THE GRAVESTONE INDEX: TRACKING PERSONAL RELIGIOSITY ACROSS NATIONS, REGIONS, AND PERIODS*

Authors


  • *

    I gratefully acknowledge the aid and comfort received from the following good persons: Nancy Ammerman, Roger Finke, John Florin, Bert Gast (Gast Monuments, Inc.), Paul Groth, Peter Haggett, Bob and Sally Harper, Michael Hermann, Bob Hodgart, Andrea Manseau (Rock of Ages Corp.), Martin Marty, Arlene May (Sears, Roebuck & Co.), James McCarthy, Tom McIlwraith, Richard E. Meyer, Bob Nunley, Ernie Stewart (Monument Builders of North America), Robert J. Thompson, Dick and Jane Wilkie, Colin Williams, and Denis Wood. An especially large bouquet must be tossed in the direction of Stephen Matthews for support above and beyond.

Abstract

ABSTRACT. Given shortcomings in traditional methods of gauging levels of religious sentiment in national or local communities—affiliation with a congregation, church attendance, responses to opinion polls—this exploratory article proposes a novel, arguably more sensitive measure of personal religiosity, the Gravestone Index; that is, the incidence of religious symbols, iconography, or text on permanent memorials. Its application to 58,490 grave markers observed in 111 community, or nondenominational, cemeteries in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain yielded substantial findings, some expected but others violently at odds with the conventional wisdom. Seemingly reflecting the secularization of society, the Gravestone Index declines throughout the early twentieth century but, contrariwise, has rebounded strongly since the 1960s, indicating some sort of ongoing religious revival in all three lands. However, it fails to show any of the anticipated regional variation within the United States, notably that between South and non-South. Even more surprisingly, it records a level of British and Canadian religiosity persistently far above the U.S. value.

Ancillary