SSI Spatial Support Facilitating Study of Religion

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As spatial technologies mature in ways that make both data and maps more easily accessible across domains of knowledge, many opportunities emerge to ask geographic questions in a range of disciplines. The "spatial humanities" is a collective term to describe the increasing prevalence and sophistication of spatial tools and analysis in the study of humanist scholarship.  As summarized by GIS pioneer Michael Goodchild:

Space—whether it be the space of the choreographer's dance floor, the artist's canvas, or the religious shrine—has always been important to humanist scholarship. But in recent years a virtual explosion of new data, tools, and concepts has revolutionized our ability to examine the relationships, patterns, and contexts that emerge when the human world is examined through a spatial lens.

At USC, the Spatial Sciences Institute works actively to collaborate with scholars in the humanities, and is providing important technical support to a newly funded research project by the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.  The $2.6-million grant from the John Templeton Foundation seeks to understand how religious competition and cooperation may lead to innovative forms of religious belief, practice and organization.

SSI is using latest generation GIS tools to enable student researchers to collect data about religious congregations in the field in Los Angeles, with later stages of the project moving to South Korea.  The tools are deployed on smart phones and use the phone's GPS capabilities to associate locations with data collected on an easy-to-use interface during a site visit.  Rather than relying on downloads and manual data transfers, the data are automatically updated via the cellular network to a geodatabase managed on campus, ensuring the safety and backup of information as soon as it is collected, and allowing multiple users to collect data to the same repository simultaneously.

Further information about the Center for Region and Civic Culture and their impressive recent grants can be found at USCNews (Religion center’s grants a testament to success).


Photo by Jerry Berndt

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