Baylor study finds that internet use may impact religious views

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A recently published study from researchers at Baylor University suggests that internet use may decrease the likelihood of a person affiliating with a religious tradition or believing that only one religion is true.

Baylor sociologist and researcher Paul McClure said in a news release that it may be because Internet use encourages religious “tinkering.” By tinkering he means that people feel they are no longer beholden to institutions or religious dogma.

McClure’s study, “Tinkering with Technology and Religion in the Digital Age,” was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The idea is that the internet exposes people to a broader array of religious traditions and beliefs and may encourage experimentation with their beliefs.

The study also looked at television viewing and found that it was linked to religion, but in a different way in that lower religious attendance of TV viewers may be because some are ill, injured, immobile or older and therefore incapable of taking part.

The Baylor survey began in 2010 when respondents were spending more time on average watching television, but that has changed as more time is spent online and on smartphones, according to McClure. In the latest survey, participants were asked about taking part in religious activities, whether they viewed all religions as being true and how many hours spend surfing the web and how many hours they spent watching TV.

The analysis took into account race, gender, age, education and other variables, but concluded that the more time spent online, the greater odds that a person will not be affiliated with a religion.

The findings are limited, McClure admits, in that the survey does not ask what people are doing online. The hope is the study may benefit scholars looking at ways religious views are shaped by technology.

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