Nearly two-thirds of online Americans use the Internet for faith-related reasons. The 64% of Internet users who perform spiritual and religious activities online represent nearly 82 million Americans.
Among the most popular and important spiritually-related online activities measured in a new national survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
- 38% of the nation's 128 million Internet users have sent and received email with spiritual content.
- 35% have sent or received online greeting cards related to religious holidays.
- 32% have gone online to read news accounts of religious events and affairs.
- 21% have sought information about how to celebrate religious holidays.
- 17% have looked for information about where they could attend religious services.
- 14% have used email to plan church meetings.
- 11% have downloaded or listened to religious music online.
- 7% have made or responded to online prayer requests.
- 7% have made donations to religious organizations or charities.
In sum, 64% of Internet users said they had done at least one of these things online and many had done more than one. This figure represents a substantially higher number of online faithful than the Pew Internet & American Life Project has measured in the past. The Project worked with scholars from the University of Colorado at Boulder to devise a new battery of questions to prompt Internet users' recollections of the things they do online on matters related to religion and spirituality.
“There has been much speculation about the impact of the Internet on religion, particularly as increasing numbers of Americans have been turning to sources other than their own traditions and clergy,” said Prof. Stewart Hoover of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the lead author of the Pew Internet Project report.
“The survey provides clear evidence that the majority of the online faithful are there for personal spiritual reasons, including seeking outside their own traditions,” Hoover added, “but they are also deeply grounded in those traditions, and this Internet activity supplements their ties to traditional institutions, rather than moving them away from church.” The survey found that two-thirds of those who attend religious services weekly use the internet for personal religious or spiritual purposes.
The report, Faith Online, says that those who use the Internet for religious or spiritual purposes are more likely to be women, white, middle aged, college educated, and relatively well-to-do. In addition, they are somewhat more active as Internet users than the rest of the Internet population.
“The online faithful are quite serious about their spiritual journeys, and they are committed to those in their social networks who accompany them on those journeys,” said Prof. Lynn Schofield Clark of the University of Colorado at Boulder and co-author of the report. “Most of the online faithful describe themselves as spiritual and religious and that is a perfect characterization of their use of the Internet. They probe for information and network with others in order to enrich their spiritual lives.” 28% of the online faithful said they had used the Internet to seek or exchange information about their own religious faith or tradition with others. 26% said they had used the Internet to seek or exchange information about the religious faiths or traditions of others.
Online Evangelicals are a significant subgroup of the American religious landscape. This study found them to resemble other Protestants in terms of their Internet behaviors in some ways, but to be unique in other ways. They are slightly less experienced in Internet use than other categories of religious affiliation. But they are more likely than others to engage in all categories of online religious activity.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research center, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet. It does not advocate policy outcomes.