Friday, January 29, 2010

In which user-generated geographies of religion say more about access than about religion

Fascinating stuff over at floatingsheep where they map "religious references in user-created content indexed by Google." Here's the key image:
What they don't talk about at all is the way other factors (other than religion) influence the prevalence of these references. In particular, a couple of facts seem startling to me:
  1. China almost doesn't show up at all -- probably due to a combination of an anti-religious political culture, a censor-controlled online environment, and a lack of Internet access.
  2. They comment that:
    Likewise the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago (particularly the island of Java) illustrate the complexity of religious practice in this region. References to Buddha, Allah and Hindu are all in evidence on Java.
    What they don't mention is that Java is more than 90% Muslim, so although I agree that there is a great deal of "complexity of religious practice" there, this map totally misrepresents its nature. The map makes it look like it's about evenly split between Muslims and Hindus, with a few Buddhists and Christians thrown into the mix.
  3. Another even more egregious example is Bangladesh -- you can see it there tucked in just to the right of India as a huge concentration of red dots. This despite the fact that Bangladesh is 90% Muslim.
  4. Nigeria is huge -- about five times the size of Morocco (and three times the size of Spain). Would you ever guess it from the number of dots there? Furthermore, Nigeria is majority Muslim as well. There are not only more Muslims in Nigeria than in Morocco, there are more Muslims in Nigeria than in Turkey.
It seems like the big story here is the broad lack of Muslim-generated content. You would never guess from looking at this that there were more than half as many Muslims as Christians. I assume this largely reflects the relative poverty of the Muslim population of the world as compared to the other religions -- but I really don't know. Does anyone know more about this than I do, and/or see more discrepancies between map and reality?

Separate question: take a look at the map where they overlay user-generated content mentioning sex. What's going on in Algeria and Tunisia? Is there a huge Algerian/Tunisian porn industry I don't know about? Fascinating.

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