As American spatial contexts change, particularly the suburbs with increasing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity and shifting political patterns within a range of unique suburban types and communities, an analysis of 89 surveys involving religion in the Association of Religion Data Archives shows a lack of consensus in how to measure locations. The 529 questions addressing suburban locations differ in three major ways: a majority allows respondents to self-report their location, leading to more respondents selecting small towns; there are a variety of response categories, often with options that are not mutually exclusive; and one result of the first two issues is that surveys provide different percentages regarding how many individuals and congregations reside in the suburbs. These issues are also present in large-scale studies of American religiosity including the National Congregations Study and the National Study of Youth and Religion. Improving the measurement of spatial context could include reaching consensus over standard questions and categories to use, assigning respondents to specific geographic locations which allows matching to other data (such as the Census), and including both self-reported and assigned locations in survey results.
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The author thanks the editor and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments as well as Marielle Merry for help in collecting and analyzing the survey data.
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Miller, B.J. Measuring Religion in Different Spatial Contexts: How Surveys Involving Religion Inconsistently Determine Locations. Rev Relig Res 58, 285–304 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-015-0243-0