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Kyong James Cho - Monday, January 6, 2014 - 17:57

Brett T. Robinson's Appletopia: Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs is written from the perspective of a media ecologist and proposes that there exists an intimate relationship between religion and technology. The book makes several underlying assertions: that technology now occupies the place that religion traditional held in society; that Jobs' spiritual-religious experiences informed his philosophy of technology and subsequent approach to business and design of Apple products; and that technology is imbued with implicit religion. Religion in the work is not explicitly defined (and neither is implicit religion), but it appears to be used loosely to refer to traditional religions such as Buddhism, transcendentalist or metaphysical thought, and even a sense of magic and mystery.

In addition to drawing our attention to the relationship between religion and technology, Robinson follows another line of thought to another point. Using the works of media scholars such as McLuhan and Ellul, Robinson makes some observations regarding the Faustian bargain of technology which makes our engagement with it more complicated than mere consumerism. Scattered in a few places throughout the book are prose which reveal what Robinson really thinks of all this: while the Faustian bargain seems like a fair trade, in the end we lose more than we gain, including our free intellectual capacity and our true god(s). In the concluding page of the book Robinson writes:

“Technology is ultimately a false god. From the Tower of Babel to the atomic bomb, man's attempts to apprehend godlike powers often do not end well. The most pervasive tension . . . is that the more we use media technology the more our interior lives shrivel under the artificial glow of the screen” (p. 106)

Appletopia is a book with two key theses: there exists an intimate relationship between religion and technology, and that technology ought not replace religion. These are interesting assertions which could be more thoroughly developed in the book. For instance, a more detailed exploration of how Apple technology usurped the role of religion for its fans, or unpacking the implications of the implicit religion espoused in Apple ads or other pop culture phenomena could in themselves be topics for stand alone texts. The unique contribution of the book is perhaps the focus on Jobs' spiritual-religious experiences and how they informed his work and Apple, yet this is lost in the other points made throughout the book. The second thesis, the normative statements about technology and religion from a media ecology perspective, is interesting and important, but deserves more explicit exploration here in order to reveal what the author sees as the impact the Apple phenomenon may have on our understanding of this intersection.

In all, Appletopia gives a glimpse into how Jobs' spiritual-religious background shaped Apple and contributed to the cult of consumerism. The book is suited to a broad non-academic audience due to its broad and descriptive treatment of the subject. Yet it does offer scholars a well-documented exploration of the Apple fandom as religion that could serve as a spring board for further, in depth exploration of religion and technology.


Wendi Bellar - Saturday, November 16, 2013 - 01:06

Daniel A. Stout’s 2012 book, geared toward the undergraduate student, offers a foundational look at the field of media and religion by demarcating key concepts, tracing the history of scholarship, reviewing theoretical and methodological approaches from related fields, and focusing on specific media forms. While the book may not be the best source for more experienced scholars or scholars who focused specifically on new media and religion, it is perfect for professors of religion and media to introduce undergraduates to the field.
First, the book begins with a broad sweep key concepts such as “Media as Religion” “Personalized Religion” and “Levels of Analysis.” A brief history covers everything from ancient rituals to the Internet age. Stout also expertly introduces new students to theoretical concepts such as mediatization, media ecology, and secularization. However, other media-related theories, such as the mediation of meaning, mediation of sacred forms, and the social shaping of technology are not discussed and professors may have to supplement these areas with other readings. Perhaps the most useful elements in beginning and subsequent chapters are the “Key Term” and “Questions to Ponder” sections. These elements provide a starting point for students and professors to develop insightful in-class discussions. Another unique feature, the last chapter of the book, includes a classroom activity in which students act out a play that engages them with the often sensitive topic of religion and media.
The next section of the book focuses more on specific mediums and genres, such as the Internet, news, entertainment media, and strategic communications. While all of the chapters provide historical and current information on each medium or genre, the Internet chapter provides the most interest for religion and new media scholars as it is the only one that deals specifically with technology. The chapter is very basic but does a good job of briefly outlining the issues of authority, community, and identity in terms of religion online. Because the book was written fairly recently, new media and religion scholars may find the lack of social and mobile media chapters disappointing.
In conclusion, "Media and Religion: Foundations of an Emerging Field" provides exactly what it offers, “… an ideal introduction for undergraduate students in need of a foundation” in religion and media. The book is a good text for religion and media professors to introduce and engage student with theoretical and practical concerns. However, if professors want to engage more with new media scholarship they may need to supplement the reading list.


Heidi Campbell - Monday, November 11, 2013 - 15:23

The study of new media and religion has emerged over the last decade and has grown out of the larger sub-field of media, religion and culture studies. Often times scholars and students new to these areas can feel a bit isolated as they seek to gain fluency simultaneously in the multiple disciplines which are required for fruitful conversation. Indeed it can be a challenge to connect with other scholars and publications related to this area of study. However, take heart there is growing interest and attention being given to media, religion and culture studies and finding publishing outlets and places for conversation is easier than you think.

At a recent seminar for graduate students interested in studying the intersection of Communication and Religious studies in my own department I presented the following list of publications, centers and upcoming events for those new to field and looking to expand their awarenes of the breadth of research being done in these exciting areas. I am sharing them here for others who will also find these resources of interest and use.

Journals Publishing work in Media, Religion and Culture Studies:

Journal of Communication and Religion: http://www.cios.org/www/jcrmain.htm
Journal of Media and Religion: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hjmr20#.UnQze0oo7Mw
Journal of Religion and Popular Culture: http://www.utpjournals.com/Journal-of-Religion-and-Popular-Culture.html
Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture: http://jrmdc.com/
Journal of Contemporary Religion: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjcr20#.UnQ3o0oo7Mw
Online-Heidelberg Journal of Religions on Internet: http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/ojs/index.php/religions/
ASIR: Advances in the Study of Information and Religion: http://digitalcommons.kent.edu/asir/
CyberOrient: http://www.cyberorient.net/

Associations and Centers working at the intersection of Media, Religion and Culture Studies:

Religious Communication Association (NCA): http://www.americanrhetoric.com/rca/
International Society for Media, Religion and Culture: https://www.facebook.com/MediaReligionCulture
Center for Media, Religion and Culture: http://cmrc.colorado.edu/
Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture: http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu
Center for the Study of Information and Religion: http://www.kent.edu/slis/research/csir/index.cfm
Digital Islam: http://www.digitalislam.eu/
NYU Center for Media and Religion: http://www.crmnyu.org/
CODEC: Christian Communication in the Digital Age: https://www.dur.ac.uk/codec/
Nordic Research Network on the Mediatisation of Religion and Culture (MRC): http://www.nordforsk.org/en/programs/prosjekter/the-nordic-research-netw...
Mediating Religion Network: http://www.mediatingreligion.org/

Upcoming Conferences:

ISMRC-Bi-Annual Meeting 2014: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/thrs/events/event2014-08-06.html
CISR: Annual Conference on Information and Religion 2014: http://www.kent.edu/slis/research/csir/annual-conference-on-information-...
ICA PreConference on Media and Religion 2014: http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu/news/tue-10152013-1805/cfp-ica-preconfer...


Aya Yadlin Segal - Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 13:14

How do you give a voice, even a body, to a virtual wink? This was the main focus of a lecture and workshop led by Professor Greg Grieve of UNC-Greensboro held last week at Texas A&M University and co-sponsored by the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture.
These events provide an overview about the formation of a virtual ethnographic method in the research of Second Life, as portrayed in the forthcoming book: Digital Zen: Buddhism, Virtual Worlds and Online Meditation (2014).

The participants of the Virtual Ethnography workshop got a “hands on” experience building their own avatars and exploring the act of winking on Second Life. The Virtual Ethnography workshop guided by Dr. Gregory Grieve provided the participants with the opportunity to fully engage as researchers on Second Life platforms; reflect on the ethics of such research and come face to face with possible difficulties and hurdles of online ethnography.
Within the workshop we were asked to wink at a random avatar and to reflect upon that wink’s meanings and outcomes.

Drawing upon Geertz’s interest in the act of winking, we discussed the similarities and differences between virtual and actual ethnographies. It was agreed among all participants that the act of entering Second Life as a virtual field of research was similar to the act of entering an actual ethnographic field, as the researcher has to understand the limitation, language and norms of Second Life. We discussed the issue of authenticity in the online research, and raised questions regarding avatars as authentic identities. We asked if such identity can be studied in the field of digital religion, leaving the answer open to personal interpretation of each participant.
Additionally, we found different reactions to the act of winking. Those who were actually able to use the emoticon of a wink properly received a wide array of reactions from other avatars in Second Life: a booty call, a bite from virtual vampire, a ban from participating in a religious environment and a motherly advice on how to conduct on Second Life.

The main conclusion of the workshop is that conducting an online ethnography on second life requires a good amount of familiarization time with the platform before engaging in the research itself.


Gregory Grieve - Thursday, October 3, 2013 - 09:34

With a generous gift from the Henry Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, on September 27 and 28th, 2013 the NYU Center for Religion and Media, hosted an event that explored the religious digital mediation in cultural forms of a globalized Asia. The conference explored questions about the role of digital media and religoin in personhood, political movements, human rights, and religious organizations. The presenters emphasized the importance of articulating the aesthetic constructions of religion as they are mediated and circulated in digital culture. As always, I want to thank Angela Zito (NYU) and Faye Ginsburg (NYU) from the Center for Religion and Media for hosting another insightful, interdisplinary, and ground breaking event.

Presentation abstracts can be read here: http://www.crmnyu.org/abstracts-religion-in-the-digital-age-mediating-th...

Presenter biographies can be read here: http://www.crmnyu.org/bios-religion-in-the-digital-age-mediating-the-hum...

More Information available here: http://www.crmnyu.org/event/religion-in-the-digital-age-2013/


Heidi Campbell - Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 14:48

The following is a statement presented by Heidi Campbell, NMRDC director, at the Religious Newswriters Association 2013 conference on September 28th for a panel on Digital Faith and Ministries use of Social Media (see: http://www.rna.org/?page=ConfProgram2013). Below is her brief response to the opening question: "How is the Internet transforming faith?"

A key underlying observation which has informed my research into religion in digital culture over the past decade is this, studying religion online highlights larger societal shift in how religion is conceived on and lived out both offline and online. Through my work that has investigated a variety of phenomena --from religious blogging and the practices of religious digital creative to the rise of the Jewish kosher cellphone and Islamogaming-- I have seen a noticeable trend towards what Religious Studies scholars call “Lived Religion”. Lived Religion is a framing that sees religion as dynamic, experiential and rooted in the everyday life of its practioners. While traditional and organized religion is typically tied to a particular spiritual worldview where core belief dictate religious practice, lived religion notes that individuals and communities live out their faith in ways that may differ from official religious dogmas or traditions. This trend is echoed in many of the recent research studies of the Pew foundation which point to trends of “spiritual, but not religious or “faith without affiliation” and that religious belief is often assembled by adherents from a variety sources rather than a singular tradition.

I have found that digital culture often exemplifies lived religion, as language and images of the sacred becomes tools online to be played with, modified, and reassembled as people use social media to create personalized understandings or expression of the religious. This trend matches what media scholar Henry Jenkins describes as the move towards “participatory culture” within new media. He argues that the power of digital culture lies in its offering people new opportunities to engage in interaction, co-creation and collaborative authorship. For example YouTubers or Meme creators are able to draw images, texts and ideas from multiple sources to create new texts that remix original meanings, and so are freed from authorial intention and agenda. New media enables users to produce and consume media and information simultaneously. The Internet becomes a space where people can express their individual passions as well as find their tribe of those who share their collective identity.

So new media encourages interactive play with religious ideas, the broadcasting one’s convictions, and creating new spaces to carve out and express alternative religious identities online. This changes and challenges established relationships and structures, within many religious communities. Digital media has given rise to new breeds of armchair theologians, spiritual innovators and religious thought leaders through their experimentation with online communication. We see this in how many people now create visual devotionals in Instagram, Tweeting their faith claims, make public their spiritual mashups on Pintrest and use Facebook to perform and brand their religious identities.

In 2012 article I published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion*, I summarize these tendencies by describing what I argue is a move towards “networked religion”. This is where people experience and live out religion online in ways that are shaped and informed by the structures and affordance of network culture. Networked religion is defined by 5 core traits. Networked community which suggests communities function as loose social networks with varying levels of religious affiliation and commitment. Storied identity which sees the religious self as malleable rather than fixed, so individual online seek to create a unified self through constructing and connecting themselves to distinctive narrative. Shifting authority that notes there is a shift occurring between traditional religious leaders and power structures due to the rise of new gatekeepers and religious authority roles online. Convergent practice that highlights how digital space encourages the blending of religious practices and information from multiple sources in ways that build a self-directed form of spiritual engagement. And Multi-site reality which highlights how the online world is consciously and unconsciously imprinted by users’ offline values, so there is a flow and connection between online and offline ways of being.

These traits exemplify key trends within religious practice and culture online. Yet I argue these are trends are also seen in religious practice offline as well. This means careful study of religion online reveal dominant popular conceptions and framings of religion. So in summary, our digital networked reality encourages us to live in flexible religious affiliations, moderated by individual preferences and to seek out experiential connections, over connecting to bounded communities established and maintained through traditional hierarchies. This has encouraged many of the religious innovations we see online, which this panel seeks to discuss in more detail today.

*Campbell, H. (2012). Understanding the relationship between religious practice online and offline in a networked society. Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 80(1), 64-93. URL: http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/80/1/64.abstract


Kyong James Cho - Sunday, September 15, 2013 - 21:31

As with other fields of study, it is important for the field of new media and religion to chronicle its evolution. Hojsgaard and Warburg's (2005) work observed three waves of research in new media and religion, the first wave being quite polarized between Utopian and Dystopian forecasts while the second wave learned to nuance the findings to avoid this (now obvious) false dichotomy. At the time of writing Hojsgaard and Warburg observed that the third wave was imminent, characterized by a “bricolage” of scholars from different disciplines contributing to the budding field. A fourth has been proposed characterized by refined methodologies and typologies (Campbell, 2012). The trend is a maturation of the field, beginning with case studies and exploratory research to building on those early studies and proposing perspectives and approaches unique to the field.

I believe that the next appropriate stage in the field of new media and religion (or digital religion) is critical engagement with theories from the disciplines that our researchers come from, and continuing development of theories and methodologies unique to the field. Cheong, Fischer-Nielsen, Gelfgren, and Ess's Digital Religion, Social Media, and Culture (2012) offers a good starting point to the growth of the field. It proposes itself as an anthology in the vein of Hojsgaard and Warburg's edited volume. Its approach to the Internet is nuanced in that it observes a moderate scale of change emblematic of the attitude of the second wave, avoiding wholesale forecasts of previous studies. The edited volume contains contributions from scholars in media studies, communication, theology, religious studies, and sociology, reflective of the bricolage of the third wave. I think one of its key contributions to digital religion is in its critical engagement with broader theories. Fischer-Nielsen's chapter on Danish Pastors on the Internet, for example, engages with secularization theory and strategies of established churches. Hutchings' study on his extended ethnographic research with online churches engages with mediatization theory, networked individualism and networked collectivism, and religious social shaping of technology (RSST), an approach born from within digital religion studies by Campbell (2010). These engagements are crucial not only because incorporating broader new media theories clarify digital religion, but because digital religion helps build a clearer picture of of the landscape of social engagement and use of new media.

I think one phrase in the book is emblematic of the climate of digital religion. In the second chapter of the book, Knut Lundby writes, regarding the question of virtual churches, “The quality of virtual and other Net church expressions, I will argue, becomes crucial if they add to the experience of a 'real church' for people” (p. 37). “Real church” in quotes here refers not to the virtual church, but church experience in general. I think these quotation marks surrounding the general experience of “real church” is reflexive of the attitude that there is a sort of tension with the arrival of new media. The virtual is not a parallel universe as much as it is weaved into the fabric of religious life; the effects are complex.

While the edited volume limits itself almost exclusively to the study of Christian religion and theology, and doesn't focus so much on innovative methodology in digital religion, it is an important lynchpin in the development of digital religion. Continued progress in the field of digital religion, I believe, is further engagement with broader theories to substantiate, qualify, or dispel them, and develop more theories and approaches unique to the field.


Wendi Bellar - Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 22:37

As a young scholar studying religion and new media I have not been exposed to much literature mentioning, much less focusing on, the role of gender. Mia Lövheim’s new edited volume, Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges is helping to fill that gap as well as encouraging more critical analyses of the intersection among the three areas.

The book opens with chapters focusing on literature that does exit in this area, how feminist and queer theories have and can shape the field, and methodological concerns and implications. These first chapters provide an excellent foundation on which the rest of the book is built. The following chapters are specific case studies focusing on different areas such the testimonial practice of Christian women through different media formats; gender representation in religious journalism; gender and sexuality constructed in Vodou online discussion forums; Muslim women using new media to claim religious authority; and US cultural discourse on masculinity, media and religion.

Perhaps the most helpful case studies for new media and religion scholars were those that focused on online-offline life and social media. For example, new media like Facebook and Twitter are often lauded as tools through which users have their voices heard on their own terms. Klassen and Loften’s chapter analyzing how women give testimony about their faith through new media opportunities, however, problematizes these new platforms. Rather than becoming a liberating form of communication, they see these testimonial performances through social media as a further commodification of the Christian woman’s experience that takes place in an environment of increased theological judgment.

While Kalssen and Loften’s chapter problematized new media practices, others showed how they could be transformational and transcendent. Although not focusing solely on new media, Petersen’s chapter does show how social media participation was an essential part of the meaning-making process for teens’ understanding of romance and spirituality portrayed in the Twilight series. Likewise, Boutros used a transnational feminist approach to show how participatory media, like discussion forums, can foster “new forms of cultural productions” of gender and sexuality as well as “new social relationship around religious identities,” (p. 108).

Media, Religion and Gender provides a good overview of feminist and media theories, some discussion of methodological matters, and case studies that begin to fill the gap in the literature. However, the book is heavy on feminist and mediatization theories while only contributing one chapter to studies of masculinity, and one chapter with some discussion of queer identity. While there is a need for more focus on queer and masculine theories, the edited volume is still an essential guide for the growing discussion surrounding gender in media, religion, and culture studies.


Heidi Campbell - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 11:36

While attending a recent conference of theology and communication I was struck and frustrated by the fact that over the past decade the media theorist most often evoked in theological discussions of new media is Marshall McLuhan. His medium theory and "medium is the message” dictum is employed as a key lens for discussing the effects of technology on faith communities. While McLuhan provides an interesting starting point for considering how media messages are shaped, I find this can be a limited frame if the conversation does not go beyond this. When voicing this frustration online a colleague suggested the reason for this trend is the fact that McLuhan is the only media theorist most theologians have ever heard of. “He is the total of their experience in the field, until someone shows them there's more’” he argued.

So this blog post is my attempt to briefly highlight several other media theorists whose work I think Theologians in particular might consider as potential conversational partners when looking at the ethical and structural issues related to technological adoption and decision making and their implications for religious communities. While these are not the only media theorists that are useful for such discussions, the following are five I have found useful at different stages in my own work to closely investigate processes technological appropriation and value judgments underlying different choices and strategies. I suggest these theoretical stances from Media Studies offer interesting alternative perspectives and frameworks for reflecting and study how people view, respond and reflect on the affordances of digital media technologies within faith communities and society in general that can deepen the current discourse.

(1) Elihu Katz (with Jay Gurevitch and Michael Haas)-Uses and Gratifications Model
The uses and gratifications model offers and audience center approach to studying the motivations behind media adoption and use. It suggests different people use the media in different ways, in order to achieve certain goals or fulfill types of needs. The uses and gratifications model stresses the importance of what people do with the media rather than what it does to them. UGT assumes audiences are active consumers in their media choices, which are goal driven based on the needs and priority of audience member. It offers an important perspective because it focuses attention on audience value judgments and agendas in relation to how media can meet or gratify certain desires or priorities. Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch approach to UGT is important because it highlights in more detail how audiences use media and contextualize more instrumentalist claims about how media effects on audiences. They found that audience typically uses media for information gathering, to help cultivate their personal identity, as a source of social engagement and interaction or entertainment. Theologians could use this approach to reflect on how and why people use media as a tool for reinforcing personal values, building a sense of connection and belonging and how it can serve as a space for personal and moral reflection.

Key work: Katz, Elihu, Jay G. Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch. "Uses and Research." Public Opinion Quarterly 4th ser. 37 (1973–1974): 509-23. JSTOR. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. .

(2) Everett Rogers-Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Diffusion of Innovation theory seeks to explain how why and at what rate new technologies spread and become adopted within a given context. The theory highlights four main elements that influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation, communication channels, time, and a social system. Rogers defines intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt or reject an innovation as well as the character of key adopter categories. This approach argues that it is not only leaders exert influence on audience behavior via their personal contact, but additional intermediaries called change agents and gatekeepers are also included in the process of diffusion. This approach offers a framework for considering how information flows through networks and the factors that shapes opinions regarding technological decision making. This approach is helpful for reflecting on the consequences for individuals and society of adopting a given innovation.

Key work: Rogers, Everett M. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations. Glencoe/NY: Free Press.

(3) Roger Silverstone and Eric Hirsch- Domestication of media theory
The Domestication of media focuses on the processes by which technological innovations are “tamed” and appropriated by specific user communities, especially families. It offers reflection on how technology choice are informed and constrained by the “moral economy” or a set of values held in common within a household or user community. It seeks to distinguish decision making that occurs at different phases of this process including those of appropriation, objectification, incorporation and conversion of a given technology into the life world of given group. Domestication highlights the need to consider how values and beliefs of a given group constrain and inform technological adoption and innovation. It can also be used as to way to identify what key motivation inform a given user communities technological priorities.

Key work: Silverstone, Roger, Hirsch, Eric (Eds.) (1992). Consuming Technologies: Media and information in domestic spaces. London/New York: Routledge.

(4) Everett Rogers/Jan vanDijk: Social Network Theory
Network analysis (or social network theory) is the study of how the social structures and relationships around a person, group, or organization affects beliefs or behaviors. The network approach recognizes that a shift in society from tightly-bounded social systems and communities formed on the basis of family, institutional and geographic relations to loosely bounded relations based on flexible and dynamic social networks. Rogers characterizes a communication network as consisting of “interconnected individuals who are linked by patterned communication flows” (1986). Network analysis seeks to consider how people connect and relate to one another and thereby create an interpersonal, relational communication structure. This approach is important as it outlines how many people live within multiple loosely connected social networks in contemporary society and how relationships are constituted and maintained within a digitally supported, network based society. The network approach may offer creative possibilities for reimagining relational structures and communication in religious communities.

Key works: Rogers, E.M. & Kincaid, D.L. (1981). Communication Networks: Toward a New Paradigm for Research. New York: Free Press.

van Dijk, J. (2005). Outline of a multilevel approach of the network society. Retrieved from http://www.utwente.nl/gw/vandijk/research/network_theory/network_theory_...

(5) Henry Jenkins-Participatory Media Culture
Jenkins outline the ways in which new media culture offers audience to simultaneously take on roles of consumer and producer of media simultaneously, resulting in a new category of the “prosumers “. Jenkins argues in our participatory media culture people are able to creatively respond to media content by creating their own cultural commodities in their attempts to decipher and find meaning in media products and messages. Participatory media culture means their are low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement so people are able to more easily respond, contribute and critique media messages and meanings. This process of interaction also creates some degree of social connection with other involved in media consumption and creation. Theologian would benefit from considering the new possibilities and challenges offered by trend towards prosumption that changes audience understanding of authority, agency and interpretative process.

Key work: Jenkins, Henry. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, NY: New York University Press.


Kyong James Cho - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 13:27

Last month, Wendi Bellar wrote a blog post about Heidi Campbell’s edited book, Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds (2013). The blog post summarized the book’s structure, its content, and assessed its strengths, one of which is its synthesis and presentation of the various themes in the study of digital religion, including ritual, identity, authority, community, and authenticity. What follows is a more detailed review of a few portions of the book; I will firstly give an overview of Campbell’s conceptualization of the field in her introductory chapter, and then offer reflections on two of the themes presented in the book: ritual and authority.

As the title suggests, Campbell conceptualizes the subject of her edited volume as digital religion. It is fairly important to define the terminology in discussing the intersection of new media and religion. Study of emerging technologies, after all, is described using a wide range of terms, including Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Internet studies, cyberspace studies, and new media. There is considerable overlap in these terms, and clarification of terminology is necessary for a growing subfield. Campbell’s description of digital religion as “the technological and cultural space that is evoked when we talk about how online and offline religious spheres have become blended or integrated” (p. 4) errs on the side of being a bit too all encompassing (the alternative, of course, is to propose terminology that is overly restrictive). Yet the themes articulated in the book create space within digital religion to specify areas of inquiry, which are helpful in conceptualizing the landscape of the subfield. I will now turn to two of the themes in the book.

Chris Helland, a staple in digital religion studies for his early conceptualization of online-religion and religion-online, makes the observation that ritual, which is the “purposeful engagement with the sacred” (p. 27), can be mediated by the Internet but can also occur on the Internet. The two case studies on ritual in the book are examples of the latter; Heinz Scheifinger and Louise Connelly’s respective studies on online Hindu pujas and Buddhist meditation on Second Life demonstrate the nuances with which we ought to explore online religion. Each scholar’s concise yet thorough treatment of the issues involved in each of the religions offers a reminder that online rituals are not one size fits all. Each religion must grapple with issues particular to its own traditions, and it is even presumptuous to assume all branches of a particular religion approach rituals in the same way, a point made specifically in Connelly’s description of the Buddhist center she studied.

Pauline Hope Cheong conceptualizes the study of authority through two logic systems: the logic of disjuncture and displacement, in which traditional religious authority is largely eschewed, and the logic of continuity and complementarity, in which religious authority is successfully negotiated. Tsuriel Rashi's case study of the kosher cell phone is an instance in which religious authority is maintained in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, but demonstrates in part the dialectical relationship of religious authority and new media that Cheong observes. Paul Emerson Teusner's study of emerging Christian bloggers in Australia provides an interesting example of new standards of authority that appear on the web. Cheong observes that authority has not been treated as extensively as other themes that appear in the volume. I suspect this is because authority is difficult to conceptualize: other themes, like community or ritual, are quite easy to spot when one has an idea of what it's supposed to look like. Authority's existence is also variable depending on the religion observed.

It seems that digital religion is slated to become a useful umbrella term under which to orient much of the study of religion and new media. Under this umbrella are a number of thematic elements that were previously scattered in scholarly cyberspace. Five years ago when I began my graduate studies, the key themes in this subfield were not consolidated anywhere. I spent an entire summer searching academic databases and reading to get acquainted with the literature, happening on the scholars in this volume by perusing the results sections of the databases. As Campbell stated in the introduction to the volume, her chief goals in scholarship was to produce an apologetic for the subfield, provide a map of key research and themes, and create a space for interdisciplinary work. The fact that such a book exists is affirmation of the growing subfield.


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