Cooking Up Numbers

Christianity is on the verge of collapse! The atheists are taking over! No, wait, the Wiccans! Nevermind—conservative evangelicals are more robust than ever!

Yada ya. If you’re used to following religion news, there’s this occasional ritual that happens when one of the major polls gets released. The newspapers find the most sensational story they can in the numbers, then they pretend to freak out on the front page for a day, and then everybody happily forgets about the whole thing (except a poor handful of social scientists who actually have to rely on the numbers in their research). Come to think of it, we religion folks should start a pool and gamble on what comes out each time.

We wouldn’t be the only ones throwing money around. In an article in today’s Religion Dispatches, I explore the world of big money and ideology that’s at work behind the flurry of religion polls in the United States. The occasion is the release of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey last week, which, incidentally, is among the more reliable choices on the market.

Note: In their big cover story on the ARIS, USA Today gave an inaccurate number figure for the sample size of the Baylor study. They give 35,000, when in fact it is less than 2,000. I’ve just contacted them to report the error. We’ll see what they do about it. I’m sure, like me, you’re all on the edge of your seats!

Update: After I reported the error, the online version of the article has been corrected.





One response to “Cooking Up Numbers”

  1. […] following is an essay by sociologist of religion Darren Sherkat, one of the main players in my recent article about the foundations behind religion surveys. Sherkat here focuses on the question of response […]