Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority - Chapter 8

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: