What historical factors led to a more overt and rooted Christian culture in the southern USA compared to the northern states?

The Bible Belt is an informal region in the southeastern 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.

Bible Belt. (2017, February 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:38, February 27, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bible_Belt&oldid=766096166

  • 1
    Note that there's a heavy correlation between "The South" and "The Bible Belt", but not a perfect one. At least three states that are primarily in it (Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kentucky) were not part of the Confederacy.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 27, 2017 at 19:00
  • 1
    Industrialization was mostly a northern endeavor, while the south remained farms.
    – user1973
    Feb 27, 2017 at 19:24
  • 3
    Does it occur to you that you may be asking from the wrong direction? Perhaps the question is, given American cultural habits from the origin in the colonies, why the mid Atlantic and New England states became "less Christian" ... Feb 27, 2017 at 19:55
  • 2
    That surely is the same question. Just rephrased. Feb 27, 2017 at 19:58
  • guys, this is answerable. I'm having a senior moment, but there are studies that discuss the culture of Southern states, the Great Awakening, the Great Enlightenment, etc. One of the key elements is actually the Salem witch trials - internal conflicts in Northern religious culture. Like many things in the South, slavery plays a role - religion was a cultural force to underpin the mythology of slavery. This question can be answered; I'm just too addlepated to remember all the details.
    – MCW
    Feb 28, 2017 at 0:36

2 Answers 2


The post-bellum South remained largely rural and homogenously Protestant, but not a thinly populated frontier. Here's a relevant summary of what unfolded within that geographical context from an article you may want to look at:

Most of the scholarship on religion in the South since the 1960s has endeavored to explain how and why southern evangelicals in the 19th and 20th centuries have so radically transformed the South’s religiosity from Anglican ritualism and backwoods indifference to an emotional evangelicalism. The story these scholars tell is complex and, in some measures, contested. It is intimately bound up with the rise of a slaveholding republic, the national Second Great Awakening, the coming of “civilization” to the rustic southern backcountry and newly opening states of the Deep South, the innovative methods (such as circuit-riding preachers and mass-produced pamphlet literature) employed by the newly rising evangelical denominations, and the concerted (and partially successful) effort to evangelize among enslaved people.

  • While the conclusions are contested (it is for sure a complex topic) the points raised in that article are similar to what I've seen elsewhere. Feb 28, 2017 at 13:56

One should first recognize that the early history of the Northern United States was very religious. The Puritans arriving along the Massachusetts coast in 1620, the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts during the late 1600's, the major Ivy League Universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, which began as Divinity Schools-(or Theology Schools), the establishment of the Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam-(Dutch New York City in the 1600's), as well as their founding-(or co-founding) of New Jersey's Rutgers University in 1766. The Northeastern United States has a deeply rooted religious history that should not be overlooked or trivialized.

However, what distinguishes Northeastern Christian religiosity from Southern Christian religiosity-(i.e. The Bible Belt region, from Virginia, to Texas), may have to do with the economic and socio-demographic evolution of both regions.

The Northeastern United States, from its earliest beginnings, was-(and remains), the most urban region in America. It had the largest cities, great wealth generated from the earliest years of the Industrial Revolution, as well as helped to establish the workings of Modern Capitalism through trade, banking and finance. However, the older Northeastern Protestant communities, were becoming an increasing minority presence in this region of the country, when Roman Catholics from various parts of Europe arrived in huge percentages throughout the 1800's and early 1900's. Throughout the 20th century, the urban Northeast continued to attract many other Christian groups from Europe and the Middle East, as well as throughout other parts of the United States. Other religious groups, such as Jews from Eastern Europe, Muslims and Hindus, became a major part of the Northeast's religious demography. In other words, the religious history of the Northeastern United States became home to a massively heterodox and heterogeneous region-(What we typically call, "Multiculturalism"), which exists to this day.

The Southern United States had a different historical development, especially towards religion. The Southern U.S.-(from Virginia, to Texas, Florida, being the major historic and contemporary exception), has primarily been, a religiously and to some extent, mostly homogeneous region of the United States. The major ethno-religious groups living in the Southern United States before 1900, were centuries old Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups, such as the English, Scots, Irish (Protestants), as well as Scotch-Irish-(one could perhaps include Germans and the Dutch, to a lesser extent). The religion in the South was primarily Christianity, specifically, a small number of Protestant denominations, such as Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians-(to some extent). There of course were French Catholics in Louisiana, the historic presence of Spanish Catholics in San Antonio, Texas, as well parts of Florida. African-Americans became Christians, namely Baptists, as well as Methodists, during and after slavery.

The South has always been a more rural and pastoral region when compared with the Northeast; Industrialization, Corporate Capitalism and Urbanization, came to the South much later in its history. Although there were immigrant groups who migrated to the South during the early 1900's, such as European Catholics, as well as Jews from Eastern Europe, the religious and ethnic demographic composition was primarily Anglo-Saxon and Protestant and a sizable African-American Protestant population as well.

The Northeast, during the Industrial Age and beyond, has been rather reserved or less publicly expressive with regard to its religious identity. As a Northerner myself, I can say, from direct experience and observation, that our region of the U.S. is, generally speaking, less preoccupied with religion and religiosity and more concerned about mundane matters. The Northeast generally maintains a more progressive cultural existence which acknowledges the presence and indispensability of religion, though keeping the institution of religion away and distant from the public square. The Northeast (generally speaking) tends to view public expressions of religiosity as inappropriate and is usually more introspectively religious-(if religious at all).

The South, (perhaps due to its traditionally pastoral and mostly homogeneous ethno-religious composition), is very publicly expressive in vocalizing in their religious self-identity, namely their very conservative Protestant religious self-identity. Religion, (specifically Evangelical Christianity), in the South, is a near ubiquitous presence throughout much of its public life and plays a central role in the collective social and moral identity within many towns and even cities-(to some extent).

Today, the Southern United States has major cities and metropolitan areas, such as Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas. There are sizable percentages of Roman Catholics and other religious groups living in the more urban and suburban areas of the South. However, the deep rooted homogeneity of the South, especially regarding a particularly more conservative form of Christianity.......is still a major and undeniable presence in this part of the United States.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.