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ARDA Guiding Papers Series

Internet-Based Research in the Social Science of Religion

by Williams Sims Bainbridge


For a decade, social scientists have been aware that much religion-oriented communication takes place on Internet (Hadden and Cowan 2000). During that time, the amount of activity online has increased greatly, and the forms of Internet usage have diversified seemingly without end. It is also true that scientists have discovered new ways to extract data from websites or other Internet-based systems, even when they are not explicitly religious, that can benefit researchers interested in religion. No longer is the task merely studying the innovative ways people can use Internet for religious purposes. It is now also possible to use Internet-derived data to develop and test general theories of religious behavior that apply offline as well as online.

This paper will describe Internet-based research methods that are cutting-edge, meet reasonable tests of validity and reliability, and are sufficiently practical that students can use them for graduate papers and dissertations at the same time that their professors are preparing professional publications based on them. The emphasis will be on quantitative methods, but some qualitative methods will also be mentioned, in part to place the quantitative techniques in a wider methodological context, as well as to identify directions in which innovations might be developed

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Please use the following when citing this paper:

Bainbridge, William Sims. 2010. Internet-Based Research in the Social Science of Religion (ARDA Guiding Paper Series). State College, PA: The Association of Religion Data Archives at The Pennsylvania State University, from http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/guidingpapers.asp.

William Sims Bainbridge is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Bainbridge is well known for his work on the sociology of religion, publishing a wide variety or articles and books, including three collaborations with Rodney Stark: The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation (1985), A Theory of Religion (1987), and Religion, Deviance, and Social Control (1996). Among his solo-authored books, these concern religion: Satan's Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult (1978), The Sociology of Religious Movements (2002), God from the Machine: Artificial Intelligence Models of Religious Cognition (Cognitive Science of Religion) (2006), and Across the Secular Abyss: From Faith to Wisdom (2007).