About half of Americans read the Bible on their own, and four in five people who read it as part of their personal lives open it at least once a month.
And far and away the No. 1 reason they pick up Scripture is for personal prayer and devotion.
A major new study on American Bible reading may disappoint the culture warriors in politics and the media who tend to see religion in terms of its perceived impact on issues from same-sex marriages to federal budget battles.
Instead, the just-released study on “The Bible in American Life” offers insights into how, why and when Americans read the Bible outside of worship.
“People have spiritual questions,” said Arthur Farnsley II, a lead researcher and associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which conducted the study.
“They look for meaning in their life.”
The center commissioned questions that were asked on two of the most highly respected data sources for American religion – the 2012 General Social Survey and the 2012 National Congregations Study – for the wide-ranging study.
It turns out Americans have a high opinion of Scripture – whether or not they open the book at home.
Nine in 10 Americans who read the Bible on their own consider Scripture to contain the literal word of God or the “inspired Word of God.” But nearly two-thirds of people who do not read the book at home have the same view of the Bible.
Many of the 48 percent of Americans who make Bible reading part of their lives, however, do so on a regular basis. More than half reported reading the Bible at least weekly; 17 percent said it was part of their daily lives.
The top two reasons respondents said they read Scripture were for personal prayer and devotion and to learn more about their religion — with at least six in 10 citing each factor. The third most popular reason was to seek guidance in personal decisions and relationships with spouses, parents, children and friends.
The least likely reason, among the eight choices offered, was to learn about abortion and homosexuality; just two in 10 Bible readers, including 15 percent of those younger than 45, said they consulted Scripture for guidance on those issues.
Traditionally disadvantaged populations seem to find particular value in personal Bible reading, the study suggested.
For example, 70 percent of black respondents, compared to 44 percent of white respondents, said they read the Bible outside of worship in the past year. The study also found people with lower incomes were more likely to read the Bible on their own.
Other interesting study findings include:
• The King James Version remains the overwhelming top choice of Bible readers. Fifty-five percent of Bible readers said they most often read the King James Version. The second most popular choice was the New International Version, favored by 19 percent of readers.
For all the popular attention paid to bizarrely unrepresentative congregations such as the funeral-picketing Westboro Baptist Church, you might think that many Bible readers’ favorite verses would relate to controversial texts on sexual morality and divine judgment.
You would be wrong.
Two of the most frequently cited verses were Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and the story of David and Goliath, where the underdog is lifted up by God.
No. 2 on the most popular list was the Gospel of John, especially John 3:16.
And the most popular book for personal Bible reading was the Psalms, in particular Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
What the study on the Bible in American life may do best is take readers into the world of American religion as it is lived, researchers said.
“Political uses of the Bible have never been their most important uses,” said Mark Noll, a project adviser and history professor at the University of Notre Dame. “These IUPUI surveys should bring sanity back into journalists’ reporting on religion, at least to the extent that they show how important non-political use of scripture continues to be in modern American life.”
One Response to “The Lord is their shepherd: New study reveals who reads the Bible – and why”
Leave a Reply
Search Ahead of the Trend
Please type your search term:
Most Recent Columns
Primers & Tutorials
The following primers and interactive tutorials were developed by theARDA.com and the International Center for Journalists (http://www.icfj.org/).
Connect with the ARDA
Our Most Popular Tags
Click on your desired tag, to view the available columns.
Baylor Religion Survey
religion and health
religion and politics
worship abortion (3)
US Congregational Membership Reports
Explore congregational membership in every county, state, and urban area in the United States. Based on the Religious Congregations and Membership Study collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies this is the most complete census available on religious congregations and their members.
ARDA's National Profiles provide detailed data by country on religious adherents, religious freedom, demographics and a host of other social measures. Choose a country below to see its profile:
Our American Denominations feature provides detailed information and family trees for over 400 U.S. religious denominations.
Use QuickStats to browse dozens of topics and see reponses from major national surveys, demographic patterns, and changes over time! Available topics:
Use QuickLists to see rank-ordered data on religion in the U.S. and around the world. See our most popular topics: