January 26, 2010

Google's Geographies of Religion

“Religion is probably, after sex, the second oldest resource which human beings have available to them for blowing their minds”
Susan Sontag

Following up on the earlier discussion of the user-created geographies of religion, the following maps simultaneously display all four religious references (Allah, Buddha, Hindu, Jesus) in order to visualise distinct religious cyberscapes. Below we see the data on a global scale. This map clearly mirrors many of the expected religious geographies of the offline world: references to Allah being most prominent in the Middle East, references to Buddha being most prominent in East Asia, references to Hindu being most prominent on the Indian subcontinent and references to Jesus being prominent in Europe and much of the Western Hemisphere.

Interestingly, there are are no large-scale homogeneities in the data and this reflects the sometimes scattered nature of religious practice in the world. Looking at the below map of user-created religious references in Europe, it can been seen are a significant number of places (e.g. parts of Switzerland, Germany, the UK) in which there are more references to Buddha than any other religious terms. Likewise there are parts of Belgium and France with a dominant number of references to Allah, and parts of the UK with a dominant number of reference to Hindu. (The cluster of Hindu references on the Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa is tied to a village named Hindu rather than religious practice). Also of note is the transition of religion as one moves eastward and southward with references to Allah becoming more prevalent in Muslim North Africa and Turkey. However, one can also see how this is far from monolithic with references to Jesus also sprinkled throughout this region as well as strong clusters in Israel/Palestine as well as within Armenia.

In Asia a similar amount of diversity can be seen. The United Arab Emirates is a particularly interesting example. While officially a Muslim country, Indians make up the largest demographic presence and the dominance of references to Hindu (rather than Allah) is likely a reflection of this fact. 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. Other examples include the predominately Buddhist nation of Sri Lanka with some Hindu areas to the North and the difference between Pakistan (more Allah) and India (more Hindu).

Finally, it is informative to include one additional map with this set. Here we included placemarks that reference the word ("sex"), a popular and international used term with very different connotations than the religious keywords used earlier. The purpose of including this term is to compare user interest in religion to user interest in sex. If (as some say) the three topics to avoid in polite conversation are religion, sex and politics it seems only right that this Internet blog (the antithesis to polite conversation if there every was one) takes on the question. Sadly, the inclusion of politics will have to wait until another day.

In Asia there are very few places where there are more references to sex than Allah, Buddha, Hindu or Jesus.

Constrasting this is Western Europe (especially the UK and Scandinavia) and North America (especially the East and West Coasts) there are more references to sex than any of the four religious terms that we searched for. The distribution in the U.S. mirrors our early maps of the virtual bible belt and church-bowling-firearms-strip clubs. There are, however, exceptions such as the Iberian countries of Spain and Portugal which continue to show more references to Jesus.

So it would seem that Susan Sontag's observation has some merit, at least in the European and North American context.


  1. How do you neutralise the language effect ? I understand that for Google Jesus is not Jésus. So you get a hole for your Christian indicator in France and other French-speaking countries and regions (Quebec, French-speaking Switzerland, Belgium).
    Can you explain how you get the data in Google so that we understand your data processing ?

  2. How do you explain the many Jesus entries in Israel ?

  3. Interesting study.

    - Jesus is a popular given name in Spanish-speaking countries
    - "Hindu" also refers to India as a whole (Hindustan), as well as to a newspaper. It would seem to broad a term to refer to the Hindu religion only#
    - The term Allah, on the other hand, is (from what I can see) perfectly selective, and may therefore be at a disadvantage against the other terms

    Still, very nice work.

  4. Thanks for the comments, a few responses:

    - For now, we think there is most to be gained from consistency across search terms (all in the same language). But we're working on how to address it BUT language is a tough issue at the global level.

    - Placemarks with Jesus references in Israel are no doubt tied to sites related to his life and Christian tradition.

    - We're doing a follow up to these maps that greatly expands the religious keywords used and explores how differences in terms (Hindu vs. Hinduism, Jesus vs. Christianity affects the results). Stay tuned.

    - We'll update the methods behind this in a bit. Check the FAQ.

  5. Religion is only a relatively recent invention in comparison with reproduction.

  6. It's in fact a natural ,not religious as such.(www.kwenaboss.blogspot.com)

  7. Africa is interesting to me as it has very few markings. They must follow a religion... correct? Are we to believe that they have more tribal beliefs vs. the conventional four?

  8. Fascinating...
    something good to ponder... d

  9. Interesting, but I'm not sure what it tells us that most folks couldn't have guessed pretty accurately (like you said, it "clearly mirrors many of the expected religious geographies of the offline world").

    I think it'd be more intriguing to track references to religions that don't fall under those Big Four, including atheists and agnostics, and see how those compare to either sex or the Big Four, or both.

  10. Don't worry, Some Guy, all kinds of new maps with more search terms will be coming soon, including searches for atheist, agnostic, Zoroastrianism and many more.

  11. nice mapping analysis. mapping religion across the world and compare it to oldest issue of human history, reproduction.

  12. Fascinating article. Good Analysis. Thanks for this. (Justin @ http://www.iswapyou.com/blog)

  13. thanks for this! was not surprised with the findings though.. ^__^ with this, would you agree with me saying sex = liberation and religion=conservatism??? just a thought...

  14. One thing that the map doesn't show (at least to me personally) the density of people within those areas to help show differences between crowded areas and less dense areas. How are you dealing with this issue?

    Otherwise, I think this is a very interesting study. I'm very excited that something of the sort is being considered.

  15. Would be interesting to know what the searcher was looking for and why. If I were looking up the term 'Hindu', it would not be in a religious for me context, I'd be doing pure research, the same as me looking up 'Othello' or 'Voltaire'.

    The maps have a lot of areas that are not shaded. What goes there. Say in Spain?

  16. It is interesting to note that angry Muslims burned down Christian churches in Malaysia a few weeks ago because of Christians referring to God as Allah.

  17. U got a fact wrong: India is secular, it is not officially a Muslim country. Bsides, even if there was an official announcement, it would say that India was Hindu, 80.5% of India is Hindu,as
    against 12% Muslims. Anyway, that was an easy mistake to make. Nice blog, on the whole.

  18. Being an Indian, I must bring a few points to you notice.
    1. India is not a Muslim country. The predominant religion here is "Hinduism" with other religions present only as minority.
    2. Hinduism is prevalent in UK owing to a large immigrant population from India.
    3. God in Hinduism is not referred to as "Hindu". "Hindu" is to Hinduism what "Muslim" is to "Islam" or "Christian" to "Christianity". There are various forms of God worshipped in Hinduism, such as Rama, Krishna, Shiva,Vishnu,Lakshmi,Saraswati,Surya and innumerable others. So there is a lot of diversity within Hinduism.
    Interesting read anyway.

  19. Something seems really off to me -- there's no 'Jesus' demarcation at all on Mount Athos in Greece -- an entire peninsula of Christian monasteries. According to the Europe map that whole area has no religious leaning.

  20. In response to the last comment, by M.k.B., the map cannot show places where the internet is not in use -- the Church may be modernizing, but I seriously doubt monks in monasteries are often online.

    My own observation: Buddhism is very prevalent in Southeast Asia, and in Korea and Japan, but almost absent from China. Given that China has more internet users than the population of the United States, this shows how completely the Maoist regime stamped out religion. Or perhaps China's Great Firewall keeps their people from religious content on the web?

    Another interesting note is how Buddhist South Korea appears -- it is traditionally Buddhist, but in recent years Christianity has gained about 50% of the population. I know this because I used to live there, and also the world's biggest church is in Seoul. I am wondering what causes this not to show up?

  21. I have a theory. If I were Christian, I'd pretty much know what I needed to about Jesus. Same if I were Buddhist about Buddha or Islamic about Mohammed.

    What I wouldn't know about and would need to look up are the OTHER religions. Therefore, perhaps the maps should be considered in this light, too.

    If I didn't know much about sex, then I'd have to look that up, too! ;^)

    And "Isabella", there are relatively few computers on continental Africa per capita. "1 Laptop Per Child" is a great organization that's working to turn that around (in Africa and anywhere there are poor, under-served kids) with rugged, low-cost laptops. You can help at http://laptop.org/en/participate/index.shtml .

  22. Oh, and the map of the sex-related placemarks is very pretty. A globally contributed-to work of beauty! Artists don't have work alone anymore.

  23. Well..definitely you might want to remove your reference to the Iberian Peninsula as an exception to the European supremacy of "sex". As someone said, Jesus is a very common given name in Spain.

  24. Some of the information are unbelievable because we did not know them before.

  25. I'm not sure if this is possible, but it would be interesting if you could plot the map according to a time series... For example, increasing references to a certain religion could point towards proselytization or increasing religiosity. Or on your Presidential race map, you could track the campaigns of candidates across states as they occur.

  26. In addition to David's comment, I'd observe that a censored internet in China must give a different response than that in freer countries. Persecution of Muslims and Christians there is well known. Meanwhile, rapid expansion of churches there since the Cultural Revolution suggests that China may have a higher number of practicing Christians than nearly any other nation.


  28. I see no sense why there is no Christian Orthodoxy, which is widely supported in Russia (more than 70% of Russians, many in Ukraine, Belorus, Armenia, Georgia etc. profess it). It looks like a sort of humiliation to me, as if someone is trying to say that we have a wrong God.

  29. Shreyas and neha dutt sharma: The blog does not say that India is a Muslim country. It says that the United Arabic Emirates is a Muslim country, but a lot of Indians live there.

    Rogozin: Christian Orthodoxy also has Jesus, so it should show up as blue dots on the map. That Russia has less dots than Western Europe does not say that Russia has the wrong god, but that Russia has less internet connections.

  30. Taking Jesus as an indicator for Christian places biaises the results. In reality you measured Evangelicals. A more neutral indicator would be both God (capitalised) and Jesus.

  31. A reason why "Buddha" was so strong represented in Switzerland and Germany at that time might be that Dalai Lama announced his visit to these two countries from the 27th of July to the 7th of August 2009. His arrival was lively discussed in advance as the government of Switzerland refused to welcome him for the first time since 10 years. People speculated that this happend as a result of China's pressure on Switzerland (http://www.swissinfo.ch/ger/Home/Archiv/Offizielle_Schweiz_ignoriert_den_Dalai_Lama.html?cid=7511610).

  32. Most amusing part of the map is Adriatic coast (Western coast of Balkans, opposite to Italy). Here we can see that Buddha is prevalent in these parts, but in fact it has nothing to do with the religion. It is a tourist area, where many nightclubs are called Buddha Bar (Rijeka, Zadar, Podgorica, Ulcinj...).
    In reality most of this area is firmly Catholic, with Orthodox Christians to the south, and a Muslim minority. It would be hard to find any Buddhists.
    I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case in other places across Europe as well.