How Christians Vary in their Awareness of God

The SoulPulse study has taken two years and a bunch of money to develop, and the figure addresses an obvious first question of the study: Do Christians’ vary in their awareness of God. As show, the answer is a resounding “yes,” but this raises more questions than it answers.

Here’s how to interpret this figure. SoulPulse is a ongoing, online study of daily spirituality. In it, participants sign-up at SoulPulse.org, and after taking an intake survey, they receive two daily surveys a day for two weeks, sent to their smartphone. Each of the daily surveys asks about 2 minutes of questions regarding what they are experiencing in that moment, in terms of spirituality, health, circumstances, emotions, and so on. One of the questions asks respondents how they respond to the statement “I am aware of God at this moment,” using a slider bar that ranges from 1 “not at all” to 100 “very much.”

We have data from about 1,000 respondents so far, 800 of whom are Christians. The histogram above displays their answers to the question. (The peak at “50″ is a measurement artifact that we corrected after the first several hundred participants. Kind of interesting why it happened, but, beyond the scope of this post). The 800 participants generated over 15,000 responses.

Two observations.

1. There’s a lot of variation. Sometimes Christians report very low levels of this God awareness, sometimes really high, and often in-between. This is important to know from a research perspective because it shows that there’s something to be explained. In other words, why do the scores vary so much?

2. The scores are more high than low. As you can see, there are more responses on the right side than the left. In terms of numbers, the median score was 73, 21% of the responses were 50 or less, and 12% of the responses were 99 or 100–as high as the scale went. These high scores suggest that for many Christians, there is a moment-to-moment reality to their faith that transcends simply affiliating with a religious social grouping.

Now, some questions.

1. What exactly are we measuring? What are people thinking of when they answer that they are aware of God? Presumably their criteria for rating this varies by person and perhaps even within person across time. Perhaps it invokes comparison, where someone rates how aware they are now as opposed to other times in their day/week/life. So, two people could feel the level of awareness, in a quasi-objective sense, and rate it very differently. For one person that could be a highpoint, and another it’s a lowpoint. Because of this, it’s perhaps most useful to use these data to examine within-person variation. In other words, why does somebody score high at one point and low at another.

2. Is it people or situations? What this graph tells us is that there’s variation, but it doesn’t indicate the level at which the variation happens. Does it mean that Christians vary, with some Christians always scoring high, some always medium, and and some always low? Or, do we all vary across situations? E.g., sometimes a given person scores high, at other times medium, and at other times low. This is something that I’ll be looking at in future posts (but as a spoiler, it’s both.)

3. Why the variation? This graph raises an obvious question: why? Why do people sometimes score high and sometimes score low? Is it involvement in religious activities? Spiritual disciplines? Interactions with others? The stress of the day? Various social-psychological factors? These are the questions that SoulPulse was created to answer, and we’ll be looking into them for years to come.

I would love to hear what you think about this graph. In particular, what is the significance of this graph? And, what are questions that it raises?

Brad Wright

Personal blog: brewright.com

Twitter: bradley_wright

  • georgeyancey

    Hey Brad. Do you have any demographic, or social data that correlates with this awareness. I have some assumptions about which Christians are more likely to talk about being aware of God and such data would be useful. For example, I am guessing that blacks are more likely to talk about being aware of God than whites.

    • Brad Wright

      Hello George,

      Yes, we have demographic data. The intake survey collects a bunch of it, and in coming analyses we’ll be looking at that. Good idea about race… bet there will be interesting things.

  • Daniel Clark

    I was wondering whether the way that the test is set up would not lead to higher scores, that is by asking someone whether they were aware of God at a particular moment might not make them aware of his presence at that moment?

    • Brad Wright

      Hello Daniel,
      That’s a great question, and it’s an issue with all survey research. The good news is that if even it inflates the scores some, as long as it does it consistently across surveys it’s not a big problem for most analyses that we do. However, it would skew what we have above.

  • Tim Wright

    Hi,

    I was in a gathering of charismatic Christians and the speaker was talking about encountering God and experiencing His presence. He asked everyone in the group, how many of them in their day to day life experience God, about 75% said they do. He then asked them how many of them felt God when they became a Christian, about half did and half didn’t. His talk was on the disconnect between our soul and spirit and body and how the journey of emotional wholeness is having a strong connection between all three.

  • Jay Egenes

    Nice to see you posting here again. Have you been blogging someplace else or has it been internet silence?

    And this is a great topic. How and why do we experience God, and what do we even mean by that? Why do our experiences vary over time?

    I tend to teach something like it’s about our focus. My favorite radio station is broadcasting all the time, but I can’t hear it unless I turn on the radio.

    Similarly, God is present with us (in one sense or another–how that works or is true is a theological discussion I’ll skip here) all the time. But sometimes we experience that presence and sometimes we don’t. I teach that it’s a matter of spending time (the number I remember from an old gallup poll is that it makes a difference at 5 to 8 hours a week) following spiritual practices that makes a difference in terms of whether we experience God’s presence. It will be interesting to see if the research backs me up.

    Looking forward to seeing some more posts on this.

    grace and peace,
    Jay


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