Friday, March 19, 2010

Religion and Maps

Matthew Zook, associate professor in the Geography department at the University of Kentucky and from Floating Sheep and Brian Grim, Senior Researcher with Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life both presented at Harvard's "New Technologies and Interdisciplinary Research on Religion"

Impacting the World with Data: From a million data points to maps that tell the story
OR Translating academic rigor into public information

By Brian Grim
Technologies make possible so many different ways of collecting and displaying data that often the real challenge is knowing which data to collect and the best way to present them. This presentation briefly shows how the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (Washington, DC) and the international Religious Demography Project at Boston University's nstitute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs (CURA) have organized millions of data points on world religion into relational databases that allow interactive online comparisons. The presentation then describes ways that these data have been reported and mapped, showing how they contribute to scholarly understanding as well as how they impact public discourse in the media and among policy makers. Examples include how a single published number became part of the public discourse DNA (i.e., the Forum's fnding that 1.57 billion people, or nearly oneinfour in the world today, are Muslim) as well as how data on religious demography and religionrelated violence can be turned into maps that consolidate knowledge. The presentation concludes with an illustration of how data on religion are combined with other global geospatial datasets in ways that provide critical cultural information to aid workers and others before they arrive in a new location; this developing database also is designed to incorporate realtime input from data contributors worldwide using a webbased application.

Mapping Religious Cyberscapes: Google and User Generated Religion

By Matthew Zook
User generated information is more and more prevalent on the Internet and increasingly much of this content is spatially referenced. While there is a wide range of place related information available online, this paper introduces the metric of the number of user generated Google Maps placemarks containing specifc keywords (e.g., slam, Hinduism, Buddhism, church, etc.) to plot the contours of religious practice worldwide. These cyberscapes convey aspects of the material world undetectable by other methods and provide a fne grain mapping of religion as represented by online user activity. Although representations within Google Maps can often accurately mirror trends in the physical world, it is important to be aware of how the many powerrelationships and divides in the offine world can exclude certain places and certain types of knowledge in online representations. We are thus left to ask, to what extent can virtual representations reveal useful information about material trends and places, or to what degree are those representations reinforcing the power of the most networked elements of society and the ways in which they choose to represent place?

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