Sunday, October 24, 2010

Veganism by Religion

How does veganism vary by religion? To actually answer that question we would need to go around to a large sample of people from various different religions until we have found enough vegans to achieve some level of statistical significance, and I by no means have the time to take on that sort of experiment. The internet however does give us a useful tool for measuring how often the phrase vegan appears in the context of certain religious key words.

For a number of the world's major religions I measured the number of hits a Google search returned for a key phrase both preceding and following the name a member of that religion would most likely call themselves. For example I measured the number of hits for “Vegan Christian” as well as “Christian Vegan” and added these numbers together. I used quotations around all of my search queries to make sure the key phrase was being used in the proper context of the religion. I also measured the number of hits for simply the religion along and recorded this as well.

Once I had recorded data for all of my key phrases I divided the total number of hits for each keyword by the number of hits for the religion alone and took the natural logarithm of this result. For example, if “Vegan Christian” returned 8000 results, “Christian Vegan” returned 3000 results, and “Christian” returned 100000000 results I would have calculated ln[(8000+3000)/100000000]. I then took the average result from this calculation between all the key phrases and subtracted that from each cell to center the values around zero. Here is a graph of my results (Click to enlarge):

One thing you might notice about this graph is that the religion “Protestant” sticks out like a sore thumb. After a bit more research I decided this was because most usage of the word “Protestant” is for events like the Protestant Reformation, while actual Protestants themselves are more likely to identify themselves as being Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, etc. The same does not hold for their cousins the Catholics or any of the other religions given. I then replotted the results with Protestants excluded:

The phrase vegan appears around “atheist” at roughly ten times the rate at which it is found around a more common religion like “Christian”. “Atheist” also was found at the highest rate around the key phrases “vegetarian” and “animal rights” as well. Somewhat surprisingly, atheists felt the need to proclaim themselves as “meat-eating” at above the average rate as well, but not nearly to the extent they proclaimed themselves vegan or vegetarian.

Contrary to this blog, the phrase “animal rights” was nearly never mentioned with the term “skeptic” (I am aware that skeptic is not a religion, but I threw it in there out of my own interest). I suspect the reason for this is that skeptics tend to shy away from discussing ethical or philosophical questions and prefer to stick to much more easily testable hypotheses. Interestingly, while “diet” saw very little variation between different religions, it was mentioned quite regularly by skeptics in comparison, likely in response to the great deal of dietary misinformation that gets spread around the internet.

Another piece that stuck out was the rarity with with the phrase “meat-eating” was used with being “Jewish”. I suspect this is because those who identify with these two terms are more likely to call themselves meat-eating Jews as opposed to admitting their interest in “Jewish meat-eating”. Other phrases such as “Jewish vegan” and “Jewish vegetarian” still held up fine however.

Muslims seem to be the group with the worst record around animal issues, scoring last for both “vegan” and “vegetarian” and relatively high around the phrase “meat-eating”.

I would be weary attempting to draw any conclusions from this data other than pure rate at which key words appear together. As you can see, a great deal of the variation has to do with each key word's usage in language. Nonetheless, as a preliminary look into the subject I found the results quite interesting.

For all who are interested, here is a link to my raw data.


  1. I'm not sure that, short of an explicit methodology, this preliminary though systematic observation can do much except give us observational data' on those who speak out more energetically in some 'social media' or electronic 'spaces' (albeit effectively, or seemingly effectively).

    Further, it fails to address (either systematically or unsystematically) the truth claims which are always at the heart of such reasoned public contentions (such as the reasonableness of vegan practices as of 2010, the moral necessity of veganism, and whether veganism is intellectually parochial or intellectually inclusive), since the real issue for advocates is to what extent the broad public association of veganism with militant atheism (not a foregone conclusion) is a turn off to the general public AT THIS TIME.

    I'd much rather see REASON applied reasonable to questions of whether or not ethical regard for nonhuman personhood is both intellectually and morally mandated. Then we can proceed.

    I do NOT believe that veganism is EITHER intellectually parochial or intellectually inclusive, since I hold that one's metaphysical worldview is not inherent in either the practice of veganism nor in the recognition of the personhood of nonhumans and their (presumed?) moral status.

  2. Neat study. In the last paragraph I think you mean wary, not weary. Wary means cautious, weary means tired.

  3. I suspect part of the problem would be religions are older and have studying of holy books. Meanwhile, people like me sometimes address themselves as a Vegan Atheist Liberal in conservative Texas.

    Anyways higher IQ has been associated with all three of those (vegetarians at least), so I wouldn't be surprised if atheists were more likely to be veg*ns. But almost all religions support veg*n diets (except perhaps Jews), but only Buddhists and 7 Day Adventists seem to really care.

  4. most vegans I know are atheists. a few are buddhists: they don't buy that god-idea, but they feel spiritual and they enjoy meditating