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Avery Alban - Friday, October 15, 2021 - 15:05

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (NMRDC) is excited to host the 2021 Digital Religion Research Award Lecture on zoom with Dr. Beth Singler from the University of Cambridge (UK), the winner of this year’s Digital Religion Research Award.

Dr Singler’s lecture is entitled, “fAIth: Believing in AI and AI in Belief”, drawing on her award-winning ethnographic research, exploring both online and offline discourses about Artificial Intelligence and how they intersect with themes related to Digital Religion. Specifically, her lecture will explore historical and contemporary religious roots as they relate to current development with AI and robots.

Dr. Singler will give the annual Digital Religion Research Award Lecture on November 10, 2021 at 9:30am CDT/2:30 pm GMT in an online Zoom webinar sponsored by the NMRDC. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Click this link to register for the event: https://forms.gle/V6h7MooSjCgBoy7P7

For more information about the annual Digital Religion Research Award and the NMRDC, please contact Heidi A. Campbell at heidic@tamu.edu Our award winner Beth Singler can also be reached for comments on her research via email: bvw20@cam.ac.uk.


Avery Alban - Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - 11:28

2021 Digital Religion Research Award winner is Dr. Beth Singler for her article: The AI Creation Meme: A Case Study of the New Visibility of Religion in Artificial Intelligence Discourse

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (NMRDC) is thrilled to announce Dr.Beth Singler as the winner of the 2021 Digital Religion Research Award.

Dr. Singler is the Junior Research Fellow in Artificial Intelligence and Director of Studies, Theology,Religion, and the Philosophy of Religion at Homerton College, University of Cambridge, England. Her article explores and demonstrates the ways that religious continuities and resonances emerge out of artificial intelligence in the modern era. Dr. Singler’s research expands the current scholarly conversation within Digital Religion studies to post-digital technologies by considering how AI narratives and religion interact now, and how they will in the future. This work is especially unique in that it advances knowledge about how religion is expressed in a field that is often framed by nonreligious or atheist discourses.

Dr. Singler is the third recipient of the recently established Digital Religion Research Award which recognizes the work of scholars whose research and publications promote and expand the field of Digital Religion studies. This area of scholarship explores how religious groups and practices intersect and engage with digital media in ways that influences online and offline expressions of religion. Decisions about the Award are made by members of the Advisory Board of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies. These individuals evaluate submissions based on how well a scholar’s work expands the current knowledge within the research area and sophisticatedly applies
the approaches and concepts developed by Dr. Heidi A. Campbell, who is the founder of the Network as well as a pioneer in the field of Digital Religion studies.

Dr. Singler will give the annual Digital Religion Research Award Lecture on November 10, 2021 in an online Zoom webinar sponsored by the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (NMRDC). More information is forthcoming.

The NMRDC is the premier international research network for interdisciplinary scholars and students who study how emerging technologies, religion, and digital cultures interact and intersect. For more information about the Network, visit: www.digitalreligion.tamu.edu

For more information about the annual Digital Religion Research Award and the NMRDC, please contact Heidi A. Campbell at heidic@tamu.edu. Our award winner Beth Singler can also be reached for comments on her research via email: a bvw20@cam.ac.uk

A call for submissions for the 2022 Digital Religion Research Award will be released in late November 2021.


Avery Alban - Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 08:21

Xenia Zeiler is a professor of South Asain Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland and on the Advisory Board for the Network. Her current research and teachings are situated at the intersection of digital media, culture and society, specifically as related to India and the global Indian community. Zeiler’s research foci are video games and gaming in India, digital Hinduism and global Hinduism. Along with that, she also researches and teaches aspects of Global Digital Humanities and popular culture, especially as related to India. As reflected in her top 5 list of most useful articles/books used for research, the research and teaching both require and benefit most from work on video game cultures, especially in global contexts and as related to religion, value formations and cultural heritage, and on global aspects of digital religion.

Xenia Zeiler also says she is particularly interested in social-constructivist mediatization theory that is regularly applied to her work. For instance, the article by Couldry and Hepp (2013) gives a fantastic introduction to and overview of both existing mediatization theories, the so-called institutionalist tradition and the social-constructivist traditions; it is a great resource for teaching!

A short intro to gamification: https://www2.helsinki.fi/fi/unitube/video/97ec9405-8da8-4cd5-bb7e-79d5a1...
This short video introduces to the concept of gamification, including brief information on the concept’s and term’s history and the relation of gamification and educational video games.

More and longer video lectures are currently produced by Xenia Zeiler, e.g. on mediatized religion in India, video games in India, and educational video games. Check them out!

Top 5 article/books

Campbell, H. and Grieve, G. P., eds., 2014. Playing with Religion in Digital Games. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
This book highlights the religious themes and symbols that can be found in a vast number of video games.

Campbell. H., 2013. Digital Religion. Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds. London and New York: Routledge.
This Boko brings together the work of experts in the study of religion and new media to describe examples of new media engagement and case studies that illustrate themes in this field.

Couldry, Nick and Hepp, Andreas, 2013. Conceptualizing Mediatization: Contexts, Traditions, Arguments. Communication Theory 23. 10.1111/comt.12019.
This journal article provides context for the emergence of ‘‘mediatization’’ as a key theoretical concept for new media and communications research.

Heidi A. Campbell, Rachel Wagner, Shanny Luft, Rabia Gregory, Gregory Price Grieve, and Xenia Zeiler, 2015. Gaming Religionworlds: Why Religious Studies Should Pay Attention to Religion in Gaming. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2015, pp. 1–24. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfv091
This journal article argues that religion plays a major role in gaming culture with an impact in popular culture.

Sisler, V., Radde-Antweiler, K. and Zeiler, X., eds., 2018. Methods for Studying Video Games and Religion. London/New York: Routledge.
The focus of this book is on the how and why video games shape religious beliefs as well as the research into the connection between digital media and religion in the 21st century.


Avery Alban - Wednesday, July 21, 2021 - 13:24

The Network is featuring the thoughts of our advisory board members on the top 5 resources they have found useful in their research in the last 5 years. Johanna Sumiala’s current research addresses cultural and social transformation of human death in contemporary society as it is characterized by digital saturation of the current collective social and cultural existence.

Sumiala’s present work focuses on today’s digital age and how people are starting to experience death via digital communication. She came to the conclusion that these circumstances have affected how people perceive death in several ways. The digital world transforms ideas, belief’s and conceptions of death in society, alters relationships between the living and the dead, and reconditions values and morals associated with human death. This, in turn, affects the institution’s structure, who manage and control death in society.

The 5 sources Johanna Sumiala presented elaborate on her topics in great sophistication and inspirational manner. The work of Bassett, Savin-Baden and Maso-Robbie explore the idea of digital afterlife and immortality. Lagerkvists’ edited volume opens up new important ways of thinking about digital existence as a fundamental condition of contemporary life. Moreman and his colleagues provide a rich approach to different death-related digital practices and their cultural interpretations. Finally, Walter is a seminal figure in sociology of death and his work expands contemporary ways of thinking about mourning in the current digitally saturated world.

Bassett, D. (2015). Who Wants to Live Forever? Living, Dying and Grieving in Our Digital Society. Social Sciences, (4)1, pp. 1127–1139.
The focus of this article is to argue for the clarity of communication technology used in death education and the need for further research into human and computer interaction.

Lagerkvist, A. ed. (2019). Digital Existence. Ontology, Ethics and Transcendence in Digital Culture. London: Routledge.
This book uses research into digital religion to broaden the scope of religion into a wider field to discuss existential media studies and how they affect the world.

Moreman, C. M. and Lewis, A. D. eds., (2014). Digital Death. Mortality and Beyond in the Online Age. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
This book explores death and how it is affected by digital technology through studies conducted to answer how people truly live their lives.

Savin-Baden, M., Mason-Robbie, V. eds. (2020). Digital Afterlife: Death Matters in a Digital Age. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.
This book focuses on research into ways in which digital media helps with grief and remembering those who have passed. It also dives into The legal, ethical, and philosophical problems associated with Digital Afterlife

Walter, T. (2015). New Mourners, Old Mourners: Online Memorial Culture as A Chapter in The History of Mourning, New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, 21(1-2), pp. 10–24.
This chapter compares mourners grieving online and the benefits that can be associated with usng social media as a tool to mourn versus those who save grieving for offline.


Avery Alban - Friday, December 11, 2020 - 16:21

Dr. Heidi A. Campbell hosted a private webinar for her new book, Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority on December 9th, 2020. The event included over 20 professors, lecturers, PhD students, and more who had applied to participate from all over the world. Guest speakers Rich Ling and Giulia Evolvi both gave responses on specific chapters from Dr. Campbell’s book and led small breakout discussions during the event. All participants had the opportunity to ask questions and bring up ideas during the breakout groups, as well as participate in large group discussions of the concepts in the book.

This webinar served as an opportunity for mentors and students in the fields of communication, technology, and religion to further develop their understanding of religious authority in a digital era, as well as offer ideas, tools, and concepts for future research. Due to the large number of applicants this first webinar had, Dr. Campbell is looking forward to planning a second webinar for the beginning of 2021.


Avery Alban - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - 11:37

The Network for New Media, Religion, and Cultural Studies had a successful 2020 Annual Digital Religion Award Lecture on November 4th. While the event had to be moved online, the Network chose to make the best of the opportunity and was able to include over 50 people from around the world in a live lecture and Q&A by Dr. Mark Ward Sr. about his award-winning article entitled Digital Religion and Media Economics: Concentration and Convergence in the Electronic Church.
The webinar was recorded and can be watched at: https://my.demio.com/recording/p6aFsvGX


Sophie Osteen - Thursday, October 8, 2020 - 08:15

Dr. Campbell, director of the Network, explores the interactions between digital innovators and religious organization and institutions, in her latest book: Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority (Routledge 2020). Here we provide a glimpse into her insights shared in the book on how digital creatives with religious motivations and digital media experts working the churches are challenging traditional notions of what it means to have religious authority in a digital age. The following blog post is an edited excerpt from a chapter appearing in Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority give our readers a unique insights into her arguments and findings shared in the book.

Chapter 8: How Christian Digital Creatives Enact a Technological Apologetic

I argue unpacking the technological apologetic of RDCs is crucial in order to understand not only the motivations behind the tech use but how this serves a key identity narrative helping them frame them- selves, as authorities and members, of the specific religious communities and/ or institutions they work with. The technological apologetic is a story RDCs tell in order to frame their digital-creative work, perceived authority and religious affiliations in a distinctive light. Unlike media-making stories, which focus on describing the digital work RDCs do and how they engage with digital tools and environments, the technological apologetic focuses on why they do this work. It also reveals how they rationalize this work in relation to their religious institutions or communities.

At the heart of the technological apologetic is a justification narrative, centered on assumption about Christian community and the Church and its relationship with technology. One core assumption they acknowledge is that most religious institutions are seen to be, and often function as if they are, conceptually and/or structurally at odds with digital media. They also recognize that internet culture is often framed as in competition with religion, because the flexible, dynamic and individualistic, user-centered nature of the internet is perceived as challenging institutional authority, structures and leadership. This is articulated in different ways by each group of RDCs. Digital spokespersons in this study frequently evoked this underlying assumption in discussions of their work and took great care in trying to explain how and why their digital-media use could be seen as in line with organizational goals and traditional religious practices. Digital entrepreneurs and even digital strategists who stress digital media as a core resource for religious practices and essential for the work of the church in contemporary society, also frequently engaged with these assumptions.

RDCs construct a technological apologetic in order to create a space in which they can justify technology use that shows how one can blend aspects of digital communication and culture with religious institutional practices. They also do this to try and diffuse fears or combat the perception that they do digital work in order to take on an intentional authority role in their community. Therefore, the techno- logical apologetic is a story RDCs tell to justify their digital work and engagement with digital environments for Christian ministry. By focusing on reports of why specific RDCs do the digital work they do and how they interpret the meaning and impact of these activities, we are able to discover the ways RDCs may be perceived to act as authorities within their religious communities and the digital spheres.

The mapping of RDCs’ technological apologetic enables us to understand in a more nuanced way how these actors frame their digital work in terms of a religious call. They do this by rhetorically framing their digital-creative work as compatible with shared Christian goals and institutional aims. This focuses on negotiating tensions created by mixing the dynamic nature of digital media and its culture with the more static traditional religious institutions.

Excerpt taken from Campbell, H.A. (2020). Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority. Routledge. This book can be purchased through the publisher at: https://www.routledge.com/Digital-Creatives-and-the-Rethinking-of-Religi...


Sophie Osteen - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - 19:46

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies is pleased to announce the winner of the 2020 Digital Religion Research Award is Dr. Mark Ward Sr.! See below for the press release:

2020 Digital Religion Research Award Winner:
Dr. Mark Ward SR – Concentration and Convergence in the Electronic Church

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies is very pleased to announce Dr. Mark Ward Sr. as the winner of 2020 Digital Religion Research Award. Dr. Ward is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Houston-Victoria, Texas, USA. He received the award for his article “Digital Religion and Media Economics: Concentration and Convergence in the Electronic Church,” which is arguably the first extended application of media economics to Digital Religion Studies. This article shows the historical continuity and tendency of old and new religious media industries towards forming of oligopolies and how the convergence between traditional and digital religious media content often results in the massification of digital religion.

Dr. Ward is the second recipient of this newly established annual award that seeks to recognize outstanding research in the area of Digital Religion Studies, which explores intersections between religion and digital media. Award decisions are made by members of the Advisory Board of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies, who evaluate submissions on how well a scholar’s work extends the current knowledge within Digital Religion Studies, and the individual’s sophistication and application of approaches or concepts developed by Dr. Heidi A Campbell, founder of the Network and pioneer in the field of Digital Religion research.

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies, is the premier international research network for interdisciplinary scholars and students who study the intersection between emerging technologies, religion, and digital cultures. For more information about the award or the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies, see: http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu

A call for submissions for the 2021 Digital Religion Research Award will be released in November 2020.

Mark Ward Sr. (PhD, Clemson University) is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Houston-Victoria, Texas, USA. His research on American evangelical culture and popular media has been published in numerous books, journals, and chapters (for a bibliography see markwardphd.com), and he has been quoted by the New York Times, Politico, Bloomberg, Religion News Service, Associated Press, and other media outlets. He is a winner of the Clifford G. Christians Ethics Research Award for The Electronic Church in the Digital Age: Cultural Impacts of Evangelical Mass Media, and of the David R. Maines Narrative Research Award, Digital Religion Research Award, and article of the year awards from the Religious Communication Association and National Communication Association. In 2018, he was named his institution's scholar of the year.


Sophie Osteen - Monday, October 5, 2020 - 08:03

Dr. Campbell, director of the Network, explores the interactions between digital innovators and religious organization and institutions, in her latest book: Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority (Routledge 2020). Here we provide a glimpse into her insights shared in the book on how digital creatives with religious motivations and digital media experts working the churches are challenging traditional notions of what it means to have religious authority in a digital age. The following blog post is an edited excerpt from a chapter appearing in Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority give our readers a unique insights into her arguments and findings shared in the book.

Chapter 7: How Christian Digital Creatives Understand and Perform Authority
Each category of RDCs draws on a different view of how authority is situated in notions of how authority is traditionally understood relative to established religious institutional and/or chosen community affiliations.

Digital entrepreneurs describe themselves in relation to traditional or religious institutional authority in terms of power, where Foucault’s work on power as a social dynamic and Hofstede’s idea of power distancing are applied. Here authority is understood as based on RDCs’ ability to navigate their social position and agenda within digital and religious spaces, and rhetorically and tangibly establishing their position as a visionary tech influencers in these contexts. They align with the idea of being a media influencer in that they privilege digital expertise and their technical/social impact as giving them religious influence in their media-making narrative, and downplay their lack of institutional authority or position.

Digital spokespersons’ media-making narratives describe authority as primarily role based, and so present a Weberian understanding of authority wherein certain actors have the legitimate right to oversee and govern specific contexts. Here authority is defined in terms of specific roles performed in a set environment, namely leaders being acknowledged as legitimate authorities by their followers or audiences. Digital spokespersons emphasize the fact that the work they perform is commissioned by and in the context of a specific religious institution. This means they see their digital work as bound by organizational accountability structures and protocols. As media professionals working within a religious institution, they see their media work as needing to be officially branded and representing not themselves but the groups they work for.

Finally, digital strategists enact a relational understanding of authority in descriptions of their work, where Lincoln becomes a useful discussion partner to explain the relationship negotiation they undertake as part of their digital labor. Here authority is a social and cultural interdependence between RDCs and the religious community members they serve. Digital strategists describe their conception of authority in their media-making narratives by emphasizing how they navigate between their allegiance to traditional institutional commitments and the remit of their jobs and the call to and personal conviction of the need to engage media to do this work in the technology-infused world of the twenty-first century. As missional media negotiators, they recognize the fact that algorithmic culture is in tension with the structures of their institutional affiliation. Rather than privilege digital culture like digital entrepreneurs, or downplay its influence like digital spokespersons, they choose to live and work within this tension between the religious and algorithmic cultures. They understand their work gives them influence in both spheres.

While authority is understood and enacted in different ways by these three groups of RDCs, each of them draws on some similar assumptions. First, their understanding of authority is strongly influenced by how and where they see themselves in relation to the traditional religious institutions and communities with which they seek to affiliate or connect in some way. Perceptions of being institutional outsiders, insiders or some hybrid combination shape their assumptions of whether authority resides in their actions or begins within their institutional affiliations. Second, each group of RDCs enacts a distinct positioning of themselves to digital culture and algorithmic authority. This is partially based on the level of sway and importance each gives to digital expertise and fluency, and the social position these allow them to achieve. This points to the need to pay attention to whether RDCs privilege digital expertise over institutional affiliation or vice versa, as this can dictate the amount of credence they give to algorithmic authority in dictating power structures in a digital age.

Third, RDCs’ understanding of authority can be seen as a performance, a balancing act they undertake between multiple sectors of impact upon religious culture. Goffman’s approach to authority, as laid out in this study, draws attention to the fact that RDCs must negotiate their work and investments in digital and religious contexts simultaneously. They must decide how to prioritize and to relate these cultural contexts, and then how to best articulate these intentions. By doing so they map out a distinct prioritization of how they see other religious actors and communities in relation to technology structures and environments. These negotiations are connected to their front-stage and back-stage performance of religious identity as digital creatives, as well. We must pay close attention to RDCs’ self-reports about their digital activities—how they link these to religious desires or convictions, then frame them in relation to official religious institutions. Outlining the intentions behind these media-making narratives is only one part of understanding RDCs’ negotiations with authority; it forms the basis for a detailed investigation of their rationale and framing of religious community and institutions revealed through the technological apologetic.

Excerpt taken from Campbell, H.A. (2020). Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority. Routledge. This book can be purchased through the publisher at: https://www.routledge.com/Digital-Creatives-and-the-Rethinking-of-Religi...


Sophie Osteen - Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 08:22

Dr. Campbell, director of the Network, explores the interactions between digital innovators and religious organization and institutions, in her latest book: Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority (Routledge 2020). Here we provide a glimpse into her insights shared in the book on how digital creatives with religious motivations and digital media experts working the churches are challenging traditional notions of what it means to have religious authority in a digital age. The following blog post is an edited excerpt from a chapter appearing in Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority give our readers a unique insights into her arguments and findings shared in the book.

Chapter 6: Digital Strategists

Digital strategists are a third type of religious digital creatives (RDCs), who draw their authority from a hybrid positioning between institutional and techno- logical expertise. These are individuals who have an affiliation with a specific religious institution or community. They often hold a position of leadership as part of these affiliations, such as being a priest, religious educator, seminary student or other ministry leader. Yet what makes them different from digital spokes- persons is that their primary position does not require them to use technology or perform media-focused tasks. While digital spokespersons are employed to do media work and curate the official media and digital presences of their church or denomination, digital strategists choose to develop digital expertise for strategic purposes. They embrace digital media in an effort to innovate their ministries and extend their work into new areas. It is through this digital experimentation and their creative leveraging of already available digital resources for religious ends that they gain notoriety and public attention, rather than from their official roles.

The idea of a digital strategist is drawn from Anderson’s (1999) discussion of the “reformer-critics” who appear online as individuals seeking to interpret and speak for their religious tradition through religiously focused engagement in various internet platforms. He stated these reformer-critics are often motivated by distinctive religious convictions or a self-imposed agenda that seeks to change or promote new understandings of community religious practices and/or beliefs and demonstrate alternative discourses or models of interaction online. Through their online work, they hope to gain access to a wider audience for their religious message, or recruit others to their viewpoint. Anderson described them as typic- ally self-appointed, seeing themselves as serving their religious community through their online presence. They draw on a mixture of online and offline sources to build their position and credibility. Anderson also suggested these reformers often seek to take on the role of exemplar representative of their religious community, where digital engagement allows for religious innovation and new expressions of religious practice to emerge that can invigorate traditional communities. Their innovation and vocal work online, however, can frame them as potential competitors with other official institutional leaders and spokespersons.

Here I spotlight and describe three types of digital strategists: (1) media- driven missionaries, (2) theologians who blog and (3) online ministers. Each type embraces and integrates digital media into their work, not because this is required, but because they see digital media offer them added benefits, helping them fulfill their work in creative and more efficient ways.

One example of these digital strategists are those who work as media-driven missionaries. Over the last 200 years, Christian denominations in the West have been training and sending out individuals to foreign countries to proselytize those of different nationalities and religious backgrounds with the Christian message. In the last 100 years, many of these groups have developed sophisticated training programs to help equip future missionaries with skills in religious teaching, language translation and cross-cultural adaptation to the new environments they will find themselves in. In the twenty-first century, many Christian missionary organizations still focus their attention on training up individuals as church planters, pastors, bible teachers or itinerate evangelists, preparing them to share their faith in a new culture within established religious institutions and contexts. Yet there is a growing awareness among some mission-focused denominational and parachurch organizations of the role digital media can play, not only in training new missionaries but also in changing the ways missions outreach work is actually done.

Here we look at a parallel group, “theologians who blog.” These are professional theologians, and Biblical Studies scholars, also referred to as bibliobloggers, who are typically not known for their digital fluency or having a tech background. They often work with ancient texts and set methods of interpretation to produce in-print articles and books on focused areas of scriptural teaching. The central role they play in church institutions as religious educators and trainers is one that has been developed literally over centuries. While the church has indeed had adapt to new expressions of culture over time, and their role within these, the main task of the theologian has charge changed little—to prepare students for leadership roles in their given denomination or religious organization. Yet the age of digital media and communication has prompted a growing number of these professional theologians to experiment with public exegesis, or biblical interpretation shared online, especially via blogs.
A third type of digital strategists are those who work for a church and whose main role is to facilitate some form of ministry in the offline context, such as religious education or teaching or care ministry to underserved populations. These RDCs come to recognize that embracing digital technologies can enable them to do their job in more efficient and creative ways. They may even hold a leadership position, such as serving as a priest or pastor, and they choose to use digital media in creative ways to facilitate new forms of engagement with their members. This can lead to the creation of new hybrid positions within some church contexts, where the main tasks they are charged with are quite traditional, such as pastoral care and counseling, but these tasks are done in new ways in mediated, networked spaces.

Excerpt taken from Campbell, H.A. (2020). Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority. Routledge. This book can be purchased through the publisher at: https://www.routledge.com/Digital-Creatives-and-the-Rethinking-of-Religi...


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