The Bible Belt in a Changing South: Shrinking, Relocating, and Multiple Buckles

Article excerpt

The term "Bible Belt," a familiar label associated with religion in the South, was coined by journalist H.L. Mencken following his coverage of the Scopes "monkey" trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. It has been used regularly since that time to refer to a religiously conservative or fundamentalist region in the American South and sometimes the Midwest, though its exact geographic extent remains debatable. Geographers have attempted to define the location of the Bible Belt in the past. Most notably Heatwole defined the geographic extent of the Bible Belt in a 1978 article using 1971 data from the Glenmary Research Center. We replicate his effort for 1971, but add cartographic and statistical analyses for 1980, 1990 and 2000. Changes in the Belt's location have occurred as a result of new migrants to the South as well as shifts within the region itself. The Bible Belt region today stretches from northern Texas to western North Carolina, and from Mississippi north to Kentucky. Also the region's core or "buckle" was located in eastern Tennessee in the 1970s, but by 2000 it had moved west to north-central Texas and southwestern Oklahoma. Dynamism and fluidity as well as tradition continue to be important forces shaping the region's religious landscapes.

El temino "Bible Belt", una etiqueta familiar asociada con la religion del Sur, fue acufiado por el periodista H.L. Mencken luego de su cobertura sobre el juicio de los Scopes "monkey" en Dayton, Tennessee en 1925. El t&mino se ha utilizado con regularidad desde entonces para referirse a una region religiosamente eonservadora o fundamentalista en el Sur de los Estados Unidos, yen ocasiones el Medio-Oeste, aunque su extension geogrdfica exacta sigue siendo debatible. Los geografos han tratado de definir la ubicacion del cinturon de la Biblia ("Bible Belt") en el pasado. Notablemente, Heatwole definio la extension geografica del Cintaron de la Biblia en un articulo en 1978 utilizando datos de 1971 del Glenmary Research Center. Nasotros replicamas su esfuerzo de 1971, ademas de anadir analisis cartografico y estadistico de 1980, 1990 y 2000.Cambios en la ubicacion del Cinturon se han producido como resultado de los nuevos inmigrantes en el Sur, asi como cambios dentro de la propia region. El Cinturon de la Biblia actualmente se extiende desde el norte de Texas hasta el oeste de Carolina del Norte, y desde Mississippi hacia el norte de Kentacky. Tambien, el nucleo de la region o "hebilla" se encontraba en el este de Tennessee en 1970, pero en 2000 se habia trasladado al oeste, al norte-centro de Texas y suroeste de Oklahoma. Dinamismo y fluidez, asi como tradicion, siguen siendo fuerzas importantes moldeando los paisajes de las religiones de la region.

KEY WORDS: religion, Bible Belt, evangelical, fundamentalism, religious landscapes, church membership, religious diversity


In 1969 political writer Kevin Phillips published The Emerging Republican Majority, a timely book that foregrounded the changing political and social landscape in the South. This book was instantly widely acclaimed for identifying and addressing the changes that were occurring as a result of "outsiders," especially from the North, moving to Sunbelt cities and states, and also "insiders" changing their political allegiances and parties to vote for a party long alien to the Democratic Solid South. Phillips acknowledged, and correctly, that innovations were taking place in regional, state, and local politics and also in the religious landscapes. If an astute political and social scholar was writing about religion in the South today, the book might be entitled The Emerging Non-Baptist Minorities, a title that reflects what is transpiring in the region's religions landscape. Southern Baptists remain the dominant church throughout much of the region stretching from Virginia to Texas; they added 6.5 million adherents from 1970-2000, a 28 percent increase. However, two observable trends are occurring. …