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Avery Alban - Wednesday, December 29, 2021 - 12:01

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (NMRDC) would like to announce a new publication: The Digital Religion Yearbook 2021.

The Digital Religion Yearbook is an e-publication produced with the goal of highlighting important contributions, emerging scholars, and innovative research in the growing field of Digital Religion Studies. The Network hopes that this annual publication will become a valuable resource for scholars and students working in this area by drawing attention to a select group of important works that are contributing and helping advance the study of Digital Religion.

In this inaugural publication, the yearbook introduces the core sections and explains the themes to be covered in each edition, for readers to understand the purpose behind the sections. Each edition will include an annual essay by a leading scholar in the field. The first essay is written by Heidi A. Campbell, the NMRDC’s Director, and provides a narrative overview of the development of Digital Religion Studies, some key moments, and important research projects contributing to this area of scholarship.

Next, the Digital Religion Yearbook spotlights the top ten research articles published that year in Digital Religion, based on the recommendations of members from the NMRDC advisory board as well as other leading scholars. Each article includes an extended abstract and citation that enables readers to learn and explore the work. Then in the “Scholars to Watch” section, up-and-coming researchers in the field along with their current projects are spotlighted. The aim is to draw attention to new voices entering this field and the next generation of emerging scholars. Each year, a different set of scholars will be included based on a specific theme, selected by the Network. This year’s featured scholars were chosen based on their abstract submitted to the International Society of Media, Religion & Culture Studies 2021 conference, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Finally, each yearbook will draw attention to what it considers the top undergraduate thesis and doctoral dissertation in Digital Religion Studies. Each entry will include an extended abstract as well as some personal thoughts from the student scholars. This year’s selected undergraduate thesis is Esmé Lily Katherine Partridge’s “Digital spirituality: Technological re-enchantment in 2021/1? An exploration of witchcraft and reality shifting on TikTok as (post-modern spiritualties existing in Wouter Hanegraaff’s ‘mirror of secular thought.’” And this year’s featured PhD dissertation that was completed in 2021 is John Borchert’s “Immanent technologies: Posthuman digital religion in America.”

Finally, each annual yearbook will include a section highlight the research and publications produced by the NMRDC research team. The purpose is to spotlight the work done that year and to demonstrate the ways that research is impacting the field of Digital Religion.

The Digital Religion Yearbook 2021 is available online at https://doi.org/10.21423/digitalreligionyearbook2021.

Heidi A. Campbell is available for interviews related to this yearbook and her research on Digital Religion studies. She can be contacted via email at heidic@tamu.edu. If you are interested in your work being included in next year’s version, please contact her Lead Research Assistant, sophie.osteen@tamu.edu.


Avery Alban - Thursday, December 16, 2021 - 11:47

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies announces the publication of its first Tech Trend Paper, entitled “Needed but Lacking: Impact of Pastors’ Technology Background During the Pandemic.” Tech Trend papers provide a concise but in-depth analysis of key themes raised in the Tech in Churches During COVID-19 research project. Needed but Lacking identifies specific areas of technological knowledge and experience related to digital media that church leaders needed to understand to successfully transition to online worship services during the pandemic.

This Tech Trend paper draws its conclusions from the analysis of 50 Tech Talk sessions with 478 congregational leaders hosted by the Center for Congregations in 2020 and 2021, exploring their tech challenges and problem-solving strategies when implementing digital media. The paper explores three key takeaways from the Tech Talks about how pastors will adapt to online streaming: (1) pastors need to learn the basics of how to use media equipment, (2) pastors should have a general understanding of how the internet works and its effects on churches, and (3) pastors need to know how to problem-solve technological problems as they arise. Overall, it provides insight into the ways that the average church in America has been significantly impacted by changes necessitated by the pandemic. It also points to specific knowledge areas that church leaders need to learn to better implement and maintain their church community through technology during times of crisis.

Needed but Lacking offers a response to the report “When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’: How Churches Digitized during COVID-19” released by the Tech in Churches During COVID-19 research project in November 2021. The primary goal of this research project is to explore and analyze the evolving relationship between technology and religious congregations during a pandemic that is still impacting churches in many parts of the world. This study analyzes data from the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, Indiana, collected through their “Connect Through Tech” grant program. These grants supported more than 2700 congregations across the state of Indiana during the pandemic, enabling them to purchase digital equipment and other technological resources to facilitate their transition from traditional offline to digital worship services and ministries during times of social distancing and lockdowns.

Needed but Lacking: Impact of Pastors’ Technology Background During the Pandemic, the first Tech Trend paper, is available online at: https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/handle/1969.1/195017

For more information about the Tech in Churches During COVID-19 project see: https://www.techinchurches.org/

Heidi A Campbell is available for interviews related to this report, and her research on churches, technology, and digital culture. She can be contacted via email at heidic@tamu.edu or through the project’s Senior Researcher, sophie.osteen@tamu.edu.


Avery Alban - Friday, November 19, 2021 - 10:47

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies announces the publication of its first report entitled “When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’: How Churches Digitized during COVID-19” investigating the ways that churches utilized technology, how decisions were made, and sources of challenge that resulted. This report is part of a larger research project exploring churches’ decision-making processes regarding technology during the pandemic called “Tech in Churches during COVID-19,” which is funded by the Lilly Endowment. The report is prepared by Heidi A. Campbell and Sophia Osteen and covers how churches navigated the shift online and the accompanying challenges, questions, and consequences.

The primary goal of the Tech in Churches research project is to explore and analyze the evolving relationship between technology and religious congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic that is still impacting churches in many parts of the world. This report is the first of three reports that analyzes data from the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, Indiana, and their “Connect Through Tech” grant program. These grants supported more than 2700 congregations across the state of Indiana during the pandemic, enabling them to purchase digital equipment and other technological resources to facilitate their transition from traditional offline to digital worship services and ministries during times of social distancing and lockdowns.

“When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’” presents findings from 50 Tech Talk sessions with 478 congregational leaders hosted by the Center for Congregations in 2020 and 2021, as part of the grant program. These sessions provided a space for church leaders to not only discuss their technology use during the pandemic, but also reflect on the implications of choices made about the implementation of digital media. Report One centers on responses to questions emerging from these discussions, specifically discussing: (1) who are making technological decisions in churches, (2) what challenges congregations have faced in implementing digital technology, (3) what issues the transition to online and digital culture has raised for pastors, (4) any success stories about church technology use worth noting, and (5) whether digital forms of worship are a short-term or long-term strategy for post-pandemic congregations.This report offers a voice especially to small and rural congregations regarding their experiences of having to move online with few resources and often little to no digital experience, while working with technologically- hesitant or resistant congregations. It also provides insight into how digital media use impact both church worship services and the ways congregations understand what it means to be the “Church.”

Overall, this report demonstrates that churches were resilient and willing to innovate while making the required shift online. Although they encountered various challenges, this digital transition offered them valuable insights and altered the ways churches view connection, community, and even sometimes, the Church. The Tech in Churches project reveals how pastors responded when faced with making the decisions related to technology within their congregations while negotiating the challenges, unexpected opportunities, and ways of envisioning future implications of this significant digital shift.

The report is available online at: https://bit.ly/churchesdigitalized
For more information about the research project see: https://www.techinchurches.org/

Heidi A. Campbell is available for interviews related to this report, and her research on churches, technology and digital culture. She can be contacted via email at heidic@tamu.edu or through the project’s Senior Researcher, sophie.osteen@tamu.edu.


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...


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