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:

Sophie Osteen - Monday, September 14, 2020 - 09:31

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 1: Investigating Approaches to the Study of Authority

While authority is a characteristic often discussed in relation to how the internet affects relationships and structures within contemporary society, as I argue in previous works (Campbell, 2007, 2010), the way authority is defined in scholarly works is often not clearly contextualized. This is because what constitutes authority in new media or digital culture can be varied and context specific (Campbell, 2007; 2010). Within Internet Studies, the notion of authority has been approached in a variety of ways. These include discussing it in terms of: Organizational or com- munity structures, systems or hierarchies, referencing leadership roles or positions of influence, an ideological notion such as moral or higher authority relative to issues of governance; as a general term synonymous with the term power and even to refer to nonhuman sources of authority such as documents, texts or historical events (Campbell, 2007). So when evoked, authority can mean different things to different researchers, and “there appears to be no unified understanding about what is meant when the concept of ‘authority’ is taken up in studies of the internet” (Campbell, 2007).
Scholars have tried to define religious authority in a way to distinguish it from the general conception of authority and make its meaning or the focus of study more precise. In Sociology of Religion, religious authority is often described as drawing on a particular form of legitimation, often linked to a unique or divine source. As Chavez (1994) stated, “The distinguishing feature of religious authority is that its authority is made legitimate by calling on some supernatural referent” whether that be a specific actor (i.e., god or spirit) or designated structure (p. 756). This understanding of religious authority seeks to distinguish itself by noting it is divinely inspired and given to specific sources within a specific religious context. In this way, religious authority depends on the community recognizing and supporting this spiritual sanctioning of designated religious authorities. This means the legitimation of authority for specific religions or groups, such as Christianity, may rely at least partially on recognizing the fact that a particular divine source plays a role in offering external validation. Whom or what is considered an authority is not solely a human designation. While this understanding of religious authority is helpful in understanding the rationale behind many established religious structures of legitimation, it does not truly help us unpack what is meant by religious authority and its full defining features.

The term religious authority, in general, has been used as a broad concept in much as the same way the term authority has been used in much scholarship. What is actually being referenced (an individual, structure or hierarchy) as authoritative may vary greatly when the term is evoked. Use of the term has varied from seeing religious authority as divine authority granted to religious structures (De Pillis, 1966) or appointed gatekeepers or representing the sentiments and decision- making of God on earth (Wiles, 1971). Religious authority has also been conceived as a trust-based relationship given to institutional professionals (Chavez, 2003) or self-appointed leaders (Barnes, 1978) by their followers, or authority representing systems of knowledge able to define what constitutes religious authenticity, especially in relation to religious identity and membership (Jensen, 2006).

This fluidity of the use of the term is mirrored in discussions of religious authority and digital media and the internet. Scholars of Digital Religion Studies have used Turner’s notion of religious authority as tied to the structures of established religious traditions and groups as a way to discuss the variety of ways religious groups’ community boundaries are challenged by the internet. Baker similarly took a community or institutional approach when she discussed how the internet allows religious community members to make private institutional and theological discussions public (i.e., Barker, 2005). Others discuss the challenge the internet poses to religious authority in terms of the creation and privilege of alternative voices (inferred to be new forms of religious authority in established com- munities), as individuals seeking advice bypass official religious hierarchies (i.e., Herring, 2005; Piff & Warburg, 2005). From this brief review, we see references to religious authority typically indicate established religious structures or groups and how they respond to the new freedoms of communication offered by digital media, which allow members to bypass traditional gatekeepers or monitoring structures. So while evoking the term religious authority helps us focus attention on the specific concerns religious groups and structures may have about the internet, it does not help us further concretely clarify the features of what defines something or someone as authoritative in this digital context. Therefore, simply using the term religious authority as a way to define what authority is may in fact further obscure rather than clarify our understanding.

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:

Sophie Osteen - Monday, September 14, 2020 - 07:39

We at the Network are excited that Dr. Heidi A Campbell-Director of the Network for New Media, Religion, and Digital Culture Studies-has just released her tenth print book entitled Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority. The book was officially released by Routledge on September 9th, 2020.

Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority explores the new realm of digital media experts and creatives called “Religious Digital Creatives” (or RDCs) who are challenging traditional notions of “church” and its leadership. Digital Creatives embarks to answer questions about what religious authority online resembles and specifically, she examines the relationship between digital media and religious authority. She explains how it is one of both empowerment and challenge.

To celebrate the book being published, we will be releasing as series of blog posts over the next four weeks to provide readers a glimpse into the key themes covered in the book. Keep a lookout over the next few weeks for these posting, which provide concise summaries of each chapters of Digital Creatives and the Rethinking of Religious Authority, and stay tuned today for the release of the first chapter blog!

Sophie Osteen - Friday, September 4, 2020 - 09:36

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s eBook Project entitled Digital Ecclesiology: A Global Conversation. The eBook includes 11 essay where authors reflect on the realities of the church revealed through moving from offline to online worship during a time of global pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

The Church is Moving On(line)
Anita Cloete

When Distancing Becomes the Way of Staying Alive in a Connected World
Lockdown, a word that many of us never really knew or thought about before, has become the primary way in which governments around the world respond to the global epidemic of the coronavirus.

The prohibition of religious gatherings and practices may be viewed as minor compared to the economic damage caused to already weak and fragile economies, especially in South Africa. This may be a valid view, however, religion still plays a significant role in people’s lives, especially in times of crisis. The prohibition of these gatherings left many religious leaders with a real challenge in a time when people need encouragement and hope.

Give Me that Online Religion because It Is Good Enough for Me
Since the start of the lockdown in South Africa, many religious leaders found it necessary to provide comfort to their flocks by broadcasting their sermons on Facebook and sending messages to church members using WhatsApp. Some people noted that they love the idea that they can listen to as many sermons as possible and do church hopping. I interpret this to mean changing from platform to platform to figure out which online service/sermon is more interesting and entertaining. Many seem to view these media platforms as merely tools that can be used to replicate what used to be done offline, online.

Keeping the Nature of Mediums in Mind when Moving Online
Different forms of mediums have a certain kind of logic or way of operating. For instance, if you use Twitter, you must make a short statement with impact. Similarly, Facebook and WhatsApp are platforms that are associated with short, compact messages; therefore, it is not possible or wise to try to replicate normal Sunday services/sermons via these platforms. How content is presented online is of importance—it should be well prepared, focused, and combined with other elements like a beautiful background or music.

Beware of Unintended Outcomes when Holding Church Services Online
When audiences are confronted with choices of which services to follow, that choice may be influenced by several factors including those mentioned earlier, like the aesthetic qualities of the presentation. This implies that some congregations may gain online members who could leave again at any time, while others may lose members.

Rethinking Community: Being Alone Together
For many members, congregational gatherings are the expression of communion with other believers. There is something special about physical togetherness, but the perception that online community is not real is surely challenged at this point when it becomes not a default option but the only viable one—to be alone together as the body of Christ.

Online platforms are centered around the individual, and the communities created differ from offline communities where the choices of individuals are limited by time and space. Moving online may enforce this scattered and more individualistic shape of communities, which could impact offline communities that are regulated and determined by different factors. Communities built through social media platforms like Facebook create and reinforce “networked individualism” that is associated with freedom of choice and increased mobility (Campbell, 2012, p. 683). The choice and mobility that are available to audiences also imply mobility between different denominations and religious traditions, constructing a more individualized custom-made kind of spirituality.

Preaching and/as Timing
In many religious traditions, preaching is a central aspect of being church. Therefore, the pulpit, which is normally occupied by one person, is important, and especially what is said from the pulpit. In a time like this, it becomes even more important to discern what message this specific time requires from the pulpit. Cilliers (2019) describes the connection between God’s grace that could/should be fulfilled in a specific time with the word Kairos: “Timely preachers know and acknowledge the Kairos when it comes… these preachers help kindle the Kairos. Herein lies the brilliance of the wisdom of preaching” (p. 24). A timely word is indeed needed to bring God’s graceful word to people. To be a timely preacher, discernment is prerequisite and so are hermeneutical skills to time the text, connecting the text and the homiletical situation (Cilliers, 2019, p. 189).

What Is Essential about Being Church in Time of Crisis?
This is a time when the church should have a message but also become the message. Therefore, this time also provides an opportunity to ask what is essential for being church, besides bringing a timely word. Faleni (2020) formulates the challenge the church is facing now as the vital part of being church, namely, the relationship with God that comes from the heart and has little to do with the performance-driven aspect of being church. This crisis presents the church in all its forms with a creative and unique opportunity to rethink and revisit her identity and expression thereof under different circumstances.

Anita Cloete is a lecturer and associate professor in the department of Practical Theology and Missiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Her research areas are theology and popular culture, youth culture, and religion and media.

Campbell, H. A. (2020). What religious groups need to consider when moving church online. In H.A. Campbell (Ed.), The distanced church: Reflections on doing church online (pp. 51-54). College Station, TX: Digital Religion Publications.

Campbell, H. A. (2012). Religion and the internet: A microcosm for studying internet trends and implications. New Media & Society, 15(5), 680-694.

Cloete, A. (2015). Living in a digital culture: The need for theological reflection. HTS Theological Studies, 71(2), 1-7.

Hjarvard S. (2015). Mediatization and the changing authority of religion. Media, Culture & Society, 20, 1-10.

Wepener, C. (2020, May 5). Religions get tech savvy: Epidemic speeds up use of technology during lockdown and social distancing. The Star.

Cilliers, J. (2019). Timing grace: Reflections on the temporality of preaching. Stellenbosch, ZA: Sun Press.

Faleni, M. (2020, April 29). Role of the church during time of crisis, is different but still vital. DispacthLive. Retrieved from

Sophie Osteen - Tuesday, September 1, 2020 - 11:57

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s eBook Project entitled Digital Ecclesiology: A Global Conversation. The eBook includes 11 essay where authors reflect on the realities of the church revealed through moving from offline to online worship during a time of global pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

Life Together, Apart: An Ecclesiology for a Time of Pandemic
Roland Chia

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about unprecedented disruption to the life and ministry of the church. With stringent lockdown and social-distancing measures, churches have no choice but to move their Sunday services (often radically truncated) to online platforms. Some Christians doubt if participating in online Sunday services can really be regarded as authentic worship (Banks, 2020). Others are concerned that the digitalisation of the church may result in the erosion of the communion (koinonia) among members. Such extraordinary times should compel Christians to ask fundamental questions about what it means to be a community gathered in the name of Christ.

Christ and the Spirit
As we reflect on the question “What is the church?” I would like to state at the outset that there can be no proper understanding of ecclesiology without Christology and pneumatology. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer grounds everything he has to say about the Christian community in Christology. “Christianity,” he writes, “means community through Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this” (Bonhoeffer, 1954, p. 23). Because Christians are members of the one Body of Christ, their relationship with one another is always mediated by their Lord, who is the Head the Body (Colossians 1:18).

The relationship between Christology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology is brought out in 1 Peter 2:5, where we find the image of Christ as the cornerstone of the temple and where believers are described as “a spiritual house.” The Spirit who has brought the church into being now indwells it—both in the individual and in the community—and acts as its principle of animation.

The central activity of the church is, without doubt, worship. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the worship experience of many Christians as churches were forced to suspend physical Sunday services when countries went into lockdown. Churches in many countries have made creative use of technology to ensure that worship services are made available either through livestreaming or some other arrangements. But many are of the view that online services pale in comparison with physical services and wonder if the worship of the church is in some important ways deficient when services are conducted in this way.

It is the Spirit that gathers the church, the Body of Christ, for corporate worship. In so doing, the Spirit knits the stories of its individual members together so that they form the tapestry of the story of the doxological community. Through the agency of the Spirit, Christians participate in this spiritual reality whenever they gather for worship, regardless whether it takes place in St. Peter’s Basilica or in their living rooms.

The administration of the sacrament of holy communion is also an important aspect of Christian worship. There is, however, much debate as to whether it is appropriate for holy communion to be conducted when worship services are livestreamed or pre-recorded. In Singapore, many churches have elected to temporarily suspend the practice of holy communion. Even the Roman Catholic Church has taken this approach and chosen to practice “spiritual communion” instead. The judgements that churches make concerning the validity of practicing holy communion remotely are guided by their different eucharistic theologies. However, if the Spirit of God could bring God’s word to believers as they participate in online services such that it may be truly heard and received, surely the same Spirit could ensure the reality and efficacy of the sacrament even though the scattered members of the community participate in it remotely.

We turn finally to reflect on the Christian community. Many Christians feel that their ability to engage with one another in fellowship has been seriously hampered because of the stringent lockdown measures. While it is no doubt true that meeting via Zoom (for example) to study the Bible cannot be as engaging as meeting physically, many scholars have shown that it is not necessarily the case that virtual meetings would lead to the total loss of community (Campbell, 2005, pp. 176-177). God has ordained the church in such a way that its members are profoundly dependent on one another. Of course, this is best done in person, face to face. But it can also be accomplished through communications technology such as WhatsApp, email, Facebook or Zoom.

In this brief essay, I have argued that in the wake of this pandemic with all its attendant disruptions to the life of the church, Christians must rediscover the essence of ecclesiology. The church is sustained by the grace of God and is therefore not ultimately dependent or bound by historically contingent forms. Thus, even with the strictest lockdown measures as a result of which the regular activities of the church are suspended or disrupted, the identity of the church as Christ’s Body is not diminished.

Roland Chia is the Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and the Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity in Singapore.

Banks, A. M. (2020). Shunning online services, some clergy preach “abstinence” from gathered worship. Religion News Service. Retrieved from

Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life together: The classic exploration of Christian community. New York: Harper Collins.

Burgess, J. (1998). Why scripture matters: Reading the Bible in a time of church conflict. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Know Press.

Davies, H. (1957). Christian worship: Its history and meaning. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.

Küng, H. (1976). The church. New York: Image Books.

Martin, R. (1982). The worship of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Pope Leo XIII. (1897). Divinum Illud Munus: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Holy Spirit. Retrieved from

Torrance, T. F. (1958). What is the church? The Ecumenical Review, 11(1), 6-21.

Van Dyk, L. (2005). Proclamation: Revelation, scripture. In L. Van Dyk (Ed.), A more profound alleluia: Theology and worship in harmony. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Zizioulas, J. (1997). Being as communion: Studies in personhood and the church. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Sophie Osteen - Friday, August 28, 2020 - 08:32

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s eBook Project entitled Digital Ecclesiology: A Global Conversation. The eBook includes 11 essay where authors reflect on the realities of the church revealed through moving from offline to online worship during a time of global pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

@ Worship Goes Viral: Catholic Liturgy Online in a COVID-19 World

Teresa Berger

Questions about virtual or online communion have received heightened attention since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Over the years before the virus emerged, a good number of Catholic practices of prayer, worship, and devotion had begun to migrate into digital social space, often developing online expressions in parallel with traditional offline forms and practices. Prime examples are various forms of daily prayer, from the official Liturgy of the Hours to personal scripture reading, spiritual reflection, and meditation. Boundaries between liturgical practices in the hands of ecclesially authorized ministers wedded to scripted, officially sanctioned texts on the one hand and those devotional practices considered “popular” and in the hands of laity on the other hand have long been porous in Catholic life. This porousness, too, has migrated into digital social space.

In a sense, then, nothing so far about the pandemic-driven migration of Catholic liturgical practices into online territory seems particularly surprising. Surprises await, however, when one steps back to consider different Catholic rites in their own right.

The sacrament of baptism has never been practiced via digital mediation in a Roman Catholic context, as far as I know. So-called internet baptisms—as they might be performed in a multisite nondenominational community—do not exist in the Catholic ritual repertoire, as broad and varied as this repertoire is. The main reason, in all likelihood, lies in theological convictions and pastoral provisions already in place, particularly those concerning baptism in cases of emergency.

Rites around Dying, Death, Burial, and Remembering
The Catholic ritual process around dying, death, burial, and remembering was deeply affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, as ministers struggled with identifying adequate digitally mediated forms. Once again, specific theological understandings and liturgical traditions were at the heart of this struggle. Catholics experienced ritual constraints in ways particular to their own theological-liturgical tradition. While some priests in other ecclesial traditions responded by seeking to accompany dying parishioners with prayers via a smartphone or Skype, the particular sacramental needs of Catholics at the end of life were harder to meet.

Catholic communities discussed communion practices, but this discussion was not about the possibility of digitally-mediated eucharistic sharing. The consensus on that point principally remains what Katherine Schmidt described as the “hard truth” at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown: “our technology cannot (yet) support the fullness of sacramental life when it comes to the Eucharist.” (Schmidt, 2020). This consensus, however, did not preclude lively discussions about digitally mediated eucharistic celebrations in Roman Catholic circles.

With mass suddenly widely available in forms of digital mediation, and with eucharistic consecration not deemed possible across distances by current Catholic convictions, the age-old practice of “spiritual communion” suddenly flourished. However, Catholics schooled in Vatican II liturgical theology were quick to worry that these medieval scholastic interpretations and practices would undo the gains of post-conciliar liturgical reforms. In some other quarters, arguments against the disembodied, non-participatory nature of online worship were revived; and some raised concerns about reducing worship “to an experience of convenience and efficiency” (Zsupan-Jerome, 2020, p. 92). Some Catholic communities also experimented with new liturgical forms offline, for example distributing a “Eucharist to-go.” Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements—a presence that remains—enabled these elements to become highly “mobile” after the mass in which they were consecrated. Meanwhile, some Catholics normally in the pews of their local church discovered a whole new world of Catholic liturgy in the availability of livestreamed masses, and not a few delighted in participating in eucharistic celebrations from around the globe.

Catholic Liturgy Online in a COVID-19 World—Beyond Diminishment

Catholic communities have also witnessed a plethora of liturgical adaptations and ritual inventions, from drive-through confessions to an Easter blessing with a squirt gun. At least one Catholic wedding I am aware of was performed “by proxy,” that is to say, with the bride in one place together with a priest and a proxy bridegroom, and the bridegroom in another place, all digitally joined via ZOOM.

As brick-and-mortar sanctuaries gradually reopen under post-COVID-19 conditions, a whole new world of worship practices will be seeing the light of day. A host of liturgical changes and accommodations are being enacted across the varied ritual repertoire that is the Catholic liturgical tradition.

As I hope to have shown, the diversity of liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church forbids generalizations about the migration of “Catholic worship” into digital social space. This migration, especially under the accelerated pace due to the COVID-19-pandemic, has been uneven. The reasons for the unevenness are largely to be found in the specific theological and liturgical understandings of each rite as it became affected in distinct ways by the norms of social distancing and physical isolation in response to a virus.

Teresa Berger is Professor of Liturgical Studies at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School, where she also holds an appointment as the Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Catholic Theology. She is the author of @ Worship: Liturgical Practices in Digital Worlds (Routledge, 2018).

Berger, T. (2018). @ Worship: Liturgical practices in digital worlds. New York: Routledge.

Schmidt, K. G. (2020, March 29). The pain of the uncommuned [Web log post]. (DT) Daily Theology. Retrieved from

Tan, M. J. P. (2020). Communion in the digital body of Christ. In H. A. Campbell (Ed.), The Distanced Church. College Station, TX: Digital Religion Publications. Retrieved from

Zsupan-Jerome, D. (2020). Is it real? Mystagogizing the livestreamed service. In H. A. Campbell (Ed.), The Distanced Church. College Station, TX: Digital Religion Publications. Retrieved from

Annalise Ousley - Wednesday, August 26, 2020 - 09:20

You are invited to attend the Webinar Series Redefining Digital Keywords: From Digital Archaisms to (Post)Pandemic Neologisms (Digital Studio, the University of Melbourne).

Register here:


In 2016 Benjamin Peters published his edited collection Digital Keywords (Princeton University Press). With provocative short essays from international digital media scholars in anthropology, history, political science, philosophy, religious studies, rhetoric, science and technology studies, and sociology, the book explored and critiqued the rich vocabulary of the growing field of digital humanities on 25 keywords, ranging from meme to surrogate, from forum to mirror, from cloud to digital.

The pandemic outbreak has challenged and reconfigured human experience across physical, social and digital realities, and hence urges us to revisit our digital keywords vocabulary. This global webinar series will bring together leading digital humanities scholars to reflect upon their original contributions to the Digital Keywords. Each webinar will focus on two digital phenomena and their corresponding keywords to explore how their meanings are changing in the face of disruptions caused by lockdowns or social distancing, and what new cultural practices, social challenges and political implications emerge around the new digital vocabulary.

Series curated by Dr Natalia Grincheva (Digital Studio Senior Research Fellow).

Webinar Schedule

August 28: The Death of the “Analogue” and Re-birth of the “Surrogate”

A/Professor Jeffrey Drouin and Professor Jonathan Sterne

Will Covid-19 lockdown finally abandon the analogue age? Will digital surrogate become mainstream in the near future? With the comprehensive digitization of communications across various spheres of human life from entertainment to education, from work to healthcare, the webinar will discuss what these words mean in pandemic time.

September 11: “Internet” and “Hackers”: New Threats and Opportunities

Professor Gabriella Coleman and Professor Thomas Streeter

Has Covid-19 transformed how we will live in the Internet in our digital future? What are the democratic promises of hacktivism and the security dangers of hacker cybercrimes? This webinar will explore the social, ethical and political implications of the new technology-society relationships in the (post)pandemic times of this free-wheeling horizon of and expanded cyberspace.

September 25: “Events” in the Post-“Information” Age

A/Professor Julia Sonnevend and Dr. Bernard Geoghegan

Will the word information acquire new meanings under the pressure of technological transformations caused by the Covid-19 digital lockdown? How will people understand, define and experience major or minor events when they are limited to virtual encounters, online meetings and social media catch-ups? The webinar will interrogate old meanings and explore emerging connotations of what becomes information and whither the nature of an event in the seamless enfolding of the two in the online world.

October 9: “Geeking” and “Prototyping” the “New Normal”

A/Professor Christina Dunbar-Hester and Professor Fred Turner

Could we imagine and prototype human life in the post-pandemic world? Will geeks rule in the emerging social conditions of the new normal, or will they simply become extinct in the digital mainstreaming of daily life? The webinar will tackle the question of human typologies in new social formations and online networks.

October 23: “Sharing” and “Gaming” in the Post-pandemic World

Dr. Nicholas A. John and Professor Saugata Bhaduri

How do we share online versus offline and what games can we play when limited within digital reality? What are the consequences on our health and well-being of non-stop digital sharing of our lives and emotions? And is it possible to transfer sport matches, games, and even such world sport mega-events as the Olympics into the digital world? The webinar will aim to answer these questions in conversation with Dr Nicholas A. John and Professor Saugata Bhaduri.

November 6: “Zooming” In and Out to Examine the “Virus”

Professor Jodie McVernon and Professor Sean Cubitt

What new meanings of words such as zoom and virus did the Convid-19 outbreak instigate? How did we move from ‘Google it’ to ‘Let’s Zoom’, and what are the economic and political implications of platform-imperialism in the time of the 24/7 digital communication? What are the real and potential powers of online and biological viruses to disrupt, challenge, improve or destroy human life? The final webinar will facilitate a cross-disciplinary conversation between researchers at the University of Melbourne to share insights on the role of digital technologies in the current pandemic with its consequences for moral, social and physical being.

Sophie Osteen - Tuesday, August 25, 2020 - 08:25

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s eBook Project entitled Digital Ecclesiology: A Global Conversation. The eBook includes 11 essay where authors reflect on the realities of the church revealed through moving from offline to online worship during a time of global pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

The Vision After. Impulses for a Theological Agenda for the Church After the Corona Crisis

Florian Hohne

Filmmakers and writers have done a very good job in making worst-case scenarios imaginable. I want to argue in this essay that these movies and books do something that is missing in many theological and ecclesial discussions and in Christian sermons and meditations right now: they provide a vision of the nearer future, a “promise” about what is to come. What would a theologically informed vision of the nearer future look like? To put it in strong dogmatic terms: What is God’s promise for Her church in the COVID-19 crisis?

Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope is an attempt to remind theology of this issue: “There is therefore only one real problem in Christian theology, which its own object forces upon it and which it in turn forces on mankind and on human thought: the problem of the future” (Moltmann, 1967, p. 16). Moltmann narrates the story of Israel and the early Christians as stories of divine promise. He emphasizes the idea that this promise was and is a promise for this world, a promise for “the very earth on which his [Christ’s] cross stands” (Moltmann, 1967, p. 21). But what is the content of the promise right now? To put it more concretely: What do Christians have reasons to hope for when unemployment rates are rising due to the corona lockdown?

These are tough questions and they are not easy to deal with theologically, ecclesiologically, and societally. But these questions need to be on the theological and ecclesial agenda, because they make a practical difference. If the supposed afterlife were more important for the vision than survival and social wellbeing in this world, it would make sense to celebrate the Eucharist even where it is violating state law and endangering lives by increasing the risk of contagion. If the future vision entailed the good life in this world and an effort towards the survival of so-called “risk groups,” it would make more sense to refrain from gathering physically for worship for a while and find other ways of worshipping together.

A vision of God’s future with us is so important because it is the horizon in which our present actions make sense. Being clear about a vision would help to determine on what to spend these limited resources. What helps in clarifying and debating such a vision? I want to suggest two systematic-theological distinctions and two criteria, which are theologically decisive.

Distinction #1: Talking about a Christian vision of the future does not mean talking about the kingdom of God. While the future is subject to human planning, to human action, and human responsibility, the shape and coming of the kingdom of God is in God’s hands only and beyond human control.

Distinction #2: All human visions, as well as all human plans and projects, are fallible. That is precisely what distinguishes them from God’s perfect realization of peace, justice, and freedom in Her kingdom. Our visions are always human and must be considered as ethically fallible visions—they never come with divine authority or perfection.

Criterion #1: In Protestant theological ethics, a reappearing criterion is the preferential option of the least advantaged. A common biblical reference point for this criterion is the “judgment of the nations” in Matthew 25. According to this criterion, the theological adequacy of a future vision depends on how far it does justice to the least advantaged. In the current situation, this means a theologically adequate vision of the future during and after the corona pandemic must include the needs and rights of the least advantaged.

Criterion #2: Secondly, the theological adequacy of a certain vision depends on how diverse and inclusive the discourse was that produced the vision. The perspective of the worst off should not only be acknowledged, they should be empowered to raise their own voice in the discourse—and it should be heard and acted upon. If the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to each and every Christian, each and every Christian’s perspective on the common vision matters.

All of this makes sense in the horizon of a vision of more justice in the future. In the very horizon of such a vision, all of this belongs together: the sermon on justice and the church’s political fight for justice are dependent on each other. The former only has “street credibility” if the latter takes place. That is why the quest for a common vision is so important. That is why a “vision after” is needed, hopefully one that is a little more hope-inspired than the vision of The Day After.

Dr. Florian Höhne is a researcher and teacher at the Institute for Systematic Theology and the Berlin Institute for Public Theology at Humboldt University Berlin. He is an ordained minister to the Lutheran Church of Bavaria. His research interests include digital theology, public theology, and ethics of responsibility.

Moltmann, J. (1967). Theology of hope. On the ground and the implications of a Christian eschatology (J. W. Leitch, Trans.). London: SCM Press LTD.

Meireis, T. (2008). Tätigkeit und Erfüllung. Protestantische Ethik im Umbruch der Arbeitsgesellschaft [Action and fulfillment: Protestant ethics in the change of the labor society]. Tübingen, DE: Mohr Siebeck.

Menzel, K. (2020). Wir machen es jetzt öffentlich. Wie geht es weiter mit dem Gottessdienst nach dem Lockdown [We are now making it public: What happens to church service after the lockdown?]. Zeitzeichen. Evangelische Kommentare zu Religion und Gesellschaft, Onlineausgabe. Retrieved from

Mudge, L. S. (2004). Ecumenical social thought. In J. Briggs, M. A. Oduyoye and G. Tsetsis (Eds.), A history of ecumenical movement 3: 1968-2000 (pp. 279-321). Geneva, CH: WCC Publications.

Annalise Ousley - Monday, June 15, 2020 - 11:53

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s second eBook Project entitled Religion in Quarantine: The Future of Religion in a Post-Pandemic World. This book features personal and research reflection on how their understanding of religion is being altered and shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

Climate Skeptics, Coronavirus Skeptics? Notes on the Response of Politicized Evangelical Elites to the Pandemic

Robin Globus Veldman

In an op-ed published in the New York Times about two weeks after many states had begun social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, author Katherine Stewart blamed the Religious Right for the United States’ chaotic response, arguing that “denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis” (Stewart, 2020).

Several reports have noted an overlap between climate denialists and voices promoting skepticism about the severity of COVID-19 (e.g., Banerjee & Hasemyer, 2020). Stewart’s claim echoes an argument that has also been used to explain evangelicals’ higher-than-average levels of skepticism regarding climate change: Evangelicals are skeptical about climate change because of anti-science attitudes rooted in their opposition to evolution (e.g., Wilkinson, 2010). Yet as I have written elsewhere, evangelicals accept the scientific consensus on many scientific issues, from medical research to basic ecology (Veldman, 2019, pp.109-111, pp. 59-60). In fact, my own field research among evangelical climate skeptics suggested that their skepticism about climate change was fueled not by suspicions of science in general, but by a perceived need to defend Christianity against secularist attacks on orthodox Christian teachings (Veldman, 2019).

In this brief essay, I would like to extend this observation to the response of evangelical climate skeptics to COVID-19. Unlike climate change or evolution, which may threaten Biblical accounts of creation or the end times, COVID-19 does not threaten core Christian doctrines. Nevertheless, the response to it does threaten to undermine values that many evangelical climate skeptics embrace regarding the value of free markets and the rightfully central place of Christianity in American society. Thus, rather than attributing their response simply to anti-science attitudes, I see free-market principles and a sense of embattlement with secular culture as playing an important and underexplored role in the COVID-19 response.

I should clarify that in this essay, I am not speaking of evangelicals in general, but of an influential subset of “politicized evangelicals” who have been actively involved in promoting climate skepticism. These individuals’ views are not representative of the tradition as a whole, but they are useful for the purposes of assessing how denial of science might shape opinions toward both climate change and COVID-19.

In recent years, the Cornwall Alliance has become the premier organization promoting climate change skepticism within the evangelical community. It has also addressed COVID-19 several times since the pandemic began to dominate headlines in the US. Here I will briefly discuss several points from the Cornwall Alliance’s first substantive mass email about the threat. The email began by urging readers to trust in God. This would not protect them from getting sick, he cautioned, but should remind them that “God is in control, and if we suffer illness, it’s because that’s better for us.” Strangely, that is, he began his email by urging readers to embrace sickness as God’s will. Secondly, he urged readers not to fear, adding that in the average year, 37,000 Americans die of flu and predicting that COVID-19 was “unlikely to kill that many Americans ever, let alone each year.” In a follow-up article posted on the organization’s website the same day, Beisner stated that a “generous” estimate was that COVID-19 would kill 10,000 Americans. This was an underestimate and contradicted what public health officials predicted at the time.

Having argued there was little reason for concern, he next cautioned about “unintended consequences” that might arise from solutions to the pandemic, urging public officials to “avoid drastic measures that destroy jobs and so cause poverty, which can pose even greater risks than COVID-19.” This third point directly parallels the Cornwall Alliance’s argument against taking action to address climate change, action which Beisner has long argued will harm the poor. Indeed, in commentary posted on the Cornwall Alliance’s website the same day, Beisner acknowledged that anyone familiar with his organization’s views on climate change would “recognize this [discussion of the coronavirus pandemic] as analogous to our warning that drastic attempts to reduce global warming . . . are likely to cause much greater harm than good” (Beisner, 2020). Underlying Beisner’s skepticism of mainstream epidemiology, then, was the Cornwall Alliance’s commitment to “private property rights, entrepreneurship, free trade [and] limited government,” all of which would be threatened by a nation-wide shutdown orchestrated by the federal government (Cornwall Alliance, 2020).

A search of public comments made by other climate skeptics in the Christian Right suggested a second motivation: the same “embattled” mentality that motivated skepticism about climate change. Starting around the mid-2000s, a number of politicized evangelicals began suggesting that the idea of human activities altering global weather patterns was being promoted by secular elites to undermine Christian teachings about God’s omnipotence. David Barton, a politically connected evangelical who is best known for his best-selling pseudo-historical books depicting America as a Christian nation, adapted this framing to the coronavirus pandemic by complaining that the “fear and panic” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic occurred not because the situation was serious, but because “this is the most secular America has ever been” (Montgomery, 2020).

Beisner, Barton, and Perkins have all displayed an aversion to both mainstream climate science and epidemiology. Whether they will change their minds as deaths mount is unclear, but the Christian Right’s seemingly parallel responses to climate change and COVID-19 certainly deserve close scrutiny in the months to come.

Robin Globus Veldman is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Texas A&M University. She is an interdisciplinary environmental scholar whose work examines how religions encourage or discourage environmentally sustainable attitudes and behavior. Her research has focused on American evangelicals’ attitudes toward climate change and, more recently, the intersection of religious nationalism and anti-environmentalism.

Banerjee, N. and Hasemyer, D. (2020, April 8). Decades of science denial related to climate change has led to denial of the coronavirus pandemic. Inside Climate News. Retrieved from

Beisner, E. C. (2020, March 18). What is “prudent prudence” in response to the coronavirus crisis? [Web log post]. Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Retrieved from

Cornwall Alliance. (2020). About Us. Retrieved from

Montgomery, P. (2020, April 28). David Barton claims non-Christians’ fear of death led to public policy “panic” on COVID-19. Right Wing Watch. Retrieved from

Stewart, K. (2020, March 27). The Religious Right’s hostility to science is crippling our coronavirus response.” New York Times. Retrieved from

Veldman, R. G. (2019). The gospel of climate skepticism: Why evangelical Christians oppose action on climate change. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Wilkinson, K. K. (2010). Climate’s salvation: Why and how American evangelicals are engaging with climate change. Environment, 52(2), 47-57.

Annalise Ousley - Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 01:55

The following blog post is an edited excerpt from an essay appearing in the Network’s second eBook Project entitled Religion in Quarantine: The Future of Religion in a Post-Pandemic World. This book features personal and research reflection on how their understanding of religion is being altered and shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The eBook is available for FREE download at:

Practicing Islam in the Time of COVID-19
Rebecca Hankins

Islam/Muslim COVID-19: Questions and Challenges
According to an article published in the Washington Post, Islam is the second-most-followed religion after Christianity in 20 states (Wilson, 2014). Within the broader Muslim community, African American Muslims face double marginalization that impacts them in ways similar to and different from the larger African American and Muslim populations. This essay will discuss how the virus has impacted Muslim communities as a whole. How has it impacted our religious practices? How are issues of sickness and death changing our rituals? How has all of this changed my reality as an African American Muslim and the future of Islam in America?

Our Reality: "Racism is Death" (Kendi, 2020)
Numerous essays and newspaper articles are detailing the outsized impact of this virus on Black and Brown communities. The statistics are staggering, with major cities such as New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit reporting that there is an over-representation in the number of deaths within these communities from the virus. African American Muslims are finding these same issues in their experiences, where the lack of testing has impacted these communities and the lack of medical facilities within these communities, as well as the lack of necessary resources, has exacerbated the spread of this virus. For example, in Michigan and Illinois, African Americans makeup 14 to 15% of the population but account for 41% of the COVID-19 deaths. In Chicago alone, African Americans account for 70% of the city's deaths, yet just 30% of the population. In Louisiana, one of the hot spots of the virus, African Americans comprise about a third of the population but 70% of the COVID-19 deaths (Jones, 2020).

Funerals were the one activity that was of concern; they are a time of coming together to wash and shroud the body, have prayers, and console the family of the deceased, all within 24 hours of the death of the individual. The virus has forced delays in every aspect of Islamic burial rituals from recovering the body from hospitals to the inability to perform the washing of the corpse, conduct the prayers while also social distancing and console the family via cell phone (Farooq, 2020).

Many factors have forced the Muslim community to make changes in its weekly prayer gathering, Jum' ah, that occurs every Friday all over the world. These gatherings of men and women praying close to each other have now ceased, replaced with virtual gatherings. Islam has a faith tradition that encourages congregational prayer, events, celebrations, and family gatherings. Still, we have shown the flexibility of our practices to tackle this new world demand of social distancing. The upcoming month of Ramadan fasting will test us, but we have models of Muslims all over the world who have had to make these changes and more due to war, famine, and other catastrophes, for decades, if not longer. American Muslims have done what is necessary to slow the spread of the disease by closing down mosques, modifying prayers, and providing avenues to share all over the country. Muslim groups have sought to find ways to support communities and alleviate suffering through fundraising for families in need of financial assistance, food, healthcare, and housing. American Muslims seek to embody the ideal religious community despite their marginalization. "One of the prophetic traditions that really inspired this campaign is the one that says the most beloved people for God are those who benefit people the most” (Farooq, 2020).

Personal Reflection
For me, the most concerning issue is the disinformation and misinformation that is being passed around in Islamic social media circles by individuals. Conspiracies have always had a foothold within the African American community, and not without some validity. African American Muslims, marginalized and demonized, have often embraced these stories as attempts to destroy or damage Islam. That is not to say that all conspiracies are unfounded. Most African Americans know about the Tuskegee syphilis study carried out on Black men from the 1930s to the 1970s. These and many more instances have created a healthy skepticism among Black people, so that this virus's unknown properties have allowed all types of conspiracies and unfounded cures to flourish, all alive and well online. I make a concerted effort to debunk these dangerous postings whenever they appear.

This pandemic will test faith communities due to the randomness of the exposure, the inexplicable deaths of our loved ones, and the inconsolable grief that follows. What does the future hold for African American Muslims and Islam in America? We modify our practices, we move to the virtual online platforms, we adapt. We continue as we always have since the times of our enslaved ancestors trying to hold on to our faith and practices. We believe that when one dies from an epidemic, believing in Allah (God), the Prophet, and the Last Days, then they die as a martyr, and our sins are forgiven (Umar, 2020). This understanding continues to bring Muslims comfort and strengthen us for the future, whatever it may hold.

Rebecca Hankins is Professor, librarian, and certified archivist at Texas A&M University. She is an affiliated faculty in Interdisciplinary Critical Studies that include Africana Studies, Women's & Gender, and Religious Studies. Hankins's research and scholarship fit within a broader discourse on African American Muslims' religious identity and new media.

Farooq, U. A. (2020, April 6). Coronavirus is changing how American Muslims hold funerals. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from

Farooq, U. A. (2020, March 20). We see this as our responsibility: Muslims fundraise for Americans impacted by coronavirus. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from

Jones, C. P. (2020, April 9). Exposing U.S. racism in a stark new way: COVID-19 kills disproportionate number of Black Americans. Democracy Now. Retrieved from

Kendi, I. X. (2020, April 10). [Twitter moment].

Mohamed, B. and Diamant, J. (2019, January 17). Black Muslims account for a fifth of all U.S. Muslims, and about half are converts to Islam. Pew Research Center Fact Tank. Retrieved from

Taylor, V. (2020, April 7). Black Muslims in U.S. fear they could be “disproportionately impacted” by coronavirus. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from

Umar, M. (Shaykh) (2020). Islamic guidance pertaining to the spread of COVID-19 [coronavirus] [Web log post]. California Islamic University. Retrieved from

Wilson, R. (2014, June 4). The second-largest religion in each state. The Washington Post. Retrieved from


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