One of the persistent and stark differences between the traditional South and the Northeast is the religious divide between the two regions and cultures. The South is well-known today as the ‘Bible Belt‘ while the Northeast is famous as a bastion of secularism and liberal Christianity (for instance, Mississippi is rated the most religious State while Vermont is rated the least religious). This was not always the case. In fact, in the early colonial era it was the Northeast that was fanatically religious while the South was comparatively moderate. Wikipedia provides the following summary:
The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the southeastern and south-central United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation’s [sic] average. The Bible Belt consists of much of the Southern United States extending west into Texas and Oklahoma. During the colonial period (1607–1776), the South was a stronghold of the Anglican church. Its transition to a stronghold of non-Anglican Protestantism occurred gradually over the next century as a series of religious revival movements, many associated with the Baptist denomination, gained great popularity in the region.
Author Frank Conner explains this in greater detail and how things changed in the following excerpt taken from pages 75-76 of his book The South Under Siege 1830-2000:
Prior to the Second Great Awakening, the people of the Northeast had been known as devout Christians, while the Southerners conspicuously had not. In the 18th century, the South had been lightly populated. There were no big cities as such (those were strictly a Northern phenomenon); and when there was a church within travelling distance, the Southerners attended it on Sundays as much to socialize and conduct business as to worship God. Visitors to the region complained frequently that the Southern ministers were of low quality and were lightly regarded by their congregations. This was in sharp contrast to such Northerners as the Congregationalists of New England and the Quakers of Pennsylvania – who approached religion soberly and intensely.
The South’s attitude toward Christianity changed abruptly and permanently early in the 19th century. Then – during the Second Great Awakening – Baptist and Methodist circuit riders brought their versions of Christianity to the small towns and the hinterlands. This religion had been shorn of pomp and layers of arbitrary ecclesiastic bureaucracy, and was now a personal matter of faith between the believer and God, without mediators. This type of Christianity appealed strongly to most Southerners; and thereafter it changed their lives drastically. Its priorities emphasized Christ as Lord, personal honor, marriage, family, and community – in that order. many Southerners now lived their Christian faith; most of the rest were at least careful to observe the forms.
The Southerners were now regarded as the bedrock Christians, and the Northerners less so as Calvinism receded – although liberalized Christianity remained strong in the North.