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Digital How-to.

Holy cow! Religion site hits a homer

A divine presentation of primary-source data of use to the scribes working the spiritual side of the street

Religion is a topic of which many people are proudly ignorant. They may know a great deal about their own faith and yet be blissfully blind to the beliefs of literally thousands of other religions, churches, denominations, tribes, and movements around the world, even in their own back yards.

We journalists can be equally oblivious. Well, OK, more than equally, actually, because we've been taught since we were itty-bitty j-students to hold religion at arm's length. So well have we learned that particular lesson that sometimes we grow up to be reporters and editors who can decipher a city budget and tell you the difference between an indictment and a true bill, but can't name the world's most popular religions or even identify the major denominations in our own states.

Perhaps it is time to let the Web help us get right with religion. The goal is not to convert us to any doctrine, of course, but just to give us the same strong statistical grounding in religious matters that we have with, say, new cars and old football records.

A site called is a growing database of more than 46,000 statistics about religions around the globe, with references to published membership and congregation statistics for more than 4,200 religious bodies. Need to know how many Methodists are in Missouri? What the dominant religions of Indonesia are? The total percentage of the world that is Buddhist? This site presents data from primary research sources, such as government census reports and organization reporting, as well as citations from well-established secondary literature.

To use the material, visit the site at, where a lengthy introductory page is worth the scrolling. Its main services, hyperlinked at the top of the page, are:

"Religion by Location Index." This avenue provides a hyperlinked alphabet so you can jump to the state, region, or country you are researching.

"Religion by Name Index." For statistics of the United States, the world, or North America as a whole, use this index. These stats have not been incorporated in the Religion by Location Index because there are so many that it is easier to look them up by the name of the religious group.

With either index, after you have chosen a religious group from the resulting lists, the site provides a chart that lists the group's name and location, total number of adherents, the percentage of the total population, and the year of that figure. It also lists the source of the information and often a relevant quote from the source material. In addition, the source data sometimes include a link to the organization's own home page.

While the indices are great for zeroing in on specific religions -- and it covers little-known sects and cults as well as the major faiths -- for interesting browsing, check out some of the introductory page's other links. Scroll down to find links to lists of the world's major religions ordered by size, the major branches of the larger faiths, the largest churches in the world, the largest U.S. religious groups, and the largest geographical communities of Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs. Below that are links to some interesting additions, such as the religious affiliations of U.S. presidents, members of Congress, the 100 most influential people in history, and great philosophers, as well as religious references in fiction and films.

Other considerations in using for your writing and editing:

1 If you're interested in searching the site by keyword, keep scrolling. On the third or fourth page of the introductory screen is a data box that enables you to enter a word or phrase, use Boolean operators (AND, OR, or NOT), and specify case sensitivity.

2The statistics, because they come from a wide variety of official sources, are not precisely comparable. Some are from surveys, others from census data, still others from organizational reporting. So it's wise to read the source citations in the charts before making comparisons in your stories

3Some data are contradictory. The site's managers note they impose no interpretation on the data, opting instead to provide all the statistics they find. You draw your own conclusions, assisted by the quotations, cited survey parameters and/or bibliographical reference.
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Article Details
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Author:Bowen, Charles
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 14, 2000
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