Religion and the Internet

TitleReligion and the Internet
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsHackett, RIJ
Date Published2006
Keywordsinternet, religion

Emergent scholarship on the most radical technological invention of our time confirms what most of us know from first-hand experience – that the internet has fundamentally altered our perceptions and our knowledge, as well as our sense of subjectivity, community and agency (see for example Vries, 2002: 19). The American scholar of religion and communications, Stephen O’Leary, one of the first scholars to analyze the role of the new media for religious communities, claims that the advent of the internet has been as revolutionary for religious growth and dissemination as was the invention of the printing press (O’Leary, 1996). In the present essay, I consider the transformations of both religion, and by extension scholarship on religion, occasioned by computer-mediated communication (CMC) and information. I lay out a basic framework for analyzing the multifunctionality of the internet with regard to religion. I also briefly address the multidisciplinarity required to comprehend this multi-dimensional technological revolution. My primary focus is religious uses (Lawrence, 2000), but some reference is also made to religious perceptions of this new medium. In my broader research, I am particularly interested in some of the latest forms of internet applications by religious individuals and organizations, and their consequence for inter-religious conflict or harmony in what sociologist Manuel Castells calls our ‘global network society’ (Castells, 1997; Hackett, 2003, 2005). The information technology revolution and the restructuring of late capitalist economies have generated this new form of society. But as to whether the internet is predominantly utopian or dystopian is hard to discern, conclusions may be determined by one’s own interests and vantage-point.