October 4, 2011

Mapping Religion

 by Quincy D. Newell

I ran across a super-cool website recently: the North American Religion Atlas.  Did y’all know about this?  Were you just hiding it from me?  No, you wouldn’t do that.  You must not have known about it either.  Anyway, it’s an interactive site that uses data from the 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Survey from Glenmary Research Center and the 2000 U.S. Census.  You can make your own maps and charts, and you can save them and download them.  So, for example, if you’re teaching about religion in the American West, you could make a map that shows which counties in the United States reported more than 10% uncounted/unaffiliated people AND more than 10% adherents of “Eastern religions.”

Okay, so that’s a really random query, leading to a fairly colorless map.  As it turns out, though, there are six of those counties – two in Colorado, two in New Mexico, one in Hawaii, and one in what looks to be West Virginia. (I know, it’s a little hard to tell on this particular rendering of the map – especially because I’m not showing you Hawaii.  But on the site, you can zoom in and see the stuff up close.)

You can also make maps that show things like Orthodox adherents as a percentage of the total state population.

Here, I’m totally going to show you Alaska, because it’s different from the rest of the States:

And you can make pie charts!  Here, for example, you can see what the data says about religion in Wyoming: adherents as a percentage of the total population.


Look at that – over half the population of WY is unaffiliated or uncounted. 

Despite its name, it appears that the site only has data about the United States.  If you’re wondering about Canada or Mexico (let alone Central America) I’m afraid you’re out of luck here.  Also, the tools are a bit crude – it’s hard to get very nuanced maps.  (That first map, for example, started as an attempt to find out where there were more adherents of Eastern religions than people who were uncounted/unaffiliated.  I didn’t figure out how to create such a comparison.) 

The people who run the site tell me that they are currently “redeveloping the site and moving it to a new platform that will permit greatly improved functionality and provide more visualization options.”  It will also include “several more years of religion and census data going back to at least the first part of the 20th century.”  I’m particularly excited about that last bit, because it will allow us to illustrate change over time.  The launch date for the new-and-improved site is summer 2012.  The NEH is helping fund the redevelopment – kudos to them, and to the folks who put this site together.  For teaching and thinking about religion in the American West (or, really, any other region of the U.S.) it’s really useful.

1 comment:

Jim Bennett said...

Quincy, thanks for the tip. This looks very cool, and I'm going to see what I can find do for a class on Mormonism this afternoon. There goes my morning!