Magic Numbers

Just released: The Pew Internet and American Life Project‘s survey on “Faith Online.”We’re especially delighted to announce this goldmine of data and analysis because it’s authored by Center for Religion and Media (another Pew project) associate Stewart M. Hoover — who wrote about South Park for The Revealer on Monday — and his colleagues Lynn Schofield Clark and Lee Rainie.

The “number” you’ll no doubt see cited most often when the report hits the print media tomorrow is 64% — which is to say, nearly two thirds of the approximately 128 million American online have used the internet for religious purposes.

At The Revealer, we’re even more intrigued by another number: 32% have gone online to read news accounts of religious events and affairs. To many, that might mean reading The Boston Globe‘s Catholic coverage online; but it no doubt includes many more who find the traditional press not up to the job of answering their questions about religion in the news.

The study also confirms our suspicions that online religion tends to be more conservative than the whole megillah; but more than a quarter of those whom the study calls the “online faithful” use the internet to satisfy their curiousity about other people’s religions, a heartening statistic for those who believe that the internet holds potential as an antidote to know-nothing — and know-it-all — fundamentalism of all varieties.

Traditionalists, meanwhile, will find encouragement in this surprising stat: 54% of the online faithful describe themselves as religious and spiritual, while only 33% percent cop to the “spiritual but not religious” label that’s supposedly taking over the demographic middle. The middle, maybe; but not the majority.

The study just came out within the last hour, so we’re going to spend some more time with it before we draw any conclusions. But we feel confident in saying that it will provide great fodder for discussion in the days to come — and we hope it’ll spur more readers to think about the questions being talked about here.

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