Tsuria Wins Inaugural Digital Religion Research Award

Growing up as an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem, Dr. Ruth Tsuria spent her childhood immersed in the historical roots of religion. “When I was a little girl, I actually wanted to be a rabbi,” Tsuria said. “But as I got older, I left religion from a personal place and became more interested in how it influences politics and society. I began to wonder why we need religion and decided to pursue that in my studies.”

Led by her curiosity, Tsuria began to explore the intersection of modern technology and religious practice. To recognize the significance of her findings, the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies named Tsuria the winner of the 2019 Digital Religion Research Award. “I feel so humbled and proud to receive this award,” Tsuria said. “It is truly an honor.”

Tsuria gave a presentation based on her award-winning article titled “Conservative Judaism in the Digital Age” at Texas A&M University on January 23, 2020. Her presentation examined the past, present and future of digital religion through the case of Conservative Judaism. Tsuria’s analysis of the interaction of Conservative Jews with new media notes how technology is changing the way people practice their faith. She found that neglecting the use of digital media actually correlated with the decline of regular synagogue attendance among Conservative Jews.

“In the past, the Internet was separate from our daily lives,” Tsuria said, “but now it is intrinsically intertwined in almost every aspect of our lives. It is changing the way we do friendships and dating, and it’s no wonder it’s changing the way we practice religion.”

Tsuria’s study of religion began in Jerusalem, where she completed her undergraduate degree in religious studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She then moved to Denmark to earn her master’s at Copenhagen University before coming to Texas A&M University for her doctorate.
Now, Tsuria continues her research as an assistant professor in the College of Communication and the Arts at Seton Hall University. She works to develop theoretical approaches to studying online discourse and the interaction between technology and society. In addition to the Digital Religion Research Award, Tsuria has earned several awards for her researching, including the “Emerging Scholar” award from the Religion in Society Research Network as well as a a dissertation writing fellowship from Texas A&M’s College of Liberal Arts.

“When I began studying media and religion, I thought the influence of new technology would lead to the breaking of religious traditions,” Tsuria said, “but I’ve found that is generally not the case. As I examine religious discourse online, the archiving power of the internet preserves what people are saying about their religious practices, thus further establishing religious norms for society and helping preserve tradition.”

Tsuria’s passion for technology and religion keep her curiosity brimming with new research questions. “I feel like a detective anytime I’m working on a project,” she said. “I absolutely love what I do, and I think that’s the key to success in anything.”

Through her research, Tsuria has found that society’s religious roots influence even what appears to be secular today. “In the last 20 years, we’ve seen that there is not any separation between religion and state or any aspect of life, really,” she said. “Even secular approaches can be traced to some type of religious thinking because people need a system to help them make sense of life. That’s why we need to study religion. If we ignore religion, we ignore a major aspect of what shapes society.”