Global Studies of Religiosity and Spirituality: A Systematic Review for

Geographic and Topic Scopes

Our Aim

The main aim of this paper is to advance global studies of religiosity and spirituality, and their intersection. The paper advances the global study of religiosity by conducting a systematic review of the geographic scope, religious traditions, levels of analysis, and topics investigated within the contemporary scientific studies of religion, paying particular attention to intersections of generosity. The analysis done codes for the potential for Western-centrism, Christian-centrism, and congregational-centrism, all while attending to ways to study the potential intersection between religiosity and generosity, especially during the formative youth development life stage. Two data sources inform this analysis: the international data catalog of the Association for Religious Research Archives (ARDA) and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR). Implications for research are discussed, including practical implications to implementing a better geo-tagging process to more overtly identify the scope of data and make U.S. scope less implicit. In the paper, we seek to de-center and re-center the study of religion, specifically by conducting systematic searches that intentionally seek to:

(1) Provincialize the United States and Western Europe by focusing on geographies;
(2) Limit tendencies toward Christian-centrism by parsing studies by topic and approach, naming the identifiable religious traditions within each study;
(3) Amass studies that investigate religiosity from a range of levels and approaches, especially outside of congregations alone;
(4) Critically engage the multiple ways in which religiosity can relate to prosocial actions, including promoting anti-social actions. 

The Problem

Contemporary approaches to social science more often move beyond unproductive paradigmatic or methodological debates, typically grounded in ‘either/or’ logics, to account for more robust, ‘both/and’ approaches. To do so, meta-analyses of the field are crucial for summarizing potential for biases in theoretical approaches, topics, geographic scopes, and methodological tendencies more generally. Grounded on years of existing research, meta-analyses can also identify fruitful avenues for future studies to address identified issues. Notably, Cadge et al. (2011) provided a meta-analysis of the scientific study of religion nearly a decade ago. Their analysis identified major biases with existing approaches in the field, namely wide-spread tendencies toward:

(1) Western-centrism: focusing geographically on data collected in the Northern America (especially the United States) and Western          Europe, and then assuming broader generalizability;
(2) Christo-centrism: focusing topically on Christianity, and to the extent that other religions are studied, they are included in a                     comparative fashion, and often within populations where non-Christian religions are the minority (e.g., the United States and                 Western Europe);
(3) Congregational-centrism: focusing primarily on the organizational sites of religious congregations, such as how individuals relate         to congregations, leaders form religious communities, and/or how congregations are shaped by larger national or denominational         cultures;
(4) Positive-centrism: focusing primarily and uncritically on religiosity as a positive social force rather than assuming that, as with any         social force, there are potentials for both negative and positive associations (e.g., religious wars), and even co-occurrence of both.

Method that we followed

We followed a systematic and organized method where we reviewed the existing data sources to examine whether the biases were prominent in the last decade or not. The followed method is further explained below.

Group 32.png
Geographic Scope

Several existing schemas for country groupings exist, and the third step involved an attempt to synthesize these approaches into a geo-tagging framework that could be applied consistently. Five geographic schemas were reviewed to exemplify inconsistencies across studies. The conclusion of the geographic scope analysis was that, in order to achieve consistency in world region groupings, the ideal is to tag studies at the country level. Country-level geo-tags facilitate counts and comparisons by country, and also undergirds the ability to group multiple studies under a shared world region schema. If achieved, it would be possible to categorize countries according to multiple world regions schemas to facilitate cross-study learning. Thus, geographic scoping is important for establishing a field of global studies of religion and spirituality that assembles knowledge across a range of approaches.

Religious Tradition Scope

Several existing schemas for country groupings exist, and the third step involved an attempt to synthesize these approaches into a geo-tagging framework that could be applied consistently. Five geographic schemas were reviewed to exemplify inconsistencies across studies. The conclusion of the geographic scope analysis was that, in order to achieve consistency in world region groupings, the ideal is to tag studies at the country level. Country-level geo-tags facilitate counts and comparisons by country, and also undergirds the ability to group multiple studies under a shared world region schema. If achieved, it would be possible to categorize countries according to multiple world regions schemas to facilitate cross-study learning. Thus, geographic scoping is important for establishing a field of global studies of religion and spirituality that assembles knowledge across a range of approaches.

Congregational Scope

The process for assessing congregational scope was first to tag the level for the unit of analysis. Levels of analysis are relatively commonly known and can be a helpful way to categorize and amass interdisciplinary scholarship into a larger body of knowledge (e.g., Barman 2017). In simple terms, macro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically focus on large-scale governmental, legal, and economic institutions, whereas micro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically collect data from individuals for the purposes of studying individual similarities and differences within the same population. Between those approaches are meso-level studies that collect data about organizations, social networks, or groups. Congregational studies are one type of meso-level approach, and thus it is necessary to assess the level of study before identifying the subset of congregational studies.

Topic Scope

The process for assessing congregational scope was first to tag the level for the unit of analysis. Levels of analysis are relatively commonly known and can be a helpful way to categorize and amass interdisciplinary scholarship into a larger body of knowledge (e.g., Barman 2017). In simple terms, macro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically focus on large-scale governmental, legal, and economic institutions, whereas micro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically collect data from individuals for the purposes of studying individual similarities and differences within the same population. Between those approaches are meso-level studies that collect data about organizations, social networks, or groups. Congregational studies are one type of meso-level approach, and thus it is necessary to assess the level of study before identifying the subset of congregational studies.

Datasets Used
1) ARDA Datasets

The process for assessing congregational scope was first to tag the level for the unit of analysis. Levels of analysis are relatively commonly known and can be a helpful way to categorize and amass interdisciplinary scholarship into a larger body of knowledge (e.g., Barman 2017). In simple terms, macro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically focus on large-scale governmental, legal, and economic institutions, whereas micro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically collect data from individuals for the purposes of studying individual similarities and differences within the same population. Between those approaches are meso-level studies that collect data about organizations, social networks, or groups. Congregational studies are one type of meso-level approach, and thus it is necessary to assess the level of study before identifying the subset of congregational studies.

Findings

Cumulatively, the ARDA international catalog provides 17 datasets on non-U.S. geographies with data collected since 2010. These 17 datasets include seven datasets with data on every country with populations of 250,000 or more (and some with data on countries with smaller populations: see Table A4 in the Appendix A for study counts by country). However, all of those datasets include religious tradition affiliation as the single measure of religiosity. In the 11 remaining datasets, a total of 81 countries are studied. Figure 1 maps the frequency distribution for each country included in these 11 international datasets (all non-listed countries = 0 for study count). This analysis provided an initial set of responses to the research questions. First, the attention to the United States and non-U.S. geographies is not equal, and countries within non-U.S. geographies receive unequal attention. Second, ARDA international datasets do not appear to be Christian-centric. Specifically, it appears that only three of the 17 datasets focus on Christianity, all of these alongside other religious traditions, whereas seven appear to focus on Islam, three on Judaism, two on Confucianism and Hinduism, and two on a wide range of religious traditions. None of these 17 datasets have a congregational emphasis, largely due to the fact that 12 of the datasets are focused on macro-level religion and states institutional processes. An additional two datasets investigate
meso-level aspects of religiosity, one with a focus on terrorist networks and the other with a focus on Buddhist monks and nuns. Three datasets investigate religion and the micro-level, one to study religion and wellbeing, another to study religious diversity, and a third (Zurabishvilli 2012) providing the only dataset that facilitates cross-national analysis of religiosity and generosity. Cumulatively, the ARDA international datasets provide initial support for Hypotheses 1–3. However, when returning to the full data catalog, it is notable that international datasets comprise 116 of the catalog objects, whereas U.S. surveys comprise 960 objects, plus U.S. church membership data comprises another 27 objects, indicating that centrism remains within the full data catalog.

1. Figure 1 - Map of ARDA Datasets.png

Figure 1. Geographic scope of ARDA international datasets since 2010.

1) JSSR Publications

The process for assessing congregational scope was first to tag the level for the unit of analysis. Levels of analysis are relatively commonly known and can be a helpful way to categorize and amass interdisciplinary scholarship into a larger body of knowledge (e.g., Barman 2017). In simple terms, macro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically focus on large-scale governmental, legal, and economic institutions, whereas micro-level units of analysis in social sciences typically collect data from individuals for the purposes of studying individual similarities and differences within the same population. Between those approaches are meso-level studies that collect data about organizations, social networks, or groups. Congregational studies are one type of meso-level approach, and thus it is necessary to assess the level of study before identifying the subset of congregational studies.

Findings

Within contemporary JSSR publications sampled based on Africa and Asia keywords and systematically parsed, the United States and Western Europe remain over-studied, while Asia and Africa are comparably under-studied. Moreover, within-region inequalities exist such that: within Northern America, the United States is studied considerably more than Canada; within Western Europe, the western-most countries are studied more than the eastern and southern countries; within the Africa and Asia combined sample, Asia is studied more than Africa; within Asia, China is studied considerably more than any other country, then Turkey and India; and within Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and Burkina Faso are studied more than the rest of the countries in Africa. This evidence indicates the need to reject Hypothesis 1: geographic inequality remains. Additionally, Hypothesis 2 is also rejected: Christian-centrism remains, though it has seemingly lessened in contemporary scholarship and is less of an issue than geographic scope. There is not enough evidence to support Hypothesis 3, though the subset of meso-level, organizational approaches to studying religiosity appear to be less centric on congregations than in the past, and this centrism is less of an issue than geographic and religious tradition scopes.

1. Figure 3 - Map of JSSR Publications -

Figure 2. Geographic scope of JSSR Africa and Asia publications since 2010.

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