The study, conducted by researchers from Baylor University, researched the so-called “gender gap” in American Christianity. For decades, researchers have found that, on the whole, women tend to be more religious than men regardless of how religiosity is defined: Women attend church more often, they tend to pray more and they consider God to be “very important” in their daily lives more so than men. Previous research has also shown that women are more likely to interpret the Bible literally – and researchers from Baylor University decided to find out why.
“Biblical literalism is often included as a control, but few studies have formally asked what makes someone a Biblical literalist and where does it come from,” says Dr. Blake Victor Kent, co-author of the study and research fellow at Harvard University. To find the answer, Kent and co-author Christopher M. Pieper, PhD analyzed data from nearly 1400 respondents who participated in the Baylor Religion Survey. In addition to being asked about frequency of church attendance and frequency of prayer, respondents were also asked questions about attachment, such as whether they felt like God is loving and caring, or whether they felt He was distant and uninterested in their day-to-day life. Respondents were also asked questions about Biblical literalism, including whether they believed the Bible contained any human error, and whether it should be taken word-for-word on all subjects as a historical text.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the researchers found that women were more likely than men to take the Bible literally. But more so than gender, researchers found that Biblical literalism is tied to a person's attachment to God. In other words, the more personally attached to God a respondent was, male or female, the more likely he or she was to interpret the Bible literally.
“People who take the Bible literally tend to percieve of God more as a person who can be interacted with,” says Kent. “You can talk to God, he hears you, he talks back. Our argument is essentially that in order to sustain a personal relationship with God as a person, one has to take the Bible literally because this is how the Bible presents God. He's a being that talks to prophets and prophets talk back.”