Religion Data Roundup - Gordon Conwell

Religion Data Roundup



There are many ways to study religion from social scientific perspectives. Qualitative studies can be ethnographic, where the researcher engages in observation (or participation observation) and typically interviews within a religious community, creating a “thick description” (a la Clifford Geertz) of what they do, how they do it, what they think about it, and how it fits within a larger social context. One of the most prominent examples of this is Robert Orsi’s The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem (Yale University Press, 1988). Such studies are typically small-scale (communities, individuals) and highlight what is known as “lived religion” – how people experience religion in their everyday lives.

Here at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, we engage in quantitative studies of religion that fall under the “demography of religion”. In other words, we track over time the size of Christianity and other world religions by country, people, and language, while projecting for the future. Other quantitative studies in religion include surveys, which are typically larger in scale than qualitative studies (though they can be as small as 1,000 respondents and as large as 50,000) and target  a broader population, like that of an entire country or religious group. Perhaps most well-known for this is the Pew Research Center, whose religion surveys ask a series of questions to a representative sample of people about their religious beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes. There is a clear intersection between our work at the Center and that of other sociologists of religion; while we help provide the broader context of religion – that is, which religions are in what places –other sociologists inquire further about how they practice religion, what they think about it, and how attitudes toward religion are changing (see this page on our FAQ about some differences between us and Pew).

But how many people are actually Christians? Our only answer, from a demography of religion perspective, to this frequently-asked question is how many people affiliate to Christianity in a particular place or time. But we know this is not necessarily a satisfying answer to everyone. To that end, here is a list of surveys, researchers, and organizations that help shed light on the nuances of religion in its social context, both in the USA and abroad.

The list goes on. At the Center, we value the work of these researchers around the world who diligently work to uncover the nuances of faith “on the ground,” in contrast to our 30,000-foot view. I encourage you to check them out and see what you discover!

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