Baylor professor researches religious tattoos

Igor Stepczynski | Broadcast Reporter

Have you gotten any ink lately? You may have not personally, but statistics show that tattoos are on the rise among college-aged adults.

Dr. Kevin Dougherty, Associate Professor of Sociology at Baylor University, was thinking of unique ways to teach current trends to his intro to sociology class. After contemplating teaching the culture of graffiti, he decided to start lectures off with tattoos: graffiti on the body.

“13% of baby boomers have tattoos”, Dougherty said. “Almost half of millennials have tattoos.”

However, Dr. Dougherty doesn’t study just any tattoos. He studies the increasing trend of faith-centered tattoos.

“What led me to focus on religious tattoos as an area of research were the tattoos that students were showing me in class,” he said.

He invited students to come into his office and allow their tattoo to be photographed. In his study of 752 photos, 20% were overtly religious. He also found that religious tattoos are more likely to face the owner (28%) than nonreligious tattoos (18%) —perhaps as an intrinsic encouragement to live out their faith every day.

Crash, a tattoo artist at Waco’s Infamous Ink, also has noticed this increasing trend. He remarked how important it is for people to know the meaning behind what they are getting.

“I have people come in and say, ‘I want the Jesus fish.’ I say, ‘The ichthus.’ They say, ‘No, the Jesus fish,’” Crash chuckled. “I say’ ‘Yeah, it’s called an ictus.”

Both Dr, Dougherty and Crash expressed ways in which they have seen people receive healing from their tattoos. Crash’s sister spent years in despair after their father committed suicide. She ended up getting something that helped her vent her emotions.

“She got ‘I love you so much dad,'” he said while tearing up. “We were able to put some of the ashes into the ink.”

Both also agree that tattoos are becoming more and more acceptable in today’s society. In his research, Dr. Dougherty states that future generations are exhibiting a “generational shift towards greater individualism/self-expression” in ways that may have been unacceptable before.

Crash even reminisced on a time where he expected a grandmother to scold him for his piercings and tattoos in church. However, he ended up being pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the conversation.

“She came up to me and said ‘well you know in the Bible it says to treat your body like a temple,’” Crash reminisced. “And I thought, ‘Oh crap, here it comes’…. and she finished her sentence with, ‘I just think you’re decorating yours more than others.'”