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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Hazards, Religion, and Place: Prayer and Peril in South Carolina

Jerry Tyrone Mitchell

Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter



This dissertation examines the role of religion in hazard perception. It specifically investigates the spatial distribution of hazard concern and how that varied by religious affiliation. Four research questions provided the focus: 1) Is there geographic variation in the perceptions of hazards within South Carolina; 2) Does the spatial variability of hazard perception vary by religious affiliation; 3) Does Biblical literalism explain the differences between clergy perceptions; 4) Does past hazard experience explain the differences between clergy perceptions?

To answer the research questions, a survey was administered to clergy from twenty Christian denominations in South Carolina. Using a definition of hazards as threats to people and the things they value, eight hazards of both natural and human causation mentioned by the clergy were selected for an investigation of the four research questions. These hazards are hurricanes, water pollution, tornadoes, air pollution, fires, chemical spills, nuclear accidents, and floods.

Geographic variation was found to exist for the perception of hazards, however, the patterning of hazard perception for these hazards varied little by denomination. Although considerable differences were evident between denominations regarding their view of hazard frequency, Biblical orientation, as measured by the literalness of one's Biblical interpretation, was not found to be related to the hazards considered threatening by the clergy. Past experience with hazards, particularly events of natural origin, proved to be a major influence on hazard perception.

This study points to the complexity of the relationship between religious affiliation and hazard perception, notably the difficulty in separating religion into an isolated factor for study. Confirming past hazards research, this study has shown perception to be highly dependent on the proximity to the threat and past experience. The expected differences between religious groups did not materialize in this study. This of course does not disprove the hypothesis that religion has some bearing on the formation of hazard perception. It does show that there were no significant variations between Christian denominations in South Carolina over the hazards their clergy considered threatening.

KEYWORDS: Hazards, Religion, Geography, South Carolina