Twenty-five percent of Internet users sought online religious or spiritual material in 2001, representing a 4-percent increase over 2000, according to the report “CyberFaith: How Americans Pursue Religion Online.”
The report by Pew Internet & American Life Project said 28 million Americans went online in 2001 to find religious or spiritual material.
“Spiritual browsing is a more popular online activity than online gambling, which has only been sampled by about 5% of the Internet population,” the report said.
More Americans sought spiritual material than traded stocks, did online banking or participated in Internet-based dating services.
The report called these Americans “Religion Surfers,” with 91 percent being Christians.
The report found that 81 percent of religion surfers claimed a “very strong” faith, compared to 61 percent of the American population.
Another indices of the degree of religious intensity found that 74 percent of religion surfers attended “religious services at least once a week.” Estimates of the general population ranged from 26 percent to 39 percent.
The report divided religion surfers into four distinct groups: active seekers, converts, members and outsiders. These groups were “not mutually exclusive” and had “some overlap.”
Active seekers logged onto the Internet daily “or at least several times per week.” This group composed 27 percent of religion surfers. They were more likely to belong to a church or religious community. They were more likely to spend time at church. Seventy percent prayed daily.
Converts made up 36 percent of religion surfers. Converts were those “who now practice a faith different from that which they practiced at age 16.” They were more likely to use the Internet to find a new house of worship.
Members were those who belonged to a church or formal worship group. They were overwhelmingly women and more likely to be Christian.
Members tended to “use the Internet for activities that might be more comfortable for those in religious communities” (e.g. giving spiritual advice, making prayer requests).
Outsiders made up 12 percent of religion surfers. Outsiders felt alienation from the mainstream and were less likely to be Christians. Seventy-six percent of outsiders found “it easier to connect with clergy offline than online.
Sixty-four percent of religion surfers worried “about undesirable material on the Web.” Fifty-three percent said that it was “too easy for fringe religious groups to use the Internet to hurt people.”