There's enough news of religious strife and tension in the headlines to make you wonder if the age-old institution of religion is the most divisive one we have. But a look at social media paints a much more uplifting picture.
Three researchers from Wright State University, Qatar Computing Research Institute and Rutgers University at Camden combed through nearly 97 million tweets from 250,840 U.S. Twitter users who identified their religious beliefs in their bios.
The findings, set to be presented at the 6th International Conference on Social Informatics in Barcelona, Spain, next month, show that while there are some distinctions between people of different religious beliefs, there are surprising commonalities as well.
The findings: For instance, take a look at the word cloud below, consisting of "discriminative" words that distinguish users of each religious group — Buddhism (orange), Christianity (green), Hinduism (blue), Islam (pink) and Judaism (red), as well as atheists (grey) — from others. Words like "Jesus," "Allah," "Shabbat," "Hindu," "Buddha" and "atheist" are popular among their respective groups and not used by others:
But interestingly enough, when you remove the religion-specific words, there doesn't seem to be much distinction in terms of what people of different religions tweet: "Love" is a popular word among every single religious group, while other words like "happy," "good" and "life" are also frequently used.
Another interesting aspect that the study looked at is which accounts religious Twitter users like to follow. Richard Dawkins is hugely popular among atheists, as are famously irreligious celebrities such as Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais. The dalai lama is of course a big draw for Buddhists, while Christians are still really into "tebowing."
But once you factor out the more obviously religious Twitter accounts, things look much more interesting. There are a lot of Hindu fans of Jimmy Fallon and Conan O'Brien, while Christians like Ellen DeGeneres nearly as much as Buddhists do. President Obama's account is popular among every religious group, and while a lot of Christians get their news from Fox News, Muslims prefer to stick with Al Jazeera English.
While words like "love" and "life" might not be much to go on in terms of establishing commonality, they show how when religion is removed from the equation, underlying similarities that connect people to each other are revealed. Oh, and Obama still looks pretty popular across the board, which is some good news for him at last.