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28 million Americans have tapped Internet for religious purposes

WASHINGTON (BP)–An estimated 28 million Americans have tapped the Internet for religious/spiritual information, up by as many as 9 million people in a year’s time, according to the Pew Internet & American Life project.

The number of people using the Internet on a daily basis to get such information has increased to 3 million, up from 2 million, according to the Pew project’s Dec. 23 comparison with survey data from a year earlier.

“For comparison’s sake, it is interesting to note that more people have gotten religious or spiritual information online than have gambled online, used Web auction sites, traded stocks online, placed phone calls on the Internet, done online banking, or used Internet-based dating services,” the Pew project reported.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington “compelled millions of Internet users to turn to religious issues and concerns online,” the Pew project also noted. Specifically:

— “41 percent of Internet users, many of whom had never considered themselves online spiritual seekers, said they sent or received email prayer requests,” the Pew projected reported.

— “23 percent of Internet users turned to online sources to get information about Islam.”

— “7 percent of Internet users contributed to relief charities online.”

The Pew project calls those who use the Internet to seek religious or spiritual information “religion surfers” who regard the Internet as “a useful supplemental tool that enhances their already-deep commitment to their beliefs and their churches, synagogues, or mosques.” The Pew survey found that 81 percent of religion surfers described their faith as “very strong,” compared to 61 percent of respondents in Gallup poll from March 2000 who described religion as “very important” in their lives. Also, 74 percent of religion surfers said they attend religious services at least once a week, while various other polls report that 26 percent to 39 percent of Americans in general say they attend religious services on a weekly basis.

At the same time, however, 53 percent of religion surfers “fear that the Internet makes it too easy for fringe groups to promote themselves in ways that can harm people,” although 62 percent regard the availability of material on the Internet as encouraging religious tolerance, the Pew project reported.

The Pew survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, involved 2,247 U.S. adults age 18 and over who were contacted by telephone.

The Pew Internet & American Life project is based in Washington, D.C. The report, can be accessed at http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=53.