* See below to learn about the informal study that turned into www.sharingreligion.com
When I started college, I met people of many different ethnic backgrounds from all over the world. I developed a lot of strong friendships and would actively talk with these friends about their culture and life back home. Eventually, deep questions about beliefs, culture, and religion would come up.
I felt that each person had unique beliefs and experiences that they held close. I started to think that society classifies people into groups or sects, but the people within these groups each have a unique voice and heart.
In an effort to better understand what individuals experience, what they believe, and how they live, I decided to pursue an informal study of religion and belief.
Building a Platform
The informal study would simply consist of collecting personal stories from a diverse set of individuals. I decided to make a simple online platform for users to submit these personal stories and display them online.
Back then, I was learning web development in my free time. I wanted try out making my own design. This often isn’t the best route, but I found it to be a really helpful learning experience and in the end, the platform met the basic needs.
The website was developed using HTML, CSS, PHP, and MySQL. The site went through several iterations (see figure 1 below).
The design was later updated and now has more of a conventional blog-like feel (see featured image).
An Informal Study
Now, that I had a platform, we needed a diverse group of people to contribute their personal stories. I reached out to many different groups online, but the only real participates came from Reddit (especially /r/atheism).
As I searched more and more on reddit, I started to realized that there are potentially hundreds of religious subreddit communities. I decided that I would post to one such subreddit per day for fifty days.
The reddit communities were incredibly supportive and collectively generated 70+ stories. The stories were written by people of many different backgrounds, religions, nationalities, and cultures. More importantly though, many of the stories were very well written and incredibly genuine and raw consisting of unfiltered human thoughts, feelings, and reflection.
- To get a surface level understanding of the kinds of responses that we received, I mapped out a simple diagram (see figure 2).
- Further, I started considering the individual word choices. Self-reflective words such as I, my, me, and we were the most common. In addition, words such as church, god, religion, catholic, believe, and life were quite popular as well (see figure 3).
- We recorded data on up votes, impact, and population size for each subreddit. The impact roughly estimates the number of users who clicked the link on Reddit to view our site (see figure 4).
Taking the time to listen and hear about other people’s beliefs and experiences can be quite surprising. A person might come from a different background with a totally different religion, but still there often are commonalities that bring people together.
I am really thankful for all of the amazing participation, especially from all those on Reddit who were incredibly supportive. In total, the project has had over 20,000 viewers and counting.
I hope that this project may have inspired others to make informal projects that connect people in more meaningful ways. Although I am at best an amateur when it comes to web design and sociology, I hope that some more qualified individuals pursue formal case studies to understand spiritual development and beliefs in modern society.
* Originally published in 2016 and republished in 2019.