Inside the ‘Spiritual Fitbit’

Can an app measure how close you feel to God? Can it get you closer? /

University of Connecticut sociologist Brad Wright wants to experiment on your soul. Or at least measure it.

You may have seen his cover story in Christianity Today last summer about an experiment he ran on whether churches are biased in welcoming ethnic and racial minorities. Or his article a year earlier on whether employers discriminate against religious job applicants. Or his 2011 piece on whether Americans dislike evangelicals.

Since 2012, Wright has been working on SoulPulse, an iPhone app that surveys its users about their activities and spiritual experiences. “We’re trying to figure out how religion and spirituality operate in the contours of everyday life, as it’s experienced,” he said. “In a laboratory it’s hard to replicate everyday life.” Traditional telephone surveys can result in unnatural responses, too. But the rise of fitness trackers on our wrists and smartphones has made us more open to micro-surveys and check-ins—and more hungry for data about ourselves.

The Behemoth interviewed Wright after his SoulPulse team issued its first report on daily fluctuations in spirituality.

Measuring spiritual fluctuations sounds tricky. What is it you’re actually tracking?

We have different approaches to get at “God engagement.” The question we ask users the most is simply to rate their agreement with the statement “I’m aware of God at this moment.” A score of 1 is “not much” and a score of 100 is “very much.” We ask that every single survey, and it’s what we focus on in this first report.

We’ve also used a number of other measurements. On SoulPulse, you always get “I’m aware of ...

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Issue 40 / January 21, 2016
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