Apr 24, 2013

America's religious regions, according to geo-coded data


A map of the Christian denominational landscape of the United States, as represented by internet-user-generated data. 

The creators, Matthew Zook and Taylor Shelton from the University of Kentucky and Mark Graham from Oxford, use a software program to mine online, geo-coded data -- Google Maps placemarks, Flickr and Instagram photos, tweets, etc. -- and produce maps such as the above. They write that the internet 
serves to represent and reproduce society in a variety of ways [....] Particularly compelling are the new types of linkages made between online activity and offline locations in which Internet users associate meaning -- ranging from the prosaic to the profound -- to specific sites in the material world. These novel phenomena, commonly referred to as geotagging (also georeferencing or geocoding), provides an innovative means for studying the spatial contours of the virtual dimension of practically any subject, including religion.
This is a different, interesting way to conceptualize the religious landscape of America.

The obvious weakness of this map is the extent to which it relies on denomination names. It's interesting, though, that even as more Protestant churches downplay organizational affiliations, and non-denominational churches are on the rise, there's still quite a bit of information that can be gathered using the organization names generated by internet users, and that information gives one a decent overview of the strong regional differences in American's religious choices.