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More crunchy numbers on religion

This WaPo story describes this Baylor University study (long pdf alert). The authors include two very prominent sociologists of religion,they acknowledge other big guns in the field, and the Gallup Organization conducted the survey, so it has a good bit of professional credibility. In addition, the authors promise that this is merely the first of many future surveys. The Pew Forum/Pew Center folks have some major, high-powered competition.

There’s all sorts of interesting demographic data, such as these tidbits: a significantly higher proportion of females than males identify with black Protestant churches, while a higher proportion of men than women identify with Roman Catholicism; and young people (18-30) are most likely to declare no religious affiliation, largely at the expense of the Catholic church, which seems significantly underrepresented in that cohort (10.1%, as opposed to 20% or more in other cohorts).

The study also found that the attributes most closely connected with political conservatism are relative biblical literalism and church attendance: it turns out that relatively "biblically literalist" Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants are more or less indistinguishable in their political views.

There are all sorts of other interesting findings in the survey, but you’re going to have to see them for yourself.

Update: This article chews over the data reasonably well. Hat tip: Get Religion.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Joe - This sincere curiosity, so don’t jump all over me.

What is meant by "relative biblical literalism." I ask because I have students who seem to take such a view. Surely it does NOT mean, take what you like and leave the rest.


,Promise I won’t jump. The study uses a scale, described in a note on p. 24 of the study (p. 26 of the pdf):

BLOCKQUOTE>Biblical literalism is a 4-point scale measuring respondents personal belief about the Bible, from 1=The Bible is an
ancient book of history and legends and 4=The Bible means exactly what it says; it should be taken literally, word-for-word, on all subjects.

What I mean by "relative biblical literalism" is just a position closer to the "high" end of the scale. At the moment, I don’t have the time to explore the variants of the terms that might be expressed by various sorts of believers. (Gotta to go to, er, Target, and then to the, er, Jewish Community Center for swim team. Some fundy socon I am!)

Joe - You Georgians lead busy lives.

That’s a fascinating study. (I hope it won’t be trashed by those elsewhere on this site who trash social science.) It’s also long, and will take time to digest. I am glad to have it thanks.

The whole question is in the questionnaire appended at the end of the .pdf file:

Question: Which one statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about the Bible?

The choices are
- The Bible means exactly what it says. It should be taken literally, word-for-word, on all subjects.
- The Bible is perfectly true, but it should not be taken literally, word-for-word. We must interpret its meaning.
- The Bible contains some human error.
- The Bible is an ancient book of history and legends.
- I don’t know. one

Joe - When I looked at the choices, I found that they express huge, "discrete" differences, over which lungs have been exhausted, forests felled, and blood spilled. They are not exactly a scale! In saying this, I am not challenging anybody. It was the term "relative" that caught my attention. Am I right that the second choice captures what you meant by "relative"? And is it right to say that evangelicals might distribute themselves among the first three choices?


You’re right that the choices are discontinuous and much controverted. All I was saying was that, according to the survey, the closer you are to the literalist end of the spectrum, the more likely you are to be politically conservative. And just to keep the Heather Mac Donald types happy, the converse isn’t necessarily true.

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