Blog

Callie Burch - Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 16:47

Religion has become a topic of growing controversy and an avenue for differing opinions and discussions. The ways that the media interacts with issues regarding religion can be complicated and difficult.

Knut Lundby, Professor Emeritus, discussed mediatization research and the study of media and religion in the book, "Contesting Religion: The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflicts in Scandinavia.” He conducted this study out of a “long-term cooperative researchers’ engagement with mediatization of religion among Scandinavian scholars and a pressing need to understand growing conflicts over religion”, especially to study Muslim immigration into secular societies with a strong Lutheran church affiliation. Primarily, they conducted research due to funding received from the program on The Cultural Conditions Underlying Social Change at the Research Council of Norway.

This book explores research conducted by Swedish researchers regarding the radio program People and Belief and the commonly debated topics regarding Islam. This program’s goal is to create an alternative to the pessimistic media issues typically addressed. However, this program leans towards reconstructing the frames of Islam in society and discussing the relationship between strong and weak voices in public discourse.

Lundby believes that “Despite a general awareness among media producers and teachers to overcome the negative media framing of Islam and Muslims, the case studies in the CoMRel (Conflict, Media and Religion Studies) project show that the frame is difficult to overcome: the dominant images of Muslims and Islam are continuously reproduced and remediated in all of the Scandinavian settings.” To support this claim, Islam can be seen as a threat to culture by approximately 50% of Scandinavian respondents, according to a 2015 survey from CoMRel. However, a majority of Scandinavians reported that hostile positions toward foreigners should not be tolerated.

Lundby sees the conclusions contributing to current research in religious studies by portraying a nuanced theoretical comprehension of the mediatization of religion and “through discussions of the media dynamics as well as of the conceptualization of religion.”


Callie Burch - Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 14:24

The internet plays an increasing role in our everyday lives. Not only does it affect how we send and receive messages, but also can influence one’s religion.

Dr. Moch Fakhruroji, lecturer in Da’wa and Communication Studies at Universitas Islam Negeri (State Islamic University) Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung, Indonesia, discussed religious practices in the digital era in the journal article, “Digitalizing Islamic lectures: Islamic apps and a religious engagement in contemporary Indonesia.” His interest in exploring this phenomenon began when he was completing his doctoral degree which revealed the theme of mediatization in SMS-based religious services initiated by Abdullah Gymnastiar, a popular Indonesian preacher.

This article explores the growing number of Indonesian internet users and “how Indonesian (millennial) Muslims are increasingly aware that the internet and religion have reciprocal relationships.” In this study, Fakhruroji identifies the role that the internet plays in their religious life in relation to digital culture. Fakhruroji states that the relationship between the internet and religion is a positive one. One of the findings is that the practice of Islamic lectures on the internet shouldn’t be just “transferring religious authority into a digital context, but rather an extension of religious authority.”

The “Aa Gym” apps have aided in this extension of religious authority. They have shown how religious authority interacts in the online context in contemporary Indonesia and the fact that “the emergence of new forms of religious engagement is not a form of media technology domination over religion, but instead illustrates the reciprocal relations of the internet and religion.” There is no longer an offline-online context. The “Aa Gym” apps carry out religious engagement symbolically through technological interfaces.

In addition, Fakhruroji highlights the relationship between the preacher and the audience, which also exemplifies the producer-consumer relationship. Essentially, religious engagement in the context of digital religion can be connected to other cultural contexts.

For the link to the article, click here: https://www.springerprofessional.de/digitalizing-islamic-lectures-islami...


Callie Burch - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - 10:53

In today’s society, religion is an ultra-sensitive topic. Religious attire can often spark controversy or religious debate, especially attire of public figures.

Mona Abdel-Fadil, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oslo, discussed religious-political interactions online in the journal article, “Identity Politics in a Mediatized Religious Environment on Facebook: Yes to Wearing the Cross Whenever and Wherever I Choose.” This article explores the prohibition of the cross for Norwegian news anchors. A special interest Facebook group was established to discuss the visibility of Christianity in the media, but ended up creating conversations on immigration, Islam, atheism and more.

In this study, Abdel-Fadil focused on the ways that media participants are, “amplifying, multiplying, intensifying or subduing cultural and religious conflicts.” She noted how various groups have different ways of enacting conflicts and approaching challenges. Through research, Abdel-Fadil found that a notable number of women were participating in the online debate with more “intensity, and far more emotional labour” than most men. Men tend to have intensity in their responses, yet they do not have near as much regularity as women.

A significant finding exemplified in Abdel-Fadil’s article, “Conflict and Affect Among Conservative Christians on Facebook”, is that “media users appear to act in near identical emotive patterns across a variety of conflicts irrespective of theme, so long as ‘trigger themes’ such as ‘climate change’, ‘financial crisis’ or ‘immigration’ are involved.” Through this study, Abdel-Fadil suggests that online conflict may be seen as entertainment and enjoyment for some users.

Abdel-Fadil notes that her research demonstrates the difference between believing vs. belonging in Christian culture. Her conclusions portray that one can both, “strongly believe and perpetuate an exclusionist reading of Christianity that is also very much about belonging.”


Callie Burch - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - 17:22

Mememing Muslims: Study on how Islam, Race and Religion are Framed by Internet Memes

Morgan Knobloch, Danielle Gonzalez & Heidi A Campbell

This report summarizes a research study conducted in Summer 2018 at Texas A&M University as part of a undergraduate course entitled, Religious (In)Tolerance and Diversity in Digital Media & Culture.
DO NOT CITE WITHOUT PERMISSION!

An ever-changing presence in today’s society, digital media, impacts people’s lives through content such as Internet memes and the discourse surrounding them. Memes have the potential to spark discussion over sensitive issues, like race and religion, through the implicit and explicit messages they convey. When the messages of memes criticize beliefs around Islam and the identity of its followers, they often conflate the ideas of religion and race. In other words, Internet memes often address how those outside a religious group tend to equate them with a single identity and racial group. This research finds this to be especially true in relation to the Muslim faith, as Internet memes about Islam often highlight how they are mistakenly framed as a racial, rather than a religious group. This study seeks to address the messages memes send when pushing these concepts together by asking the question: In what ways do Internet memes conflate race and religion when talking about Islam, and what messages does this send about how people understand the relationship between race and religion?

In this study we analyze the messages internet memes communicate when they conflate Islam and race. We note that this conflating of religion and race often appears to be born from misconceptions about of Islam as a religion and lack of understanding of the diversity of racial groups which describe themselves as Muslim. In other cases we find memes conflate these two categories because their creators equate being prejudices toward the Islamic faith, with being racist. We will seek to understand the common ways memes communicate anti-Islamic messages, and whether or not such associations can be seen as taking a racist stance.

Understanding Internet Memes
Understanding previous research about Internet memes and religion by scholars such as Börzsei and Shifman facilitates a proper understanding of the messages memes spread and allows us to make valid observations and inferences about their impact. Scholar Limor Shifman (2013) said that the humor found in internet memes can be “a unique key for the understanding of social and cultural processes.” Internet memes serve as a mode of understanding the social and cultural messages exchanged between Internet users who use memes to defend/explain their ideas or sentiments. Scholars such as Börzsei (2013) have studied the evolution of the Internet memes and recognized their unique ability to communicate messages among Internet users. “Internet memes showcase a new kind of understanding of the world, and a new kind of creative and social outlet,” (2013). Using memes to investigate the commonalities between messages that conflate race and Islam will give us a better understanding of how these issues are viewed and depicted in society.

How Religion intersects with Internet Memes
Since the rise in popularity of internet memes in digital culture today, scholars have studied how memes are used to convey messages related to religion. A study by Bellar et.al. (2013) identifies the different approaches in construction, meaning making, and circulation of religious internet memes. Memes are used as a form of Lived Religion which is a process by which people draw from religious (including digital) sources to make sense of their world. “Analyzing which cultural artifacts and ideas are used within religious-oriented memes – humorous or otherwise – reveals how various religious practitioners make sense of religion in their lives and how the public perceives faith in contemporary society,” (p.7). This pilot study seeks to understand the ways in which religion and race are perceived in contemporary society.

Framing Race in Memes
Reviewing previous studies on themes of race in memes provided a better understanding of how memes concerning racism affect society. Internet research on memes has found that people of color who experience subtle forms of prejudice in offline interactions are more likely to perceive the messages of Internet memes regarding race as more offensive than those who do not. According to Williams (2016), “Our results demonstrate the blur between offline and online realities; socialization experiences offline can influence how people construe their online world” (p. 431). People’s experiences in the offline world have the power to shape how they perceive sensitive messages on the internet.

Researchers have also discovered that the discourse surrounding memes on themes of race and gender has the potential to either move society in a positive direction or cause further division. Milner (2013) states, “With enough voices engaging and enough of a balance between irony and earnestness, the ‘logic of lulz’ could be a tool vibrantly employed” (p. 89). Though Milner did not find that memes were sparking positive conversation about social issues yet, he believes they could if consumers use them with the intention of partaking in constructive discourse.

In addition to these arguments, studies show that memes can be used in the classroom to create a space for discussing race-related issues if their content is analyzed as art. To make this argument, Yoon (2016) addresses the concept of "colorblindness," or ignoring racism within memes, which is present in memes that suggest discrimination is permissible. Yoon says, “I found that the majority of meme creators and commenters misunderstand not only the meaning of racism and racial issues, but also the detrimental impact of systematic racism” (p. 117). Though they may come across as insignificant images on the web, memes have the power to enhance or combat racism depending on how they are used by consumers.

When studying racial stereotypes in memes, it is important to consider how they will affect people. Memes can be perceived in different ways depending on the experiences of the consumer. This is a concept to keep in mind to evaluate the messages of memes. With their ability to draw attention to controversial issues through simple imagery and text, memes can help people discuss sensitive topics. Therefore, they have the potential to influence levels of tolerance regarding race and religion in society.

Methodology
This pilot study seeks to identify the ways in which internet memes conflate Islam and race to better understand the messages they spread. First, a sample of 20 memes was collected from the first 100 results of a Google Image search using the terms “race and Islam memes.” These 20 images were selected because they each commented on Islam and race through either the text or image used. After identifying the final sample, the memes were analyzed to determine whether they showed the conflation of race and Islam. Then the memes were coded using three different categories, which were determined after analyzing the messages of these memes and considering whether they were positively or negatively oriented. The categories describe whether each meme conveys that the conflation of race and Islam is ignorant, the conflation of race and Islam is rooted in prejudice, or the conflation of race and Islam is anti-Islamic. Memes could be coded into more than one category.

Findings
In this study, we collected a sample of twenty memes and analyzed them according to codes that would identify themes relating to both race and religion. After reading through the memes to determine if themes of race and religion were present, we considered whether they implied that the conflation of race and religion was ignorant, displayed prejudice, or suggested that being anti-Islamic is permissible.

(1) Conflating race and religion in internet memes expresses ignorance

Eighteen of the twenty memes in our sample implied that equating religion with race is based on ignorance of the individual and problematic assumptions.

For example, this meme uses the Mean Girls “clueless blonde” to address people who assume that all followers of Islam are non-white. It reads “So if you’re Muslim, then why are you white?” The image implies that this comment is meant to be perceived as an ignorant assumption because this movie character routinely asks questions with obvious, straightforward answers. Race and religion were equated because of an ignorant assumption and misunderstanding what the actual definition of race is.

Another meme shows “It is not racist to criticize a religion (so nice try)” and shows four different pictures of Islamic men who each come from a different race. This illustrates that Islam is not composed of a single race. In doing so, it argues that equating race and religion is an assumption that arises from misunderstanding what actually constitutes race and religion. Therefore, this meme also supports the claim that ignorance leads a person to conflate race and religion.

(2) Equating race and religion Internet memes is based on prejudices

Eighteen memes from our sample of twenty also displayed themes of prejudice by conflating race and Islam. Such memes showed that meme creators display conscious and unconscious prejudices toward Muslims.

This takes the “One does not simply” stock character to argue that explaining the difference between race and religion is not as simple as it should be. It states, “One does not simply explain to someone that disliking Muslims isn’t racist because Islam is a religion and ideology, not a race.” This meme suggests that while disliking Muslims is prejudice, it is not the same as racism. This displays a conscious prejudice because the meme accepts disliking Muslims based on their religion and not race.

Unconscious stereotyping and not recognizing it

Another strong assumption highlighted is that unconscious stereotyping toward Islam still represents prejudice. Using the villain from the Austin Powers film series, this meme conflates racism and religion in saying “People make uninformed, stereotypical assumptions about Islam . . . then claim [they’re] not racist or Islamophobic.” This meme addresses the tendency to defend oneself as denouncing racism and stereotyping while actually unconsciously harboring religion-based prejudice.

(3) Internet memes about Islam and race show that while being racist is not permissible, being anti-Islamic is

Finally, thirteen out of twenty memes from our sample displayed messages that were anti-Islamic by absolving criticism/discrimination against Islam as racism.

This re-mixed version of a Donald Trump meme uses additional commentary to display anti-Islamic sentiments. While the original memes points out that the Muslim ban is racist, the commentary below counters that it cannot be because Islam is not a race, seemingly dismissing the prejudice expressed here. Since Islam is a religion and disliking it does not count as racism, this meme suggests that religious prejudice is permissible.

Using the Condescending Wonka stock image, this meme displays anti-Islamic sentiments by claiming that the conflation of racism and religion “is a trick.” This meme addresses equating race and Islam as a form of prejudice, but defends anti-Islamic sentiments in saying that others are not criticized for their prejudice against other religions.

Analysis and Summary
This study has sought to explore some of the ways Internet memes conflate race and religion especially when visualizing and talking about Islam. We found that within our sample, Internet memes either affirmed or critiqued stereotypes related to race and Islam. Shifman suggests that the humorous effect of memes can sometimes come from the comic clash between two narratives: “a false one that adheres to stereotypic conventions and the true one in which the stereotypes prove false,” (p. 243). Sometimes memes affirm stereotypes rather than critique them. Similar to what Bellar et. al. (2013) claims, memes about race and religion require the reader to understand diverse contexts to decode the complete message they seek to communicate. This includes not only understanding the image used in the meme, but also having a working knowledge of popular assumptions concerning race and Islam. Without taking context into account, memes can easily be misinterpreted because they often rely on irony or sarcasm to make their point. Memes typically employ rhetoric used in stereotypes to address issues of race and religion, so the ability to recognize these phrases and what they mean is essential to completely understand a meme. In his article, Milner argues that digital culture often reinforces oppressive ideologies. “[posters] operate in an environment where racial stereotypes were an understood and largely unchallenged assumption,” (p. 39). Our findings echoed this assumption, showing that memes tend to convey stereotypical messages.

Memes convey compact messages that reflect larger conversations about race and religion. Yoon (2016) argues that they “have the potential to open a new door” (p. 117) by relating seemingly lofty concepts to pop culture and thus, making them more easily understandable to the average person. In addition to discussing the obvious content of the meme, Yoon suggests analyzing the power relations, emotional reactions, and ways in which the messages of the memes are portrayed to study their deeper meanings.

When studying memes, one should ask questions like: What do the objects portrayed represent? What kind of initial reaction does this meme create? What does the text convey? How does the text connect to the imagery? What biases and assumptions does this meme seem to communicate? If the consumer learns to ask these sort of questions when considering internet memes and develop their skills in understanding the criticisms expressed in digital culture, they could create civic discourse that calls prejudice into question and moves society toward increased tolerance for people’s differences. As creations of today’s culture, memes address important social issues, and if critically considered, they could help create a more tolerant society.

Bibliography

Aguilar, A., Campbell, H.A., Stanley, M., & Taylor, E. (2017). Communicating mixed messages about religion through Internet memes. Information, Communication, & Society 20(10), 1458-1520.

Bellar, W., Campbell, H., Cho, K., Terry, A., Tsuria, R., Yadlin-Segal, A., & Zeimer, J. (2013). Reading religion in Internet memes. Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture, 2(2). Retrieved from https://www.jrmdc.com/journal/article/view/13.

Börzsei, L. (2013). Makes a meme instead: A concise history of internet memes. New Media Studies Magazine, 7. Retrieved from http://works.bepress.com/linda_borzsei/2

Campbell, H. (2017) “Theoretical Approaches within Digital Religion Studies” New Media and Society. 19 (1):15-24.

Milner, R. M. (2013). FCJ-156 Hacking the Social: Internet Memes, Identity Antagonism, and the Logic of Lulz. The Fibreculture Journal,(22). Retrieved June 3, 2018, from http://twentytwo.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-156-hacking-the-social-inte...
memes-identity-antagonism-and-the-logic-of-lulz/

Shifman, L. (2013). Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Williams, A., Oliver, C., Aumer, K., & Meyers, C. (2016). Racial microaggressions and perceptions of Internet memes. Computers in Human Behavior,63, 424-432.

Yoon, I. (2016). Why is it not Just a Joke? Analysis of Internet Memes Associated with Racism and Hidden Ideology of Colorblindness. Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education,33, 93-123. Retrieved June 3, 2018, from https://search.proquest.com/openview/f215879d26fbd6eca4f29e350c75e897/1?....


Callie Burch - Tuesday, August 21, 2018 - 10:35

When one thinks of technology and religion, they most likely don’t think of them as linked together…. but they should. In today’s society, physical places of worship are becoming more difficult to visit. However, with the recent advancements in new media, religious practices are not constrained to a certain place or a specific time.

Nesrine Mansour, Ph.D Candidate in Architecture and Graduate Research Assistant at Texas A&M University, discusses the relationship between physical and virtual worshipping in the journal article, “Displacement in the Era of Digital Religion and Virtual Sacred Architecture.” This paper explores how virtual environments, such as live broadcasting of services, interactive religious games, mobile applications and panoramic images of the interior of a sacred building, can all enhance one’s spirituality.

The research provided in the article discussed that, “In order to test the theory of a continuous spirituality free from space and time through the use of digital tools, an empirical study was performed: Two case studies on two groups of students.” The first group was shown a virtual walkthrough of a catholic church. The second group performed a physical walkthrough of a catholic church. Then, both groups were given a survey regarding their spirituality after their experience.

Mansour states that, “The results of these experiments showed that no matter the place or time, the real vs. virtual, both groups expressed emotions that evoked a spiritual feeling.” Also evident, was the reality that there were more positive emotions related to the experiment, than negative emotions. This highlights the ability to maintain uplifting spiritual experiences through virtual avenues.

Mansour believes that the conclusions from this study contribute to current research in architecture and religious studies by progressing our knowledge “of the influence of an important architecture characteristic, light, on the representation of religious buildings when using digital religion.” It also provides instructions on how to design the virtual spaces and allows for everyone to have access to spiritual experiences. In the words of Mansour, “It will provide a continuation of spirituality freed from fixed space and time.”


Callie Burch - Saturday, August 11, 2018 - 12:43

In today’s society, religion has become dependent on new media. However, every religion is different and interacts in different ways with technology.

Marcus Moberg, Academy Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland, University of Turku and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Abo Akademi University, explored the relationship between mediatization and religion in the article, “Mediatization and the technologization of discourse: Exploring official discourse on the Internet and the information and communication technology within the Evangelical Church of Finland.” This article discusses the impact of the Internet and advances in information and communications technology (ICTs) surrounding the Evangelical Church of Finland (ELCF). Moberg’s goal is to highlight how “developments in new digital media technologies have become strongly dominated by a very particular set of discourses.”

This article outlines key concepts of a “social analysis-oriented discourse analytic approach” and provides details regarding the relationship between the ELCF and its use of the Internet and ICTs. The ELCF has sustained a slow, progressive decline in members since the early 1970s, but has tried to reconfigure its self with the use of the Internet and ICTs.

Moberg believes that “changes in our ways of talking about things will, moreover, also change our perceptions about what we can do and how we can act vis-à-vis these things. In this view, then, all forms of social life, social interactions, and social relationships is fundamentally discursive. In this view, it is first and foremost through language and discourse that we construct certain phenomena or states of affairs as meaningful in particular ways, and it is against the background of these constructions that our actions also need to be understood. This applies equally to the discourses and actions of individuals and organizations (including religious organizations).”

Moberg’s aim was to portray how religious communities are forced to use available languages within new media when discussing their own media use. Overall, this article argues that the advances of the Internet and ICTs have led to an increase of discursive developments regarding social and cultural implications. It underlines the idea that the Internet and ICTs have the potential to deepen “our understanding of the changing discursive practices of religious institutions in an age of digital media.”

For the link to the article, click here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1461444816663701


Callie Burch - Saturday, August 4, 2018 - 17:37

Religious experiences are not what they once were. In today’s society people are able to cultivate sacred encounters online through the use of pictures, videos and livestreams. The ever-increasing use of digital media is now being used to advocate virtual acts of pilgrimage, specifically in the Catholic Church, in order to “increase visibility and highlighting the religious centrality of the Holy Land.”

Oren Golan, lecturer at Haifa University, explored the relationship between digital media and pilgrimage, focusing on the Catholic Church in the article, “Digital Pilgrimage: Exploring Catholic monastic webcasts.” Golan discussed that through the use of video, webmasters are able to spotlight the wonders of the Holy Land.

Golan believes that a key player in digital pilgrimage is the Christian Media Center. The Christian Media center is the outcome of the assimilation of the Franciscan and Pentecostal resources in order to provide videos and information regarding the Holy Land. Golan describes these groups as the “protectors and providers” of the Holy Land. Monastic webmasters operate the Christian Media Center and by doing so allow anyone with internet access to experience things they once may not have been able to. Golan described the job of webmasters as “hard work” that takes time and dedication, but very worth it.

Additionally, digital media allows the Catholic Church to cultivate evangelist agents to spread their faith. This allows for the Church to expand from its traditional ways of interaction to a way of influencing remotely. The influence of media on religion allows churches to spread their faith virtually, extend the churches digital footprint, allow for accessibility of holy sites and permits followers to partake in religious practices at any place and at any time. Overall, the presence of digital media in religion allows for sacred experiences virtually anywhere.

The article, “Digital Pilgrimage: Exploring Catholic monastic webcasts” is part of a larger project for Golan. He aims to continue his “research into webmasters and how they impact society and pilgrimage.” He wants to continue to explore, “who are the players, who are the agents and is there a cultural and social change that is going on.” He believes that his current research will be able to highlight how new media and religion is evolving. However, there is still so much to learn and it’s “too soon to tell” how further research will contribute to current religious studies.

For the link to the article, click here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714421.2017.1416795?scrol...


Callie Burch - Tuesday, July 24, 2018 - 10:56

The use of memes is an ever-increasing phenomenon in today’s society. Memes can be a humorous image, video, gif or piece of text that is shared on the internet. While memes may have humorous intent, they can often be misconstrued and used to express other messages.

Katie Dundas, project manager at Rose Marketing Solutions and Cody Wolf, co-researcher and current Seminary student, investigated how religion and politics are expressed through memes. They specifically explore memes during the 2016 presidential election in the article, “The Dissonance of “Civil” Religion in Religious-Political Memetic Discourse During the 2016 Presidential Elections.” According to Dundas, the goal of this research was to study “how people chose to represent their religious/political beliefs online through memes, but also how those memes then framed each of those political and religious organizations as a whole.”

An important finding highlighted in this article is the idea of “Civil Religion,” which is “where religion becomes a tool to interpret politics, with roots in nationalist ideas.” Wolf believes that through the use of memes, religious doctrines became detached from the religion in order to create a political viewpoint. A key part of this finding is the fact that most dissonance and conflict arose from contradicting religious/political combinations. As an example, Dundas highlights the reality that the Republican party memes often contradicted the Christian values that the party was established on. Because of this, Wolf hopes that “our conclusions demonstrate to people currently researching religion studies that a lot of the language and use of it we see in public discourse is not necessarily reflective of the Religion.”

As stated in this article, memetic discourse can be framed in four ways, the playful frame, the questioning frame, the mocking frame and the religious trope frame. These frames aided the researchers when analyzing the messages that religious and political memes can highlight. The result of this are the conclusions that religious-political memes are a part of civil religion, religion is shown opposing conservative ideals, civil religion in memes is hardly ever not political and expressing religion through political memes can be controversial.

For the link to the article, click here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2056305118782678


Callie Burch - Sunday, July 1, 2018 - 16:57

The Center for Media, Religion and Culture and the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder are hosting the 11th biennial conference of the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture (ISMRC). Since ISMRC’s first meeting in 1994, the conference has become the leading international meeting for the discussion of research in religion, media and culture. ISMRC’s objective is to explore the relationship between media, religion and public scholarship. This conference will take place August 8 -11, 2018. Additionally, there will be a workshop for PhD students on August 7. After the conference concludes, the International Academy for the Study of Religion and Video Gaming (IASGAR) is hosting a post conference event on August 12.

ISMRC will have many talented scholars, as well as 3 Keynote and Plenary Speakers including Anthea Butler (University of Pennsylvania), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University) and John Durham Peters (Yale Univeristy). There will be a very diverse group of 142 presenters from 20 different countries. ISMRC is fortunate to be sponsored by the Center for Media, Religion and Culture, the College of Media, Communication and Information at the University of Colorado Boulder, Henry Luce Foundation, ILIFF School of Theology – Denver and Brill Publishing.

The conference will have over 40 panels with discussions focused on numerous paper themes. The most evident theme in these papers is the themes of new media and digital religion. New media and digital religion are the most focused on topics during the conference, with 58 papers discussing them as a major theme. Following that are themes of (from most to least) religious controversy, politics, feminist culture, religious movements, theology, health and media theory. Since new media is a very large theme for ISMRC, there are many technologies and media forms examined (from most to least) such as social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), television and film, journalism, religious apps, video games, photography, music and the internet. Additionally, religion is a heavily studied topic at the conference, diving into religions including (from most to least), Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Buddhism and other local religions.

Since new media and digital religion are such prominent topics at ISMRC, let’s dive into further analysis on them. New media is a form of mass communication that uses digital technology. New media also entails mediatization which is a theory that explains how digital media can shape the conversation of society. In these papers, new media is used to help explain the shift in ideologies, religious practices and leadership. As well as new media, these papers address digital religion. Digital religion considers how religious communities interact with the internet and how one’s religion can be exemplified through the digital world. Digital religion encompasses both the offline culture, such as the historical belief system, as well as encompassing the online culture of religious followers interacting and conversing on digital platforms. These papers address general topics including, digital religious movements (29 papers), religious controversies on the internet (20 papers), how/if digital religion and theology can converge (16 papers), and how digital devices can change the way one practices their religion (10 papers).

In conclusion, the 11th biennial ISMRC will be a great place to explore the relationship between media, religion and public scholarship, so if you’re lucky enough to go, take advantage of all that it has to offer!


Andrea Lloyd - Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 18:15

Tim Hutchings, author of Creating Church Online: Ritual, Community, and New Media, has been on the cutting edge of studying Christian Community online for a decade. Recently he has turned his attention to the study of Digital Bibles, and how such digital projects conducted a study analyzing two “digital Bibles” and how they train users to understand the text in particular ways. To conduct this study, he took ‘YouVersion’ and ‘Glo Bible’ Christian Bible apps to investigate design intentions. He does this by looking at concepts of “persuasive technology” and “procedural rhetoric.” Looking at these two case studies, Hutchings investigates the apps themselves, interviews with product designers, and official marketing material.

Both the ‘YouVersion’ and ‘GloBible’ engage readers with the text but approach it in different ways. ‘YouVersion’ emphasizes frequent reading of the Bible by providing a range of written translations and audio recordings.’Glo Bible’ on the other hand seeks to help readers understand the Bible by providing multimedia interpretive resources as an alternative to text. Hutchings describes these motivations for using digital Bible apps as follows: accessibility, comprehensibility, attraction to new audiences, increased frequency in reading, and easier to study. YouVersion focuses on accessibility and increasing reading frequency, while GloBible focuses on attracting new audiences and increasing comprehensibility. Both products engage in the fifth motivation, providing digital tools for textual analysis.

Hutchings shares that the Bibles could function as a “persuasive technology” based on design principles to encourage engagement and commitment to the text. In addition, both apply Bogost’s seven principles for procedural rhetoric: (1) reduction to simple tasks, (2) tunneling users to predetermined actions, (3) tailoring information to the user’s needs, (4) suggesting behaviors at certain moments, (5) self-monitoring progress, (6) surveillance of said progress, and (7) conditioning the user through rewards and reprimands.

“All seven of these principles can be seen at work in the case studies examined here. Both Bibles offer digital reading plans, for example, encouraging the user to engage with the text by guiding him/her through a particular series of short excerpts. A printed reading plan already demonstrates the principles of reduction and tunnelling and encourages self monitoring, but when that reading plan is digitised, the remaining four tools can also be introduced. The plan can be tailored more easily to the individual’s needs (Glo Bible offers a topical index), suggestions can be offered when appropriate (both companies send automated messages to users), progress can be monitored (both products store reading data), and rewards can be offered to reinforce the positive experience of completing tasks (like YouVersion’s badges).”

The ethics of using persuasive technology criticised by Bogost as manipulative technology. Instead, Bogost promotes procedural rhetoric instead, proposing computational processes to support users in challenging or understanding a particular way the world works. As persuasive technologies, Hutchings argues, digital Bibles can also be used as examples of procedural rhetoric. The Bible engages the user to actively take and share notes while understanding a particular worldview of the text.

Hutchings shares both products seek to engage readers by encouraging reading frequency and sharing. Both digital bibles innovate new ways to engage users that are beyond the text on the page. As Hutchings said, “These products The attempts to change user reading habits, intensify their relationship with the text, and encourage others to read as well.” The goal of promoting practices, attitudes, and understanding of the Bible is met, and Bible apps will increasingly become standard in the Christian landscape. According to Hutchings, this research has the potential to question the authority of how to read the Bible--if programmers design a mobile app, are they now authorities in Evangelical Christianity? Hutchings concludes that since the Bible software emphasizes the Bible itself, and encourages the user to overlook the designer, this is not the case.
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https://www.routledge.com/Creating-Church-Online-Ritual-Community-and-Ne...
Hutchings, T. (n.d.). Creating Church Online: Ritual, Community and New Media. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203111093


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