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The Divine Online: Civic Organizing, Identity Building, and Internet Fluency Among Different Religious Groups

TitleThe Divine Online: Civic Organizing, Identity Building, and Internet Fluency Among Different Religious Groups
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsFarrell, J
JournalJournal of Media and Religion
Start Page73
KeywordsCatholic, Catholic congregations, Catholics, Computer, Contemporary Religious Community, cyberspace, internet, Mass media, media and religion, network, New Media and Society, new media engagement, New Technology and Society, online communication, Online community, religion, religion and internet, Religion and the Internet, religiosity, religious engagement, religious identity, Religious Internet Communication, Religious Internet Communities, religious media research, sociability unbound, Sociology of religion, users’ participation, virtual community, virtual public sphere, “media research”, “online identity, “religion online”, “religious congregations”, “religious media research”

The number of religious congregations with Web sites nearly tripled from 1998–2006, and each year another 10,000 congregations launch a Web site (Chaves & Anderson, 2008). Couple this with the fact that 79% of attendees are now in a congregation with a Web site. Scholars of media and religion know very little, however, about the content of these Web sites or what they tell us about the culture of different religious groups. The aim of this article, therefore, is to examine how congregations are constructing Web sites to advertise their identity, organize their followers to get involved in civic and political issues, and provide an interactive space for online participation in actual ministries. Extensive qualitative data were gathered from 600 individual congregation Web sites from nine denominations in 53 different cities across the United States. The results of the descriptive analysis of these data suggest that there is a strong correlation between the “off-line” characteristics of a particular congregation and the “on-line” characteristics of the same congregation. Evangelical congregations tend to have more complex, attractive, and interactive Web sites and fall into the “online religion” camp. Liberal-Protestant and Catholic congregations tend to create static “brochure” style Web sites that emphasize their denominational identity and thus fall into Hadden and Cowan's (2000) “religion online” camp. This study expands our theoretical knowledge about the proliferation of media into, and out of, religious congregations, and offers a broader understanding about how institutions negotiate their online identity in the digital age.
[Supplemental materials are available for this article. Go to the publisher's online edition of the Journal of Media and Religion for the following free supplemental resource: Appendix II: Web Site Screen Shots.]