Blog

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...


Sophie Osteen - Tuesday, September 29, 2020 - 12:31

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 5: Digital Spokespersons

Digital spokespersons […] are religious digital creatives (RDCs) working on behalf of a specific religious institution or community. A key part of their work is presenting and representing that group’s identity in the media, especially on digital-media platforms. This may be done by designing the group’s informational website, managing social-media sites representing the group online or moderating online discussions related to their institution. This category of digital creatives draws on Anderson’s notion of “spokesperson-activists,” or those who seek to present the face of an established religious institution online. Anderson’s category, as outlined in Chapter 3, included both those who are appointed by leaders of groups to be their online representatives and individuals who become the public face of their community because of the media and technology work they do for the institution. These spokesperson-activists, as Anderson described them, hold jobs such as communication or information officers, webmasters, press liaisons or even personal assistants serving specific religious leaders, positions that require them to regularly liaise between the media, the public and their institution. Thus, they are charged with overseeing the online presence and reputation of the group for which they work.
From these interviews, we see three common groups of digital spokespersons present within most religious denominations and organizations: (1) media officers and communication directors, (2) webmasters and technology teams and (3) online ambassadors.
Increasingly, religious denominations employ communication directors and media officers to play specific roles related to the production and management of communication services within their organizations. For the most part, communication directors take on a number of key roles, including overseeing the production of media resources related to the work and mission of the institution, as well as managing the flow of information within the institution—especially between church leaders, staff and members—and strategic information sharing about the organization with external sources.

Institutional webmasters and technology-team members also work as digital spokespersons in that they are paid to carry out specific digital-media work for their religious denominations or organizations. Their work is primarily technical in nature and focused on tasks such as maintaining official media platforms or producing content for media resources. They typically work under the supervision of the communication directors or media officers described earlier, yet their work plays an important part in representing the official identity of their group within the digital environment.

A third type of digital spokesperson also identified in this research can be described as online media ambassador. These individuals play the role of digital spokespersons within online or other media forums. Like the others described earlier, they are directly employed by denominations and religious organizations, but their primary role is not focused on church communication or media production. Rather, online media ambassadors are recognized high-level church leaders, such as presiding bishops or other denominational leaders who oversee other church leaders, essentially serving as a pastor to pastors in their church organization. These individuals’ oversight role requires them to be institutional experts. Part of their role involves internal institutional communication with individuals under their oversight. Their position, combined with these communication skills, means they are often called upon to speak on behalf of their institution or area of oversight when public issues emerge of interest to those outside the church.

Digital spokespersons can also be described as institutional identity curators. Their jobs require them to represent and frame the identity of their particular religious group online through digital content and resources. Increasingly, religious organizations are seeing digital-media work as related to their institutional public relations, requiring them to hire spokespersons to manage their online media or presence. Identity curators mirror what Anderson described as “spokesperson- activists,” talking heads of religious groups that draw on established interpretive patterns and structures from their institutions to build the presence and identities of those groups in public digital spaces. The above overview of three types of digital spokespersons described in this chapter highlight a number of shared traits and tasks focused on their institutional identity curation online.

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, September 24, 2020 - 16:35

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 4: Digital Entrepreneurs
Throughout the course of this research, I noted that when people use the phrase “digital creative,” they often picture individuals who builds digital tools like a web- site or computer software. However, in the world of advertising and marketing, the term digital creative can also refer to those who create digital content. Through my study of individuals involved in digitally creative practices associated with religious communities and institutions, I found digital creatives include both. Religious digital creatives (RDCs) can be tech designers who create websites or platforms for innovative forms of ministry, or individuals who primarily engage with established media platforms, producing unique content focused on specific religious topics meant to educate, inspire or challenge their faith community.

Digital entrepreneurs are often professional media workers who use their abilities to serve the mission of their faith community or affiliated church. We typically think of them as having a high level of technical design or coding expertise, and they see these skills as gifts they can and should use to help the work of the Christian church. This may include designing religious mobile apps, software or websites, or even running online discussion forums or social media sites. However, there are other digital entrepreneurs whose expertise lies in digital-media lit- eracy and proficiency. Rather than focusing on technology tools, their strengths lie in their ability to envision imaginative digital content or strategies that can be implemented to serve their faith community’s goals. Their digital-media expertise enables them to rise as external experts seeking to offer guidance on how best to adapt to digital-media culture.

Both types of digital entrepreneurs, tool designer and content creator, face a unique challenge. While they desire to serve the church, they are employed out- side the religious organization they seek to assist. This gives them a unique level of freedom, as their digital work is driven by their personal vision and enthusiasm, allowing them to think outside traditional boundaries and practices set by religious institutions. However, their efforts can also be viewed with suspicion, or at least a lack of understanding by those inside the official structures. In this way, digital entrepreneurs may be seen as competitors by the very groups they seek to serve.

In this chapter we explore three different types of digital entrepreneurs: (1) techies for God, (2) theoblogians and (3) internet evangelists. Techies for God are digital-media innovators who use their design expertise to create websites, software or online resources to fulfill a particular religious mission. Theoblogians are individuals who start blogging, often focused on a particular religious topic or theological perspective. Internet evangelists are similar to techies for God in that they feel called to develop websites and applications to facilitate the spread of the Christian gospel to those outside the church. However, unlike techies for God, their reason for using technology is singular—to develop tools for evangelization.
Each of these different expressions of digital entrepreneurs is known for their online work and creativity and their ability to turn this digital work into a form of ministry and expression of their religious commitment. Many have earned reputations as innovators within certain Christian networks online and sometimes even offline, not only for their technical skills, but also for their understanding of how internet technologies and digital culture are shaping society and the church. In the following sections, we explore these visionaries and how they use media for religious influence.

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 - Monday, September 21, 2020 - 18:17

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 3: Christian Digital Creatives' Performance of Authority

Scholars have suggested Goffman’s works tended to overlook discussions of authority, but I beg to differ. Rogers (1980BIB-roger) was one of the first scholars to recognize Goffman as offering interesting insights into the question of how authority is enacted in society. She suggested Goffman had not been regarded as a power theorist, not because of his lack of attention to power, but because he saw power in a different way. She argued that, for him, power, hierarchy and social structures are intertwined, so that he was not as vocal as other scholars in highlighting the importance of power as the central trait manifestation of authority. This means references to authority in his work were often implicit, inferred from his discussion of how the stage of life is framed by visible and invisible forces and structures of the social order.
Rogers went on to stress that Goffman talked about power in terms of social influence and control rather than as a value or a belief; for him, “Power is see-able (p. 396).” This means authority is to be approached as something to be observed. Actors can be seen as influenced by the conditions of the culture in which they are situated. These cultures have embedded views and frameworks of authority that further condition the extent to which people are able to act in solitary, self- determined ways or are subject to the conditions of being interconnected to others or structures. She suggested using Goffman’s dramaturgical approach for studying how individuals are subject to and shaped by various manifestations of authority requires paying attention to two aspects of their performance in tandem—their actions and language. By viewing an actor’s front- and back-stage performances, paying attention to what they do and say, a full picture of authority emerges—of how it is understood by the actor and so performed. I argue that such a reading of Goffman offers us the basis for a concrete method to apply this approach to authority to the study of RDCs.

RDCs’ media-making stories reveal a distinct understanding of authority that correlates with how they situate themselves and their work within digital culture. These perceptions of authority, drawn from their engagement with and perceptions of the digital environment, speak to the notion of algorithmic authority, as discussed in Chapter 1. Algorithmic authority recognizes one’s prominence and potential ability to influence others as grounded in technological expertise. Leveraging their skills and influence created via social networks and resources enables RDCs to pos- ition themselves as actors able to influence their audiences’ opinions and actions. The researcher must pay attention to the ways RDCs talk about digital technolo- gies and spaces, the value they place on these, how they situate themselves within them and the perceived social outcomes or impact of their work. This research shows that a description of their digital work enables us to link them to the strat- egies and practices of one of the three types of digital actors within algorithmic culture as described in Chapter 1. Mirroring the work strategies of a media influ- encer, thought leader or digital leader helps us talk about the way RDCs perform algorithmic authority in digital culture relative to their work. These connections can be made by paying attention to what they see their as their position, to their technology mastery and to the prominence of their work online. Together these components guide a distinct performance of authority online and the extent to which they also connect this to their offline expertise. I argue RDCs’ media- making stories provide the researcher with tangible examples and connections to show how the digital work produced manifests understanding of both algorithmic and traditional authority at work in their identities.

Studying RDCs’ media-making stories seeks to capture how RDCs present their work as an identity performance. Initially, it is a story of RDCs living out a distinctive public persona, that of digital expert and servant-leader within a specific religious community. Yet upon closer examination, we see the work narrative also reveals the fact that their performed identity is filtered through two different understandings of authority—one grounded in their understanding of their work’s relationship to a religious community or organization, and another grounded in their comprehension of how digital-media work grants them a form of influence. Mapping this dual performance of authority enables us to see media-making stories as clear, and often fraught, negotiations between traditional and new online and offline grounded views of authority. As RDCs negotiate between these different perceptions with their work, they are typically led to offer a justification narrative, framing these negotiations and the tensions within their work performance. This leads to the discussion of RDCs’ technological apologetic, what it is, and how it can be studied.

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, September 17, 2020 - 09:16

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 2: Defining Religious Creatives

Here I argued many traditional religious authorities encounter a shift as they are forced to negotiate with new practices and relationships occurring because of interactions between online and offline spaces and cultures. New forms of religious leadership, such as webmasters and theological bloggers, emerge in digital contexts, and these actors must negotiate their place within long-established religious systems of knowledge and influence. In addition, conventional religious authorities are forced to adapt to patterns of communication and being within new digital culture, which is based on an algorithmic authority that runs counter to previous status systems (Clark, 2011). This can be seen in work conducted by Cheong & Poon (2008) on Buddhist communities’ negotiations with the internet and how these shape communicative patterns and practices between religious leaders and members of associated organizations. They argued the internet can create perverse or fraught relationships within religious communities, in that digital spaces decrease religious organizations’ monopoly of control over religious knowledge. Though digital spaces create unique networks of communication between groups and actors, they found these new configurations may not be as effective in maintaining close relationships for these groups in comparison to established offline patterns of interaction. This dialectic encountered by both online and offline forms of religious authority raises important questions regarding who represents the legitimate voice for a particular religious community in the digital age, what processes must be in place to constitute these positions and how such status is solidified and maintained. So when the question is posed, “Does the internet challenge or empower religious authority in digital culture,” the answer is yes, it does BOTH. It challenges AND empowers emerging an established authorities simultaneously, but in different ways. New authority roles online can challenge and undermine the position of traditional religious leaders, while alternative voices are challenged to negotiate with already established religious structures and practices. Digital content creators and technologists are empowered as people grant them influence due to their prominence in online religious settings; traditional religious leaders may also be empowered to establish their offline influence online as they embrace digital tools and platforms.

I have argued for the need for a more nuanced approach to the study of authority online. In “Who’s got the power? Religious authority and the Internet,” I identified several different layers of authority influenced by religious activity online (Campbell, 2007). I suggested each needs to be explored separately, especially authority in relation to hierarchy, structure, ideology and text. First, I suggested the need to pay attention to religious hierarchy, which refers to the authority figures and roles existing both online and offline that may influence users’ relationships to the internet. Recognized religious leaders (such as imams, clerics, rabbis and pastors) who typically serve as community interpreters of religious knowledge and practice are often challenged by new authority figures (such as webmasters, forum moderators and bloggers) emerging online and performing similar roles. Religious practice online raises important questions about how much influence these new actors have and how their roles may shape a given religious community offline as well as online. Paying attention to how officially recognized religious roles respond to the internet or seek to culture it in particular ways also becomes crucial. Scholars studying religion and the internet have paid particular attention to the ways new religious leadership roles online influence traditional authority figures. For instance, Thumma (2000) found the internet had the potential to change congregational hierarchies, as previously marginalized “techies” take on new leadership roles when they serve as church webmasters. Similarly, Anderson (1999), whose work is explored in more detail later in this chapter, examined the roles of webmasters and online moderators as new agents of authority with the potential to influence trad- itional authority structures. Thus, I argue attention should be given to the character, perception and role these religious interpreters may have within the local faith communities and tradition as a whole.

Authority can be approached as the study of certain religious or organizational structures that support conventions of community practice, such as how the community worships, trains leaders, passes along information and stays connected. Online we see traditional religious structures both being imported to or reinvented on the internet—e.g., educational institutions and even worship spaces—as well as new or alternative structures being created, such as independently created study or meditation groups. Thus, it is valuable to explore the relationship between structures or channels of authority created by established offline groups and those formed by independent groups online. This requires careful consideration of the background and roots of various religious structures established online, as well as an examination of how they function compared to traditional organizations or comparable offline forms. Also, because the collaborative and interactive nature of the internet can make church structures and gatekeeping processes transparent, traditional networks and protocols may be challenged by the fact that private conversations easily become public and/or are quickly disseminated. Online spaces undermine their ability to control community members’ behavior by removing that behavior from the community’s watchful eye and placing it in individually controlled spheres. Thus, the internet may especially challenge the structures of fundamentalist communities, as it offers community members the chance to create alternate spaces of discourse and social engagement.

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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