Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

From the Editors of the World Religion Database

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

From the Editors of the World Religion Database

Article excerpt

Each of the three reviews of the World Religion Database (WRD) in the January 2010 issue of the INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH pointed to a number of strengths and weaknesses in the online database. The advantage of an electronic publication is that it is dynamic and can be updated as new information and suggestions for improvement are received. For instance, we have already implemented one suggestion by Peter Brierley: in our desire to be aligned more closely with United Nations terminology, we will henceforth use "United Kingdom" instead of "Britain" as the short name for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

When interpreting these reviews, it is helpful to keep in mind the existence of another database published online, the World Christian Database (WCD). The WCD has a closer relationship with the World Christian Encyclopedia because it provides much greater detail on Christianity, the sort that Brierley finds of interest. For example, a large number of Christian denominations are listed there, grouped by traditions, communions, and other networks.

In addition, arriving at the numbers shown in the databases is not quite as simple as pitting figures generated by the religious communities themselves against census and survey data, which are considered more scientific. In fact, figures from censuses and surveys can vary wildly, even when the same question is asked in the same year. It also is well-established that censuses and surveys, in some important cases, overcount majorities (e.g., Muslims in Saudi Arabia: 97 percent by World Values Survey reckoning, but likely closer to 92 percent when all non-Muslim expatriates are taken into account) and undercount minorities (e.g., Jains in the United Kingdom, many of whom checked the "Hindu" box in the 2001 census).

Furthermore, the limitations of population survey data are significant, not only because of varying sample sizes, but also because of different approaches to asking about a person's religious affiliation. In Bulgaria, for instance, the estimate for "no religious affiliation" from the 1999 World Values Survey (30.4 percent) is much higher than from the 2001 census (3.9 percent). It is unlikely that religious "nones" (as used here, those who either say they have no religion or decline to specify a religion) decreased by 26. …

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