Retooling a Key Resource for Research on Religion
For more than 20 years, the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) has been a hugely influential and important clearinghouse for social science data on religion, spirituality, and society. This year, the team behind the ARDA is embarking on a three-year, $4.15 million project — with $1.55 million from the John Templeton Foundation and partner funding from the Lilly Endowment, Penn State, Chapman University, Indiana University and Baylor — to rebuild the ARDA from the ground up, recreating it as a modern data commons where tools and insights are discovered and shared. This revitalization will be led by the ARDA’s three co-directors: founder Roger Finke of Penn State, Christopher Bader of Chapman University, and Andrew Whitehead of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.
The ARDA’s upgrade will include building new data, storage, and computing infrastructure in line with what data managers call FAIR guiding principles — optimized for findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability, and equally readable by humans or machines. One of the ARDA’s strengths has long been in helping researchers understand and access already available tools for the scientific study of religion, from psychological scales of beliefs to the results of sociological surveys across multiple countries and faiths. The new ARDA will be a much-improved platform, including standardized metadata and a new API to allow outside apps and internally hosted tools to query the data. This approach should facilitate data discovery and remixing, allowing researchers develop and test new hypotheses. For instance, psychologists studying religion will find it far easier to complement their experiments with nationally representative surveys, either as a source of new research hypotheses or as a means of seeing how their methodologies may differ from those used in previous studies.
The project will also update and significantly expand the ARDA’s curated database of measures of religiosity, building on the widely influential work of Peter Hill and Ralph Hood, and democratizing access to the most rigorous ways of measuring religious beliefs, experiences, practices, and identities. Finally, the ARDA will partner with the Religion News Service to disseminate new “Ahead of the Trend” columns, which highlight interesting and topically relevant findings in the scientific study of religion.
“The ARDA has already had a great impact through its goal of democratizing access to data on religion,” said Nicholas Gibson, the John Templeton Foundation’s Director of Human Sciences. “By adopting a fully open infrastructure the ARDA will additionally democratize opportunities to contribute new data and to add value to those data: while data may have been collected to answer one research question, other researchers will more easily be able to reuse such data to answer any number of new questions.”