02 April 2013

Religion in New York's Capital District: bottom or top ten?

Today's Troy Record headlines a Gallup poll that lists New York State's Capital District -- the area encompassing Troy, Albany and Schenectady -- as one of the ten least religious communities in the United States. To be specific, my home region is the ninth least religious community in the country as measured by regularity of attendance at religious services. Burlington VT is the least religious of all, while Provo UT occupies the other extreme. Only 26% of Capital District people consider themselves "very religious" by Gallup's not-very-strict standard, which requires respondents to admit attending services "every week or almost every week" while deeming religion "an important part of their daily life."

Asked for first impressions, local religious figures see geography as a decisive factor. Gallup seems to bear this out, since only one of the bottom-12 communities, the college town of Madison WI, falls in the Midwest and none are in the South. The Northeast and Northwest are not "very religious" if Gallup is an accurate indicator, while only one community of the top ten is not in Utah or the South. A local Jewish leader notes that "northerners tend to be spiritual as opposed to religious," by which she means they're less inclined to "use rituals in search for the divine." By comparison, this former Texas resident notes that "you wear your religion" in parts of the Lone Star State. A Protestant minister who came up from South Carolina recalls that down south “It was taboo to do anything else but go to church on Sunday. And, on Saturday, you were getting ready for church on Sunday.” In Troy, he finds parents more likely to take their kids to sports events on Sundays.

The Capital District appears to confirm some of the expectations of the "nones," the non-religious or simply non-affiliated people mentioned in yesterday's post. We're represented by a Democrat in the House of Representatives and his district went nearly 60-40 for President Obama last November. I wouldn't be surprised if all of the least-religious communities voted similarly. I must report, however, that the Capital District tends to refute most expectations you might have of cultural sophistication or an overall progressive attitude following from a low volume of religion. Those things are less a matter of what you don't do and more about what you actually do, or make. If the choice on Sunday is between church and sports, as the minister says, I suppose that tells you something. You might still expect religion to decline as part of an overall enlightenment, but the mere lack of religion doesn't prove that enlightenment is here.

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