Passionate About Data


Passionate About Data

Anthony Measures

16 Jun 2014

The era of accessible data is upon us, but good quality data on religion is still difficult to come by. We can begin by making the religious data that does exist available alongside socio-economic data, thus highlighting this important issue, writes Anthony Measures.

Data, religion and geopolitics – a string of words which when sitting alongside one another could conjure up any number of pictures and interesting images. The demand for good quality data is increasing year by year, and it has become a necessity in the fast moving world of social media to be able to instantly provide readers with imaginative and innovative ways to bring wide-ranging subject matter to life and to provide a better understanding of it.

The world is full of a vast amount of data but the key is how to distil it making it not only interesting but presenting it with striking visualisations, infographics and diagrams. This is vital to allow an audience to grasp a report in a way that quickly and clearly conveys the information.

The team behind the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics has assessed an abundance of data on religion and socio-economic issues. It is clear from this is that there is a real lack of cross-national, globally comparable data on religion, but there is a vast amount of cross-national, globally comparable socio-economic data. For example, the World Bank houses over 8,000 datasets.

Although data on religion is scarce, the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics will use the best data there is. We will also ensure that it sits alongside other socio-economic data so we can begin to expand understanding of this important issue and drive the debate further. This is vital as the world becomes ever more interdependent, making it essential that religion is seen in the context of geopolitics.

The global demographic data on religion which is available comes from a number of authoritative sources, including through country by country census reports where religion is measured. Data also cover issues such as restrictions on religion, religious legislation, religious education, constitutions favouring religion and social hostilities involving religion. Furthermore there is a reasonable amount of cross-national, globally comparable social survey data available from various sources and polling organisations and we can see how attitudes to religion vary around the world when looking at reports on religious freedoms. Additionally there are reports which assess countries in terms current conflicts, and we can meaningfully use these in the context of religion and geopolitics to build up a global picture.

But how can we make the best use of the data on religion and socio-economic issues that we have? As a Foundation, we strongly believe that while data around religion and socio-economic issues should be viewed in the context of one another, care should be taken in their presentation. We want to make sure that the data allow users to make practical associations without allowing them to come to false conclusions about causal links. Our intention therefore is collate religious data alongside socio-economic data, and to simplify the means by which the data is visualised, in order to achieve that balance.

Our approach has been to draw on multiple sources, bringing together religious and socio-economic data to show a representative sample of datasets. For launch we are keeping to the basics, providing the user with religious demography, GDP per capita, net migration and the Global Peace Index.

For the purposes of the Religion & Geopolitics website we want to be able to capture the latest data on religion and geopolitics, whether this is on a global or national basis. The challenge has always been and will continue to be that data of a religious nature is so difficult to collect, either because of restrictions on collecting religious data in particular countries and the nature by which questions on religion are asked, including their frequency.

All data needs to be assessed to determine whether we can meaningfully display it on a global basis. Also, data goes out of date very quickly, although where measured to a consistent methodology older data can be used to look at trends and as a means to forecasting.

Data is vast; the era of open data is upon us – the concept that data should be transparent and available to all - and we have the means now to use the data that is available to enhance the user experience and to educate to a greater degree. During 2013 huge progress was made in open data, with G8 leaders signing up to an Open Data Charter, which is now spreading to countries outside the G8.

The Religion & Geopolitics website is starting on a small scale with data but will be continually looking for ways to expand on this. Data can tell many stories; within the realm of Religion and Geopolitics there are still many stories to tell.

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