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Callie Burch - Saturday, August 11, 2018 - 12:43

In today’s society, religion has become dependent on new media. However, every religion is different and interacts in different ways with technology.

Marcus Moberg, Academy Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland, University of Turku and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Abo Akademi University, explored the relationship between mediatization and religion in the article, “Mediatization and the technologization of discourse: Exploring official discourse on the Internet and the information and communication technology within the Evangelical Church of Finland.” This article discusses the impact of the Internet and advances in information and communications technology (ICTs) surrounding the Evangelical Church of Finland (ELCF). Moberg’s goal is to highlight how “developments in new digital media technologies have become strongly dominated by a very particular set of discourses.”

This article outlines key concepts of a “social analysis-oriented discourse analytic approach” and provides details regarding the relationship between the ELCF and its use of the Internet and ICTs. The ELCF has sustained a slow, progressive decline in members since the early 1970s, but has tried to reconfigure its self with the use of the Internet and ICTs.

Moberg believes that “changes in our ways of talking about things will, moreover, also change our perceptions about what we can do and how we can act vis-à-vis these things. In this view, then, all forms of social life, social interactions, and social relationships is fundamentally discursive. In this view, it is first and foremost through language and discourse that we construct certain phenomena or states of affairs as meaningful in particular ways, and it is against the background of these constructions that our actions also need to be understood. This applies equally to the discourses and actions of individuals and organizations (including religious organizations).”

Moberg’s aim was to portray how religious communities are forced to use available languages within new media when discussing their own media use. Overall, this article argues that the advances of the Internet and ICTs have led to an increase of discursive developments regarding social and cultural implications. It underlines the idea that the Internet and ICTs have the potential to deepen “our understanding of the changing discursive practices of religious institutions in an age of digital media.”

For the link to the article, click here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1461444816663701


Callie Burch - Saturday, August 4, 2018 - 17:37

Religious experiences are not what they once were. In today’s society people are able to cultivate sacred encounters online through the use of pictures, videos and livestreams. The ever-increasing use of digital media is now being used to advocate virtual acts of pilgrimage, specifically in the Catholic Church, in order to “increase visibility and highlighting the religious centrality of the Holy Land.”

Oren Golan, lecturer at Haifa University, explored the relationship between digital media and pilgrimage, focusing on the Catholic Church in the article, “Digital Pilgrimage: Exploring Catholic monastic webcasts.” Golan discussed that through the use of video, webmasters are able to spotlight the wonders of the Holy Land.

Golan believes that a key player in digital pilgrimage is the Christian Media Center. The Christian Media center is the outcome of the assimilation of the Franciscan and Pentecostal resources in order to provide videos and information regarding the Holy Land. Golan describes these groups as the “protectors and providers” of the Holy Land. Monastic webmasters operate the Christian Media Center and by doing so allow anyone with internet access to experience things they once may not have been able to. Golan described the job of webmasters as “hard work” that takes time and dedication, but very worth it.

Additionally, digital media allows the Catholic Church to cultivate evangelist agents to spread their faith. This allows for the Church to expand from its traditional ways of interaction to a way of influencing remotely. The influence of media on religion allows churches to spread their faith virtually, extend the churches digital footprint, allow for accessibility of holy sites and permits followers to partake in religious practices at any place and at any time. Overall, the presence of digital media in religion allows for sacred experiences virtually anywhere.

The article, “Digital Pilgrimage: Exploring Catholic monastic webcasts” is part of a larger project for Golan. He aims to continue his “research into webmasters and how they impact society and pilgrimage.” He wants to continue to explore, “who are the players, who are the agents and is there a cultural and social change that is going on.” He believes that his current research will be able to highlight how new media and religion is evolving. However, there is still so much to learn and it’s “too soon to tell” how further research will contribute to current religious studies.

For the link to the article, click here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714421.2017.1416795?scrol...


Callie Burch - Tuesday, July 24, 2018 - 10:56

The use of memes is an ever-increasing phenomenon in today’s society. Memes can be a humorous image, video, gif or piece of text that is shared on the internet. While memes may have humorous intent, they can often be misconstrued and used to express other messages.

Katie Dundas, project manager at Rose Marketing Solutions and Cody Wolf, co-researcher and current Seminary student, investigated how religion and politics are expressed through memes. They specifically explore memes during the 2016 presidential election in the article, “The Dissonance of “Civil” Religion in Religious-Political Memetic Discourse During the 2016 Presidential Elections.” According to Dundas, the goal of this research was to study “how people chose to represent their religious/political beliefs online through memes, but also how those memes then framed each of those political and religious organizations as a whole.”

An important finding highlighted in this article is the idea of “Civil Religion,” which is “where religion becomes a tool to interpret politics, with roots in nationalist ideas.” Wolf believes that through the use of memes, religious doctrines became detached from the religion in order to create a political viewpoint. A key part of this finding is the fact that most dissonance and conflict arose from contradicting religious/political combinations. As an example, Dundas highlights the reality that the Republican party memes often contradicted the Christian values that the party was established on. Because of this, Wolf hopes that “our conclusions demonstrate to people currently researching religion studies that a lot of the language and use of it we see in public discourse is not necessarily reflective of the Religion.”

As stated in this article, memetic discourse can be framed in four ways, the playful frame, the questioning frame, the mocking frame and the religious trope frame. These frames aided the researchers when analyzing the messages that religious and political memes can highlight. The result of this are the conclusions that religious-political memes are a part of civil religion, religion is shown opposing conservative ideals, civil religion in memes is hardly ever not political and expressing religion through political memes can be controversial.

For the link to the article, click here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2056305118782678


Callie Burch - Sunday, July 1, 2018 - 16:57

The Center for Media, Religion and Culture and the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder are hosting the 11th biennial conference of the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture (ISMRC). Since ISMRC’s first meeting in 1994, the conference has become the leading international meeting for the discussion of research in religion, media and culture. ISMRC’s objective is to explore the relationship between media, religion and public scholarship. This conference will take place August 8 -11, 2018. Additionally, there will be a workshop for PhD students on August 7. After the conference concludes, the International Academy for the Study of Religion and Video Gaming (IASGAR) is hosting a post conference event on August 12.

ISMRC will have many talented scholars, as well as 3 Keynote and Plenary Speakers including Anthea Butler (University of Pennsylvania), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University) and John Durham Peters (Yale Univeristy). There will be a very diverse group of 142 presenters from 20 different countries. ISMRC is fortunate to be sponsored by the Center for Media, Religion and Culture, the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder, Henry Luce Foundation, ILIFF School of Theology – Denver and Brill Publishing.

The conference will have over 40 panels with discussions focused on numerous paper themes. The most evident theme in these papers is the themes of new media and digital religion. New media and digital religion are the most focused on topics during the conference, with 58 papers discussing them as a major theme. Following that are themes of (from most to least) religious controversy, politics, feminist culture, religious movements, theology, health and media theory. Since new media is a very large theme for ISMRC, there are many technologies and media forms examined (from most to least) such as social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), television and film, journalism, religious apps, video games, photography, music and the internet. Additionally, religion is a heavily studied topic at the conference, diving into religions including (from most to least), Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Buddhism and other local religions.

Since new media and digital religion are such prominent topics at ISMRC, let’s dive into further analysis on them. New media is a form of mass communication that uses digital technology. New media also entails mediatization which is a theory that explains how digital media can shape the conversation of society. In these papers, new media is used to help explain the shift in ideologies, religious practices and leadership. As well as new media, these papers address digital religion. Digital religion considers how religious communities interact with the internet and how one’s religion can be exemplified through the digital world. Digital religion encompasses both the offline culture, such as the historical belief system, as well as encompassing the online culture of religious followers interacting and conversing on digital platforms. These papers address general topics including, digital religious movements (29 papers), religious controversies on the internet (20 papers), how/if digital religion and theology can converge (16 papers), and how digital devices can change the way one practices their religion (10 papers).

In conclusion, the 11th biennial ISMRC will be a great place to explore the relationship between media, religion and public scholarship, so if you’re lucky enough to go, take advantage of all that it has to offer!


Andrea Lloyd - Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 18:15

Tim Hutchings, author of Creating Church Online: Ritual, Community, and New Media, has been on the cutting edge of studying Christian Community online for a decade. Recently he has turned his attention to the study of Digital Bibles, and how such digital projects conducted a study analyzing two “digital Bibles” and how they train users to understand the text in particular ways. To conduct this study, he took ‘YouVersion’ and ‘Glo Bible’ Christian Bible apps to investigate design intentions. He does this by looking at concepts of “persuasive technology” and “procedural rhetoric.” Looking at these two case studies, Hutchings investigates the apps themselves, interviews with product designers, and official marketing material.

Both the ‘YouVersion’ and ‘GloBible’ engage readers with the text but approach it in different ways. ‘YouVersion’ emphasizes frequent reading of the Bible by providing a range of written translations and audio recordings.’Glo Bible’ on the other hand seeks to help readers understand the Bible by providing multimedia interpretive resources as an alternative to text. Hutchings describes these motivations for using digital Bible apps as follows: accessibility, comprehensibility, attraction to new audiences, increased frequency in reading, and easier to study. YouVersion focuses on accessibility and increasing reading frequency, while GloBible focuses on attracting new audiences and increasing comprehensibility. Both products engage in the fifth motivation, providing digital tools for textual analysis.

Hutchings shares that the Bibles could function as a “persuasive technology” based on design principles to encourage engagement and commitment to the text. In addition, both apply Bogost’s seven principles for procedural rhetoric: (1) reduction to simple tasks, (2) tunneling users to predetermined actions, (3) tailoring information to the user’s needs, (4) suggesting behaviors at certain moments, (5) self-monitoring progress, (6) surveillance of said progress, and (7) conditioning the user through rewards and reprimands.

“All seven of these principles can be seen at work in the case studies examined here. Both Bibles offer digital reading plans, for example, encouraging the user to engage with the text by guiding him/her through a particular series of short excerpts. A printed reading plan already demonstrates the principles of reduction and tunnelling and encourages self monitoring, but when that reading plan is digitised, the remaining four tools can also be introduced. The plan can be tailored more easily to the individual’s needs (Glo Bible offers a topical index), suggestions can be offered when appropriate (both companies send automated messages to users), progress can be monitored (both products store reading data), and rewards can be offered to reinforce the positive experience of completing tasks (like YouVersion’s badges).”

The ethics of using persuasive technology criticised by Bogost as manipulative technology. Instead, Bogost promotes procedural rhetoric instead, proposing computational processes to support users in challenging or understanding a particular way the world works. As persuasive technologies, Hutchings argues, digital Bibles can also be used as examples of procedural rhetoric. The Bible engages the user to actively take and share notes while understanding a particular worldview of the text.

Hutchings shares both products seek to engage readers by encouraging reading frequency and sharing. Both digital bibles innovate new ways to engage users that are beyond the text on the page. As Hutchings said, “These products The attempts to change user reading habits, intensify their relationship with the text, and encourage others to read as well.” The goal of promoting practices, attitudes, and understanding of the Bible is met, and Bible apps will increasingly become standard in the Christian landscape. According to Hutchings, this research has the potential to question the authority of how to read the Bible--if programmers design a mobile app, are they now authorities in Evangelical Christianity? Hutchings concludes that since the Bible software emphasizes the Bible itself, and encourages the user to overlook the designer, this is not the case.
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https://www.routledge.com/Creating-Church-Online-Ritual-Community-and-Ne...
Hutchings, T. (n.d.). Creating Church Online: Ritual, Community and New Media. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203111093


Heidi Campbell - Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 10:30

Network Research Associate Adam Bajan talks about his current research on Bridging the Gap: The Deterministic Influence of Digital Media on Pastoral Authority. His PhD work explores how religious leaders reflexively orient themselves to developments in communication technology.

As he states:

In 2015 the Pew Research Center released a landmark longitudinal study entitled America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Results confirmed what pastors and priests throughout America had known for some time; that the Christian share of America’s population is in decline and that the number of Americans identifying as religious is also dropping. But within this trend is a surprising statistic: affiliation with the evangelical Protestant tradition actually increased by roughly two million in the last several years. This brings the total number of American evangelical Protestants (denominational and non-denominational) to an estimated 64 million and growing. While there are a number of factors behind this demographic shift, one in particular links them all together: a rise in the use of digital media by religious practitioners, both in and outside of the church environment.

This ever-increasing use of digital media in religious environments results in the barriers that previously separated on and offline lived religious practice becoming bridged, blended, and at times, blurred. In turn, scholars have proposed a number of theories to explain how religious organizations adopt and shape media in order to facilitate worship within this digitally mediated context or ‘digital religion’ (Campbell, 2012). Many of these theories are rooted in a social shaping of technology paradigm which affords agency to religious organizations and their leaders who are responsible for ensuring a safe future for their churches and congregations. My research aims to connect a social shaping of technology approach to media development with a soft-determinist perspective in which media, as extensions of human beings, exert an ecological influence on religious group leaders, one which occurs prior to the social shaping of technology process.

More information found online at: https://comm.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2015/08/Bajan-Research-...


Heidi Campbell - Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 13:48

Each month the MediaCommons Field Guide website hosts different conversation in the Digital Humanities, asking contributors to connect their interests or research to a core conceptual question.

In October they asks scholars working in various areas of Digital Humanities to consider. In October 2017, it asks scholars to consider, "How does the digital intersect with spirituality/religion?" and "How have digital/virtual technologies broadened approaches to the study of spirituality/religion?" How does the digital intersect with spirituality/religion? How have digital/virtual technologies broadened approaches to the study of spirituality/religion?

Below is the Opening Response solicited by MediaCommons and offered by Heidi A. Campbell, Associate Professor of Communication, of Texas A&M University, found at: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/question/how-does-digital-inters...

For over two decades I have studied the intersection between computer-mediated technologies, digital spaces, and religion. I began in the mid-1990s studying the rise of online religious communities that were forming through email and other discussion forums. This led me to explore issues of religious identity and authority online in cyberchurches, Islamogaming, the kosher cell phone, religious mobile apps, and most recently investigation how Internet memes about religion provide insights into how religion is represented within digital culture. My research has emerged alongside the work of other scholars in the fields of Communication, Religious Studies, Sociology of Religion, and Theology, and in the last few years this given rise to a new subfield of inquiry known as Digital Religion Studies.

I define “digital religion” in the introduction of the edited collection Digital Religion: Explorations in New Media Worlds (Routledge 2013) as the technological and cultural space that is evoked when we discuss how online and offline religious spheres have increasingly become blended and/or integrated in our network society (Campbell 2013). Those who study digital religion see online religious practice and beliefs as integrated into offline religious communication and communities and vice versa. As the Internet has become an integral part of the everyday lives of many religious practitioners, scholars have observed the variety of ways digital technologies help bridge, connect, and/or extend online religious practices and spaces into offline religious contexts. From online worship and prayer in virtual temples and churches to building new forms of religious community with fellow believers around the world through social media such as Facebook and Instagram, spiritual seekers continue to find creative ways to use digital platforms to reimagine religious rituals and express their sacred beliefs.

Digital Religion Studies has primarily theorized about how religion and the digital intersect by focusing on how religious communities respond to digital technologies and/or how digital cultures are shaping religious individuals’ behaviors and practices. Drawing on theories from Sociology and Media studies — such as Mediatization, Mediation of Meaning, and the Social-Shaping of Technology — has provided useful frameworks for explaining the different perceptions of how religious believers and leaders negotiate and relate to new media technologies and environments.

More recently work begun by scholars seeks to unearth and identify born-digital theories of digital religion. In other words, scholars have begun to consider how the unique social nature and cultural context of our digital, network society informs perceptions of what we consider religious, and how spiritual meaning and process become understood and conceptualized within technologically-infused space and culture. Digital Religion Studies is now situated within an interesting intellectual moment. It is one where scholars are exploring alternative frames —such as those found within Posthuman and Post-secular discourses — to explain not only how the digital and religion intersect, but how they become entwined and increasingly interdependent on one another. I suggest Digital Religion Studies offers a unique and vibrant area to explore how the digital becomes integrated into different cultures, and not just religions ones. This work highlights the factors that shape individual and group negotiation processes with technology, and how these inform the ways we view humanity and reality in a digital age.


Heidi Campbell - Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 13:40

Over the next few month the Network will be featuring a new blog series. The "Digital Religion Scholars Spotlight" series will provide brief overview of interesting and important work being done by scholars around the world studying themes related to Digital Religion. Spotlights will provide reviews of recent books and research studies of these scholars , as well as provide background information on key and up-and-coming scholars in the field.


Heidi Campbell - Monday, September 25, 2017 - 11:06

The International Society for Media, Religion and Culture (http://ismrc-seoul.com/) is offering a unique opportunity for Doctoral Students studying Digital Religion topics. Below is a Call for Papers: for the 2nd Doctoral Colloquium Pre-Conference to be held the day before the start of the 2018 ISMRC conference (see: http://www.colorado.edu/ismrc/). The event will be held at University of Colorado, Boulder.

This pre-conference will provide doctoral students the opportunity to present their research, receive feedback from leaders in the field, discuss theoretical, methodological and professional challenges, as well as network with other peers.
Interested students should prepare a) 1-2 page (500-800 word) extended abstract of the student's thesis/major research project and b) a sample paper/chapter (up to 5000 words) of writing related to the topic.
All materials are to be prepared in English and are due on or before 15th of January 2018.

Please send all applications to the Doctoral Colloquium Chair, Associate Professor Heidi Campbell (heidic@tamu.edu), with subject: ISMRC doctoral colloquium application.
Questions may also be directed to the same email.

Important dates are as follows:

Pre-Conference date: 7th of August 2018
Deadline for Paper proposals: 15 January 2018
Notification of acceptances: end of February 2018

We highly encourage international and interdisciplinary student participation in this event!


Heidi Campbell - Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - 11:20

The season of Lent is upon us. This is a holy season for Christians who seek to identify with Jesus Christ’s 40 days of fasting as he prepared to be tested and later crucified. In order to identify with Christ’s self-sacrifice, Christians often join in a symbolic fast, giving up certain foods such as meat or chocolate or even giving up certain practices.

In recent years, fasting from the internet or other forms of technology has become popular. Fasting from technology is encouraged by many religious leaders as the ideal way for individuals to reflect on their daily dependency on technology. Sometimes called taking a “digital Sabbath,” it refers to the Christian and Jewish practice, in which one day a week is set aside as sacred.

On such a day, secular practices such as using media are halted in order to help believers focus on God and their faith. This is based on the premise that the best way to critically engage with technology is to unplug from it. It’s a way to remember that true communication is unmediated by technology and grounded in being with one another in the “real world.”

Unplugging from social media or limiting one’s internet use for a set period such as during Lent can be helpful for some individuals. My research, conducted over two decades, however, shows that some of core assumptions on which digital fasting is based on can be problematic or misguided.

Technology can, in fact, be good for religion. The question is, how do we engage with technology thoughtfully and actively?

Media and immoral values?

First, let’s look at how religious groups interact and make decisions about new forms of media.

In my recent book, “Networked Theology,” my coauthor Stephen Garner and I discuss how some religious communities believe the media primarily promote immoral values and frivolous entertainment. Therefore, they insist interaction with media via digital devices should be controlled, just as is done during a digital fast.

In “Networked Theology,” we explain how abstaining from media is based on an assumption often referred to as “technological determinism.” It is a theory that argues media technology shapes how individuals in society think and act. Technology is presented as the central factor driving society, and its character is often described as selfish and dehumanizing.

This view presents the internet as a medium that creates environments that disconnect us from reality. For example, YouTube could be seen to promote entertainment culture over wisdom, Facebook encourages self-promotion over community-building and Twitter facilitates tweeting whatever comes to one’s mind rather than listening.

People are not passive users

The truth is digital media is increasingly a part of daily routines. People learn, do business and communicate with technology. Often technology enhances our daily lives, such as eyeglasses correcting vision or the telephone helping people communicate across time and space.

A man praying during Lent. AP Photo/Fernando Llano
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The problem, however, comes when we assume that people have only two options: to engage technology and inevitably be seduced by it, or refuse to use it in order to resist its power.

Digital fasting follows this second option. It presents individuals as slaves of technology. Taking the occasional timeout from the all-powerful grip of technology is done in order to simply regroup and prepare to again face its irresistible seduction.

In my view, such an approach places too much emphasis on the assertion that technological devices now dictate most people’s lives. It also does not take into account that technology users have the ability to make their own choices about how they approach it. So people can choose to use technology in ways that fulfill spiritual goals.

In “Networked Theology,” we argue that digital technology can be reshaped by users. As others have written, we agree that people should take more responsibility for the time spent with their devices.

Deepening devotion with technology

So, instead of resisting technology during Lent, individuals could use this space of holy reflection to actively consider how to integrate technology to support their spiritual development.

Religious groups have the ability to determine the culture technology promotes, if only they take time to prayerfully create their own “theology of technology.”

I describe part of this process as being “techno-selective.” What this means is reflecting on the technology we select and how and why we use it. It also means being proactive in shaping our technologies so they enhance and not distract from our spiritual journeys.

A digital Lent can become about considering how our devices can help us do justice, practice kindness and demonstrate humility in our world. For example, people could ask if their postings on Facebook are helping in creating a positive or more abusive world? Or, whether the apps they use or their cellphone etiquette promotes peace and social change?

Apps for social justice

In the last five years I have been working with a team of students at Texas A&M University to explore how social and mobile media are being developed that can support a variety of religious beliefs and practices. We found there are religious apps to help people do that. Internet memes also provide unique insights into common stereotypes about religion within popular culture.

Memes can be crafted to counter such misconceptions. For example, the wearing of hijabs, or head scarves, by Muslim women is viewed by many outside the religion as oppressive, but wearing the veil and modesty are themes frequently affirmed in memes created by Muslims.

Digital devices can create space for holy reflection. Linda Flores, CC BY-NC-ND

Further, our research on religious mobile apps has found increasing numbers of apps are available that help individuals stay faithful in their religious practices on a daily basis. Apps can help with the reading of sacred texts, provide religious study aids, help locate kosher or halal products to maintain a holy lifestyle and connect people with places of worship and also to other beliefs.

Prayer and meditation apps can help users remember when to pray and become more accountable in these daily spiritual practices.

Also apps designed to encourage involvement in social justice causes, such as TraffickStop, Lose Weight or Donate and CharityMiles, help raise awareness of key issues and even help users link their daily practices, such as what they eat, to micro-donations to social justice organizations.

A digital Lent?

Lent is a great time for religious individuals and groups to pause and consider not only their own technological practices and how they shape our world but also the ways in which digital resources can be integrated into their communities to support their beliefs.

So instead of giving up Facebook for Lent, consider doing Lent digitally.

Practicing 40 days of technoselectivity might actually have a longer-term impact socially and spiritually on one’s daily life. It could even deepen religious devotion.

This piece was first published with The Conversation and appears online at: https://theconversation.com/how-to-use-digital-devices-this-lent-for-hol...


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