In our information-saturated world, it is appropriate to ask how religious communities use data that has been gathered by reputable research and/or poll-taking organizations. Perhaps a more pertinent question would be whether religious communities do, in fact, use such information – or whether they deliberately ignore the discoveries of information-gathering groups. Do religious groups who have adopted a “Moses/Christ/Muhammad Against Culture” approach to their surroundings (borrowing H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic paradigm) tend to go their own way despite the sociological and demographic information made available to them? Would the various “Moses/Christ/Muhammad Of Culture” groups use such research to contextualize and make themselves relevant within the modern world? And if such a distinction is valid, what would be the justification given by each end of the spectrum for its use—or neglect—of the collected data?
This essay will examine three of the more notable “think tanks” and information centers that deal with religious ideas and trends. These include the Barna Group, which anchors the conservative and Evangelical end of the spectrum; the Pew Research Center, which adopts a more centrist approach; and the John Templeton Foundation, which generally deals with matters of “spirituality” rather than “religion” per se. The authors will describe the background and basic philosophy of each group, delineate the kinds of research and reports that each produces, and the uses to which the findings of each are put by the religious communities that do not choose to ignore such data.
The above abstract is a proposal submitted for the 2015 CSIR Conference on New Technologies and Religious Communities.