Research Methods for the Study of Religion

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Researchers coming to the study of religion from a Humanities background may have little or no training in quantitative methods and so often limit themselves to using qualitative approaches. Quantitative research has a significant contribution to make which cannot be replicated by qualitative methods and can also play an important role in contextualising knowledge gained through qualitative work.

Discussion paper

Ingrid Storm explores why quantitative methods are valuable for the study of religion, as well as key concepts and challenges for this approach.

Key reading

Alan Bryman (2008) Social Research Methods. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.139-361.

This widely used textbook provides a useful overview of key concepts and approaches to quantitative research.

David Voas (2009) ‘The rise and fall of fuzzy fidelity in Europe’, European Sociological Review, 25(2), 155-68.

This article provides both a helpful discussion of some challenges of working with statistical data on religion as well as using measures of religiosity in the first wave of the European Social Survey to argue that a stage of ‘fuzzy fidelity’ lies between the shift from predominantly religious to predominantly secular societies.

Recommended resources

The best source on data analysis with SPSS is:

  • Andy Field (2005) Discovering Statistics Using SPSS, London: Sage.

Other good sources on the analysis of survey data are:

  • David DeVaus (2002) Surveys in Social Research, London: Routledge.
  • Alan Agresti and Barbara Finlay (2008) Statistical Methods for the Social Sciences. London: Pearson.

The best online textbooks are:

There are also some video tutorials available on how to use SPSS:

This webpage has a useful introduction to different types of longitudinal analysis:

Online data sets

The following list of online sources links to datasets that can be downloaded. Much of this data is free of charge for non-commercial use, but many of the archives require that you register as a user.

Sources of Religious Statistics (UK)

British Social Attitudes survey

Census of population

BHPS, LFS, and other national surveys

Religious trends

Church of England and other groups


Sources of Religion Statistics (international)

German Socio-Economic Panel

Indagine Longitudinale sulle Famiglie Italiane


International Repeated Cross-Sectional Surveys

European/world values surveys

International Social Survey Programme

European Social Survey

Opinion barometers  (Eurobarometer, Latinobarómetro, Afrobarometer, Asiabarometer, etc.)


National Repeated Cross-Sectional Surveys

Australia:  Australian Election Surveys

Canada:  General Social Survey

France:  Enquêtes post-électorales françaises

Germany:  General Social Survey (ALLBUS)

Italy:  Indagine Multiscopo sulle Famiglie

Japan:  General Social Survey

Poland:  General Social Survey

United States:  General Social Survey


Other sources of religious statistics

Association of Religion Data Archive

UK Data Archive

British Religion in Numbers (BRIN)

Software and training

Using statistical software

Whether you download data from one of the sources above or collect your own data, the best and most effective way to analyse it is with a statistical software package. Which one you are using depends on the type of analysis you wish to conduct, but for most purposes SPSS is the easiest and most user-friendly package, and it’s also the most widely used.

Other packages such as STATA, R and MLwin are also popular, and may be more appropriate for specific or advanced types of analysis. R has the added benefit that it is free to download, but it is generally less easy to use than SPSS. Many universities have special agreements and discounts, which means you may be able to download SPSS for free too.

Before you download or purchase any of this software, check with your institution if they have a special deal for staff or students:


Whether you are new to quantitative analysis, learning a new method or a new software it can be useful to go on a short training course. Here is a selection of links to departments offering short courses in statistics for social scientists: