Faith-centered tattoos analyzed in study of university students

Local News

WACO, Texas – With more than a quarter of U.S. adults now having tattoos, and nearly half of millennials sporting them, only a handful of studies have focused on religious tattoos.

However, a new study by researchers at Baylor University and Texas Tech University analyzes faith-centered tattoos and is the first to use visual images of them.

The study, published in the journal Visual Studies, analyzed 752 photos of tattoos taken at a Christian university in the United States and found nearly 20 percent of those were overtly religious in content.

A 2016 Harris Poll showed 29 percent of American adults had at least one tattoo — up from 14 percent in 2008.

The study also found some evidence that a generally visible tattoo may be conceptually different from tattoos hidden by clothing.

The analysis found that:

  • Overt religious content appeared in 145 photos (19% of total sample).
  • More men in the photos (23%) had religious tattoos than women (17%).
  • Of the religious tattoos on women, most (69%) were small and in more easily concealed locations. The most frequent sites of their religious tattoos were the wrist (23%), foot (18%) and back (18%). 
  • Men’s religious tattoos were more likely to be large than non-religious ones (61% compared to 44%). Most prevalent sites for men’s religious tattoos were upper arm (26%), forearm (21%) and back (19%).
  • Half of the religious tattoos were images — the most common being the cross. More than one quarter were text, often Bible references, with a slight majority being New Testament references. But the Old Testament book of Psalms was most popular. Images with text comprised 21% of religious tattoos.
  • Religious tattoos were more likely than non-religious ones to face the owner, with 26% facing inward, in contrast to 18% of non-religious tattoos.

Researchers said they have no way of knowing if these findings apply to all students at the university or to students at other universities. They also say it is probable that they undercounted religious tattoos — in part because tattoos may have religious or spiritual connotations but not be recognized as such.

Future research also might examine how tattoos are viewed in other parts of the globe.

Source: Baylor University

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