Searching For Meaning: New Methods, Measures, and Modeling Approaches in the Sociology of Religion


Hayward, George (2020). Searching For Meaning: New Methods, Measures, and Modeling Approaches in the Sociology of Religion.


This dissertation uses a combination of new measures and modeling approaches in the sociology of religion to advance our understanding of three substantive topics. In the first chapter, I use data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) to answer the question of how a multidimensional model of religiosity fits an adolescent and young adult sample. Additionally, this chapter considers multiple ways to build longitudinal models of these dimensions over time, and ultimately uses autoregressive latent trajectory models to show that each of these dimensions are predicted over time, sometimes in different ways, by their prior values, individuals’ background characteristics, and life course changes during the transition to adulthood. In the second chapter, I explore another dimension of religiosity: religious knowledge. This relatively understudied topic has long lacked ample measures, though the recent Pew Religious Knowledge Survey (2010) provides a rich set of religious knowledge questions, thus allowing for a fresh evaluation of this topic and assessment of these new measures. Accordingly, this chapter proposes and tests a multidimensional model of religious knowledge and provides support for a model spanning several religious traditions with twenty-four indicators. As an external validity check and application to personal religiosity, this chapter shows that knowledge of one’s own religion is correlated with two different dimensions of personal religiosity. Finally, the third chapter in this dissertation takes on a broader question: what can internet search data tell us about the dynamics of the U.S. religious landscape? Using Google search data from 2004 to 2019, this paper examines the trends in online searches for world religions, other religions, conventional religious terms, and a host of quasi-religious, spiritual, and areligious terms. The results show that, while terms related to institutional religion tend to be declining in popularity, many terms related to minority religious traditions and terms related to general spirituality are increasing in popularity. Nevertheless, searches for institutional religion still dominate the overall volume of religious searching. Comparisons with data from the General Social Survey suggest that internet search data can serve as a reasonable proxy for societal interest.

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Hayward, George

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Pearce, Lisa

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Doctor of Philosophy




University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

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