorst#Society. Immigrants from this area to the U.S., settling predominantly in West Michigan, formed the Christian Reformed Church in North America (headquartered in Grand Rapids).

New Zealand

In New Zealand, Mount Roskill, Auckland, contains the highest number of churches per capita in the country, and is the home of several Christian political candidates.[29]

At the 2013 New Zealand Census, the Mangere–Otahuhu local board area of Auckland had the highest concentration of Christians in New Zealand, with 67.7 percent of the local board's 71,000 residents identifying as so.[30]

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the County Antrim area stretching from roughly Portrush to Larne and centered in the area of Ballymena is often referred to as a Bible belt. This is because the area is heavily Protestant with a large evangelical community. From 1970 to 2010, the MP for North Antrim was Ian Paisley, a Free Presbyterian minister well known for his theological fundamentalism. The town of Ballymena, the largest town in the constituency, is often referred to as the "buckle" of the Bible belt.[31]


In the Eastern and Northern parts of Slovakia, Christians comprise a majority, in some towns and villages almost 100%.[32]


In Sweden, there is a Bible belt covering the area between the cities of Jönköping and Gothenburg, with a particularly high concentration of non-conformists (Protestant congregations not affiliated with the Church of Sweden), especially Pentecostals and Congregationalists – and strong support for the Christian Democrats.[33] In the 19th century, Jönköping became known as "Smålands Jerusalem" ("Jerusalem of Småland"), because of the high Christian activity in town. Even the Örebro districts are well known for free church activity.


Before its independence, Ukraine was known as the Bible belt of the Soviet Union.[34]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Fred R. Shapiro (ed.). Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press (2006). ISBN 978-0-300-10798-2.
  4. ^ H. L. Mencken letter to Charles Green Shaw, 1927 Dec. 2 . Charles Green Shaw papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. See also,
  5. ^ Barry Vann (2008), In search of Ulster-Scots land: the birth and geotheological imagings of a transatlantic people, 1603-1703, Univ of South Carolina Press, ISBN 1-57003-708-6, ISBN 978-1-57003-708-5. Pages 138-140.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Tweedie, S.W. (1978) Viewing the Bible belt. Journal of Popular Culture 11; 865-76
  8. ^
  9. ^ [1] America's Most and Least Bible-Minded Cities
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Amanda Smith, Hostage of Fortune (2001) p. 604
  16. ^ Barry Vann, In Search of Ulster Scots Land; Barry Vann, "Natural Liberty in the Bible belt," Nomocracy in Politics (February, 2014),
  17. ^ Prayers for the Assassin
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Helsingin Sanomat 4.4.2006: Aborttien määrä Suomessa väheni vain hiukan viime vuonna
  21. ^
  22. ^ Apartheid in India Rediff News
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ a b c
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ In the Republic of Ireland, County Wicklow and Western parts of County Cork have the highest population of Protestants. Slugger O'Toole
  32. ^
  33. ^ see Eva M. Hamberg and Thorleif Pettersson, "The Religious Market: Denominational Competition and Religious Participation in Contemporary Sweden," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 205+
  34. ^

Further reading

  • Randall Balmer; Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism Baylor University Press, 2004  
  • Denman, Stan. "Political Playing for the Soul of the American South: Theater and the Maintenance of Cultural Hegemony in the American Bible belt" Southern Quarterly (2004) v. 42, Spring, 64-72.
  • Heatwole, Charles A.  "The Bible belt; a problem of regional definition" Journal of Geography (1978) 77; 50-5
  • Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible belt (Knopf, 1997)
  • Samuel S. Hill, Charles H. Lippy, and Charles Reagan Wilson, eds. Encyclopedia Of Religion In The South (2005)
  • Charles H. Lippy, ed. "Religion in South Carolina" (1993)
  • George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (1980).
  • Jeffrey P. Moran; "The Scopes Trial and Southern Fundamentalism in Black and White: Race, Region, and Religion" Journal of Southern History. Volume: 70. Issue: 1. 2004. pp 95+.
  • Chris C. Park; Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion Routledge, 1994
  • Randy J. Sparks. Religion in Mississippi University Press of Mississippi for the Mississippi Historical Society, . 2001. ISBN 1-57806-361-2.
  • William A. Stacey and Anson Shupe; "Religious Values and Religiosity in the Textbook Adoption Controversy in Texas, 1981" Review of Religious Research, Vol. 25, 1984
  • Turner, Elizabeth Hayes; Women, Culture and Community: Religion and Reform in Galveston 1880-1920, 1997.
  • Tweedie, S.W. (1978) Viewing the Bible belt. Journal of Popular Culture 11; 865-76
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