Declining Internet Interest for “Baha’i”

A while back we looked at the geographic breakdown of the data: Iranians Curious About â€?Bahaiâ€?, Americans Not. I decided to go back and take a look at the pattern of search results for Baha’i.

Since Google is the king of internet when it comes to search, I was somewhat saddened to see that the number of worldwide searches for the keyword, “Baha’i” is continuing to decline. The chart below is from Google Insight for Search and it shows the incidence of people searching for the word Bahai on Google:

Since 2004 (the farthest Google has data) there has been a consistent decline in the number of Google searches for the term Baha’i. By the way, alternative spellings such as “bahai” provide the same results – Google is smart like that. Since Google loves numbers more than the Count, they crunch the numbers to come up with a short term forecast one year ahead (not visible in the chart above). Based on their forecast, the search index will decline from 39 (May 2010) to 33 in June 2011. You can see the chart including the forecast here.

To get some perspective we can compare this to, say, the term “Islam”. For starters, Islam’s index is flat, indicating a consistent level of online search interest. But I didn’t show the two together because there is so much more interest in the term “Islam” that the two plotted together on one index makes “Baha’i”‘s index basically unreadable.

Searching for other religions is also interesting. For example, the keyword “Judaism” shows a similar decline in popularity but the amount of search is higher than Baha’i. As well, there is an annual peak of interest that centers around Yom Kippur – the holiest of Jewish religious holidays.

So what inferences can we draw from this?

For starters, it is important to realize the importance of the internt. The reality is that the internet is a now an integral part of life in most developed countries. And with time, the integration and usefulness of the internet is only growing. So on the one hand, this trend tells us that within the Western, or wealthy nations, there is a decline in interest.

Considering the significant correlation between religiosity and wealth that isn’t surprising. As well, the Baha’i world center has for some time now targeted the less developed nations and developed programs such as Ruhi specifically to gain inroads within them.

  • http://bahaisonline.net Steve Marshall

    My reading of the data is that it shows a decline in the proportion of searches for “baha'i”, and not necessarily a decline in the number of searches.

  • http://twitter.com/igneous1 Dan Jensen

    Steve, the description is not very clear, but I think the numbers are relative only across time for the particular item being queried, not against the total number of searches at any given time. I'm far from certain, tho.

    “The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time.”

  • http://twitter.com/igneous1 Dan Jensen

    Sadly, my favorite religious tradition not doing much better:

    http://www.google.com/insights/search/#q=Zarath

    God is coming:

    http://www.google.com/insights/search/#q=God&cm

  • http://twitter.com/igneous1 Dan Jensen

    Gah! Shaved links!

  • http://twitter.com/igneous1 Dan Jensen

    Er, not shaved by Baha'i Rants, but Google botched its own URL, it seems.

  • David

    Google numbers cannot tell you anything about whether a search term is becoming more popular in an absolute sense. What you see is scaled and normalized and so you only can make relative inferences. What that means is that the total number of searches for Bahai could be going up, but if not as fast as the total number of searches overall the result will be the relative score going down. You simply can't make any claims about changes in the absolute number of searches based on Google's data. Google does this for a reason – the internet is expanding too fast for non-normalized results to hold any meaning.

    More than that, the implication that this represents a decline in interest in the Faith is completely unsupported (though there might, in reality, be a decline – you just can't tell from this). Even beyond the issue above that this data doesn't show a decline in absolute number of searches, the connection you infer just isn't there. Take religious communities we *know* are growing in the West like Pentacostalism or Jehovah's Witnesses and you'll also see a decline in relative search terms there as well. In fact, Islam is the only religious group I looked at that didn't show a decline and I'd suggest that's because people are also searching for political, not just religious, reasons. There is nothing to suggest that Google trends in religious search terms in any way corresponds to actual real life interest in religions.

  • fubar

    a recent attempt to put up a wilipedia page on “unitarian bahai” resulted in the oages being deleted when some fundie bahais attacked the project.

  • fubar

    correction:
    “oages being deleted”

    should have been
    “pages being deleted”

  • Myemail

    bahai IS a sect of islam

    what about ahmadiyyeh killed assasinated by fellow muslims in pakistan

    you bahais are so proud of yourselves and yourself your ego is universal

    huge massive

    you are not by a sect of islam

  • BirdOutOfCage

    Hello Baquia & Co. I would believe the mumbers have dropped as more enrollments have dropped. It is your new believers that really electrfy a soul. You know I unenrolled the card in 2008 but recently admitted that when I am not agnostic I am a Bahai, down to the UHJ, no objections, just wont sign a card. Will not get into contract with religion. In a recent “google” search I tried to locate where the Writings mandate a person must sign an enrollment card. Is this something you could help me find?

  • Lesleyacottle

    Who says you have to sign an enrollment card? We don't do it here in UK.

  • Baquia

    Lesley, the norm is for an enrollment card to be signed but the enforcement of this is not across the board. A few years ago the fact that he hadn't signed a card was used against Brendan Cook, a Baha'i in Canada and he was basically chucked out of the community even though he had grown up in a Baha'i family and considered himself a Baha'i.

  • Kgram

    No such requirement according to the Canadian NSA.

  • Guest

    Step 2 – Signing of Bah??’?­ Registration Card
    From the NSA, Developing distinctive Bahai Communities.
    You have asked if the mere declaration of faith by a newcomer suffices to recognize him as a Bah??’?­, and whether
    living the Bah??’?­ life should not be regarded as the basis of admission into the Faith. You should bear in mind that
    the signature on a card, in the sense that it represents a record of the date of the declaration and data about the
    declarant, is to satisfy administrative requirements enabling the enrollment of the new believer in the community.
    The deeper implications of the act of declaration of faith are between the individual and God.
    Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated June 7, 1974, to an individual believer: Bah??’?­ News of India, p. 2,
    July/August, 1974, in Lights of Guidance, no. 264
    Once a person residing in the U.S. has made a declaration of belief in Bah??’u’ll??h, a Bah??’?­ Registration card should
    be completed. On the card, the person is asked to provide his or her name, physical/mailing address, gender, birth
    date, and country of birth; so that the individual can be added to the membership rolls and receive mailings.
    Additional information collected on an optional basis includes the person’s race/ethnicity, language preference,
    phone numbers and email address.
    Exceptions to Need for Signature
    There may be occasions when the candidate for enrollment does not wish to complete or sign the registration card.
    If the Local Spiritual Assembly or other authorized representative is satisfied that the person sincerely believes in
    Bah??’u’ll??h, it should send the unsigned Bah??’?­ Registration card to the National Spiritual Assembly, explaining the
    circumstances and providing the necessary information—as stated above.

  • AndrewRT

    The other relevant factor here is the radical change in the nature both of the internet generally and the Baha’i internet in particular.

    In the 1990s, when I was at university, the internet was the playground of amateur websites. This was particularly true of the Baha’i Faith – I remember the “miracles” site being a godo example. Search “Bahai” and most of the pages that came up were pages from individual Baha’is showing particular aspects – readings, teachings etc – they liked about the Faith.

    In around 2000 (in memory) we had in the UK a project called the “web of faith”. This involved setting up “official” webpages for each national and local community, and beefing up the offical bahai.org website of the UHJ. Baha’is were explicitly asked not to just search the internet for Baha’i but to use the official bahai sites as portals to other “safe” sites. This was sold as a way of avoiding contact with convenant breakers, among others.

    Probably worth mentioning that about the same time you had the controversies with Talisman and the increasing moderation of soc.religion.bahai.

    That said, I’m sure most people if they want to know what Bahai is about will turn to Google first of all.

  • Bird

    Baquia- I am trying to get my password reset. I’ve tried every way I know how to sum a number (lol) so that I may reengage in this forum. Please help… Bird

  • Anonymous

    Bird, you don’t need a password here. Just write your comment. I’m not sure what you’re referring to exactly so if you’d give me a bit more to go on, perhaps I’d be able to help you.

  • Guest

    It doesn’t help that many in Western nation-states favor more social liberty and freedom when it comes to application of law to such things as rights and religion.

    It doesn’t help that the Baha’i Faith, although tolerant of homosexual rights, has no “home” for them to express themselves freely within this faith. Celibacy isn’t for the majority of people, you know. That doesn’t attract anyone except those who either feel guilty about their supposed “burden” or actually are into that kind of thing, like smothering the truest forms of love.

    It also doesn’t help that, while the Baha’i Faith promotes equality between genders, the Faith is still built upon patriarchy in the Universal House of Justice. People don’t like hypocrisy.

    It always seems that Baha’is seem to neglect these issues within the Faith and expect people to not have a problem with them? This Faith isn’t for everyone and Baha’is need to get used to the fact that a Baha’i World Order will never be established in the truest sense until these issues are administered to.

  • http://www.sonjavank.blogspot.com sonjavank

    I agree these two issues are difficult ones but not all Bahais think that gays can’t be at home in a Bahai community. My hope is that one day it will be easier as more Bahais work towards equality for gays. My blog is an attempt: justabahai.wordpress.com in the sense that it discusses ways gays need not be discriminated against, and attempts to show a distinction between what is in the writings and what is just plain prejudice. Barb’s website is a forum and place where gays can have some sense of home. gaybahai.netI realise that some Bahai communities might be very homophobic. My hope is that Bahais will speak up so that their communities are more welcoming of diversity.It is not hypocritic to state Bahais believe in gender equality bar one, large anomaly, the absence of female membership on the House of Justice. I don’t try to explain this anomaly, but that doesn’t mean that the Bahai teachings of equality are invalid. In the end what matters is are the fruits of a religion. If you see a religious community doing work towards equality, towards diversity, that’s what counts.

  • Guest

    Interestingly if you search the names of other religions, and even the term “religion” itself – you’ll notice that the proportion of searches drop every summer (Northern Hemisphere Summer). For some reason that is not the same with the Baha’i Faith.

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