Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

The effect of geographic mobility on religiosity is commonly understood as leading to a decline. However, from empirical research, its effects appear to be very much dependent on the migrants' preferences and on the sociocultural context of both the old and the new residence.

As an individual's preferences depend to a great extent on past experiences, they are not stable and do vary over time. Geographic mobility is consequently seen to lead to both a decline and a rise in religious commitment (as measured by church attendance). More private dimensions of religiosity, such as private prayer, are less prone to change because of migration.

In addition to individual mobility, there is group migration (including family migration). Historically, the migration of "deviant" religious groups occurred to preserve the faith (and physical safety) when actual or potential suppression threatened (Mennonites, Mormons, and Quakers). Sometimes strict denominational groups or families have been known to migrate due to the threat of eroding religiosity in the face of the nearing of the "world" (Amish). Others are known to break up, because the group grows too large, and the exertion of social control on the observance of the communal and private religious practices becomes very difficult. In research on contemporary religious groups, less attention is paid to the effects of geographic mobility on religiosity.

Atlases of religious geography in the United States, principally under the editorship of Peter L. Halvorson and William M. Newman, are produced and distributed by the Glenmary Research Center in Atlanta; these are the standard reference works on the social geography of religious denominations in America. A unique single-nation, single-tradition study is Isambert and Terrenoire's Atlas de la pratatique religieuse de catholiques en France (FNSP-CNRS 1980). The irregular serial Geographia Religionum is published in Germany by Reimer.

See also Ecology of Religion, Pilgrimage

Durk H. Hak


R. W. Stump, "Regional Migration and Religious Commitment in the United States," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23(1984):292-303

M. R. Welch and J. Baltzell, "Geographic Mobility, Social Integration, and Church Attendance," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23(1984):75-91.

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