Clemson researcher shares in grant to strengthen online religion data archives
CLEMSON — Andrew Whitehead, an assistant professor in Clemson’s sociology and anthropology department, is part of a team that has earned funding from the Lilly Endowment to increase the content, features and outreach of the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). Representing Clemson University, Whitehead has received a sub award for his role in the research.
With more than 950 collections and 16.5 million static pages of content, the ARDA is already a robust, free resource, but team leader Roger Finke of Pennsylvania State University, Whitehead and their colleagues hope to grow it even more. Whitehead serves as a senior research associate with the ARDA, and he described the archives as an international resource for scholars and the general public. He said the ARDA’s outstanding reputation coupled with its proven value as a resource warrant the archives’ growth in size and importance.
“The ARDA aims to democratize access to the highest quality data on religion available,” Whitehead said. “Augmenting these collections to be larger, more interactive and easier to access while increasing their exposure can only make the resource stronger.”
This grant will allow the ARDA to update all areas of the archive, including the online interactive software features and many of the educational resources. At least 120 data collections will be added to the archive, and all of these collections will be customized for online viewing and analysis.
The team will also work to expand the teaching tools section of the ARDA’s website. This portion of the site provides free learning modules, lesson plans, sample syllabi and other materials for educators at high school and university levels. Students benefit from multiple options for viewing data and explanations and reasoning behind the data they find.
Chad McNeely, a senior majoring in business management at Clemson, has benefited from using the archives during his college career. McNeely is pursuing a minor in sociology, and he used the archives often on a daily basis in a Sociology of Religion course. When a recent assignment called for him to argue in favor of religion in the workplace in a Special Topics in Human Resources course, McNeely knew his first destination for information.
“The ARDA is truly a ‘one-stop shop’ for research on religion,” McNeely said. “Dr. Whitehead used the ARDA to drive home the main ideas of assignments and topics, and as a student I came to rely on it and trust its data to be real and accurate.”
Whitehead will also partner with the Clemson University Social Media Listening Center and undergraduate students to create a social media campaign for effective outreach for the project. According to Joseph Mazer, associate professor in Clemson’s communication department and director of the Social Media Listening Center, students will use the center to post content about expansion and new tools related to the archives and then gauge the traction of each post using data analysis.
“Interdisciplinary teaching and research is at the heart of the Social Media Listening Center’s mission,” Mazer said. “We are pleased to partner with Dr. Whitehead and his team to examine the impact of his work with higher education institutions, researchers and the general public; the data we provide will help the team further refine its message and increase its impact with targeted audiences.”
The Association of Religion Data Archives, housed at the Pennsylvania State University, has now been online for 18 years. Starting as a small archive of religion surveys and funded by the Lilly Endowment, the ARDA has become a major national and international resource for information on religion. While around 75 percent of its users are based in the U.S., the rest are from areas across the globe. Materials from the ARDA have been cited in over 100 peer-reviewed articles so far in 2016 alone. The American Library Association recognized the ARDA as one of the 30 Best Free Reference Websites in 2010.