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What is the Bible Belt?

Bible Belt audio

The Bible Belt is an informal expression used to refer to a region in the Southeastern and South-Central United States. This area is known as more theologically evangelical and socially conservative than the rest of the United States. States comprising the Bible Belt are Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Some lists also include Missouri, West Virginia, and Virginia in the Bible Belt.

The term Bible Belt uses the word belt in its meaning of “an area characterized by a distinctive feature.” For example, the Corn Belt is a region in the Midwest that produces a lot of corn; the asteroid belt is a swath of interplanetary space between Mars and Jupiter where millions of asteroids orbit. The term Bible Belt was made popular by journalist H. L. Mencken, who wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1924, “The old game, I suspect, is beginning to play out in the Bible Belt.” Mencken used the term in a derogatory way when reporting on the Scopes Monkey Trial for the Baltimore Sun. He often spoke out against religious belief, especially Christianity.

Often, people use the term Bible Belt simply as a way to identify the cultural and religious leanings of that portion of the United States. Others, however, use the term as a way to mock those whom they perceive to hold a blind allegiance to the Bible, an unreasonable commitment to literal interpretation, and a strict fundamentalism. Some critics of religion dismiss those who live in the Bible Belt as “Bible Belters.”

The Bible Belt contains cities that have been listed as the most “Bible-minded cities” in the United States, as calculated by the American Bible Society and Barna Group. Chattanooga, Tennessee, hit the top spot, while Birmingham, Alabama, was number two. The study defined “Bible-minded” based on the city’s Bible-reading habits and beliefs. For example, someone may be “Bible-minded” if he attends church regularly, reports to reading the Bible in a typical week, and asserts that the Bible is accurate in its teachings.

Barna Group states, “The South remains the most Bible-minded region of the country, with all of the top 10 cities located below the Mason-Dixon line” (quoted here).

How did the Bible Belt of the United States become so Bible-minded? In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the region was the center for Anglicans. At the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, other denominations began to gain popularity. Two of the more prominent are the Southern Baptists and Methodists. For centuries, Protestants and Evangelicals have dominated the region.

Today, the Bible Belt is known for being politically conservative and holding to conservative positions on social and moral issues. The states in the Bible Belt usually vote Republican.

Other countries also have regions that are known as a “Bible Belt,” including Canada, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Russia, and Ireland.

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This page last updated: September 19, 2022