On February 7, 2014, the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University is hosting a half-day workshop on Religion and Digital Technologies. I will participate with a short presentation on the uses, abuses and pitfalls of “big data” in the study of contemporary religion.

My title is “Of Spider, Elephant, and Snake: Methods, Opportunities and Challenges of Big Data in the Study of Religion,” where the three animals refer to three components used in a thus far incomplete (and perhaps failed) project seeking to leverage “big data” techniques for the study of religion. The spider is the Common Crawl Foundation web crawl data, the elephant is Hadoop, and the snake is Python. I will talk about these tools as well as some of the challenges I encountered trying to use them in relation to methods and research questions in the sociological study of religion, including focused ethnography, everyday religion, and the global diffusion of social forms of religiosity.