Wendi Bellar - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 10:43

"Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds" (Campbell, 2013) offers a comprehensive guide for new students or current scholars interested in studying how religion is lived and experienced in online environments. The book, which is broken up into three sections, explores salient themes in the study of religion and new media, provides examples of recent case studies involving new media while focusing on a variety of religions, and concludes with a frank discussion about the theoretical, ethical, and theological concerns involved in studying digital religion.

Part I begins with an overview of themes associated with digital religion including ritual, identity, authority, community, authenticity, and religion. Each section traces the history of the concept in terms of religion and media and then focuses on how that concept has been studied within the realm of new media. Each chapter builds on the last and the result is a comprehensive view of the boundaries of the field. While all of the authors mention the three waves of scholarship focused on religion and new media, they also offer a fresh perspective of the waves concerning the theme they are explicating. The recommended reading sections at the end of the chapters, which offers a type of annotated bibliography, are another aspect that adds to this section’s strength.

The variety of case studies – which focus on many different religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, New Age and even new religious movements such as Hikari no Wa – is another strength. Not only are the topics and religions discussed varied, each chapter also provide viewpoints from a wide range of disciplines, including Media Studies, Communication, Theology, Religious Studies, and Sociology. Each chapter in this section is followed with discussion questions that encourage future scholarship from a variety of perspectives.

While the book does give an overview of the theoretical and methodological implications of studying digital media, qualitative research dominates. Quantitative methods are mentioned in some chapters, yet all of the case studies involve qualitative ethnographic methods including participant observation, in-depth interviews, textual analysis, and also virtual ethnography.

Overall, the book is successful in defining digital religion and providing a broad sweep of the field as it has been and as it may come to be. First, the historical overview frames the field by showing how scholars were focused on the utopic and dystopic possibilities of religion on the internet. Next, authors discussed how scholarship shifted to concentrate more on understanding the relationship between the online and offline realms of religion and religious practice in terms of identity, authenticity, and community among other themes. Finally, the definition of digital religion is extended as the book provides a direction for future scholarship by highlighting how technology may provide more personalized, interactive, and mobile ways of engaging religion in every day life, as well as discussing the theoretical and methodological implications of this shift. Digital Religion will prove to be an important resource for scholars of many different disciplines as they approach the study of religion in new media within their own research and within the classroom.

Heidi Campbell - Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 20:22

In 2013 the network will start a new blog series entitled "Good Reads in Digital Religion" which will offer analysis and summaries of key books and articles in the study of new media, religion and digital culture. Members of the network team as well as authors will be invited to offer critical reflections on various publication over the next few months. If you are member of the network and have a book or article you would like to blog about or see covered please send your recommendations or offers to review to

As a way to get this theme started I want to offer some inital reflections on good reads in research methodology. A number of good texts exist related to methodology and research within Internet Studies. As a starting point I highly recommend Baym & Markham's Internet Inquiry, see:, Jones's Doing Internet Research, see:, and Johns, Chen & Hall's Online Social Research as texts that provide good surveys of the variety of approaches which exisits in internet research and the ethical issues they raise. For a fuller list of internet research methodology and ethics resources also check out the list found at:

In the study of Digital Religion there still no full texts, which deal strictly with religion and internet research methods. However the recently released Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds (Routledge 2012) offers two relevant chapters. Knut Lundby reflects on theoretical approaches to the study of religion and new media, see :, and Mark Johns talks about ethics in studying religion online, see: Also in another text, Tim Hutchings explores broadly the development and application of digital research methodologies in "Religion and the Digital Humanities: New Tools, Methods and Perspectives:, see: However, this shows there is definitely room for scholars to write and specifically reflect on the unique challenges posed when studying religion online.

Heidi Campbell - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 19:15

A year ago the Network for New Media Religion and Digital Culture Studies was officially launched. Since that time the network and the resources it provides continues to grow. Over 100 scholars have joined the network, and the scholar's index is becoming a hub for researchers, students and even media professionals seeking to connect with people doing innovative work on specific topics related to new media and religion. Over 400 entries have been added to the searchable online bibliography, which offers access to the most up-to-date collection of current literature in this emerging subfield. In the coming year we plan to expand the researcher's toolbox resource collection and offer a new blog series reviewing key literature in the field.

To celebrate this milestone the Network for New Media Religion and Digital Culture Studies will be running a giveaway of a copy of the recently released "Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds" (Routledge 2012). All new members or current members who contribute to the site in some way (i.e. adding a news item or a bibliography entry, etc.) between now and 28 Feb 2013 will be eligible for a drawing of a free copy of this text.

Thanks again for your involvement and support of this initative! We also welcome comments and recommendation of how we can further improve our resources, just contact us at

Kyong James Cho - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 18:50

Pope Benedict XVI tweeted using his personal Twitter account last week for the first time. The first tweet was a message of good will, thanks, and blessing:

"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

While it is not unusual for religion individuals and communities to experiment with digital media, this event perhaps is quite significant for religion and digital media researchers because of the implications for the Catholic Church and digital technology. The Pope's blessing on his followers through social media opens up large questions about the intersection of digital media, religious authority, and theology.

The Pope himself articulated in part his stance on digital technology in his World Communications Day message in January 2011. In it the Pope praised the potential of digital technology to advance the Gospel and encouraged Christians "to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible." His invitation for engagement was tempered, however, with the notion that authenticity needs to be carefully considered in participation in cyberspace. The Pope also admonishes: "it is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives."

Social media as an integral part of life behooves the Christian to participate in it. But the Pope warns there are risks of creating a false image of oneself and being less present with people in everyday life. Digital relationships cannot replace "direct human contact," creating a hierarchy or dichotomy in communication; digital contact is perhaps supplemental or secondary and cannot replace physical presence. One can enclose oneself in a "parallel existence" if not mindful.

Digital technology has perhaps not been grafted itself into the Catholic Church as readily as in other religious expressions. For example, the independent Protestant Church has many campuses, including an online campus where worship experience can take place. Conceptualizing digital technology as a site for witnessing and engagement belie the absence of virtual worship. In this sense it seems that digital technology is seen as a conduit for evangelization rather than a locale for worship or ministry. This official approach to digital technology can be contrasted to virtual religious communities like those in Second Life, for example.

It might be banal to say that different religions approach and appropriate digital technology in different ways. But in the case of the Pope and the Catholic Church, the warnings against "parallel existence" and becoming involved at the expense of being physically present may stem from an embodied theology akin to the transubstantiation in the Eucharist.

The Pope's Twitter account is further evidence of the proliferation of digital media and the importance of what researchers in new media and religion do. It also serves as a reminder that robust reflection and study of digital media and religion must understand the nuances of religious traditions and beliefs as they inform religious individual and communal engagement with digital media.

The Pope's Twitter Page:

The Pope's 45th World Communications Day Message
Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age:

Heidi Campbell - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 04:00

Recently I was asked to come up with a list of journal that would be possible venues for publishing research in religion, new media and digital culture. After some brainstorming I came up with the following journal options. While this is not an exhaustive list, it does provide a range of different journal in religious studies, new media studies and media and religion that have published notable articles in the past. The focuses of these journals varies from humanities, to social science to interdisciplinary perspectives and the formatting and article requirements vary greatly between publications. Therefore I encourage you to check out specific publication requirement for each journal before submitting.

Religious Studies:
Journal of Contemporary of Religion

Journal of the American Academy of Religion


New Media/Internet Studies:
New Media and Society

Information, Communication and Society

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (social science oriented)

Media and Religion Studies:
Journal of Media and Religion:

Journal of Communication and Religion:

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture:

Communication Research Trends:

Oliver Krüger - Monday, September 3, 2012 - 05:22

From the very beginning the research on religion on the Internet has been lead by strong normative and utopian paradigms. Schofield Clark saw the Internet as a harbinger of a new “protestantization” of all religions globally and Helland predicted the end of hierarchies in religions, comparing the experience of virtual community to the state of communitas (total equality) in Victor Turner’s concept of rites de passage. Gary Bunt expected a revolutionary / liberal movement within Islam, since the role of traditional religious leaders might be challenged via the Internet.

These visions of liberty were in line with utopias of cyber- and new age-philosophy, receiving the Internet as the realization of the so called noosphere. This idea of a global mind sphere was borrowed by Marshall McLuhan from the Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin. On this way media theory received a humanist respectively a religious community ideal which was established in the age of enlightenment, and which was still influential on sociologists like Manuel Castells linking the “noopolitics” to the rise of the Internet.

In our research we did not remain unaffected by these utopian ideals. This is natural since we are a part of this society. I believe that a methodological consideration may establish the necessary distance to these normative paradigms. For the study of religion on the Internet I would like to pledge firstly for a more sophisticated approach: instead of focusing on a general “impact of the Internet” it seems to be more promising to take into account the modes of perception/usage of the Internet in different religious constellations. Secondly, the lack of profound changes in the religious landscape (despite the spread of the Internet) might be an opportunity for a deeper reflection on our definitions of religion. The relation between intellectual dimensions of religion (knowledge, ideas, belief systems) and dimensions of action (ethics, ritual) have to be considered anew.

Below are 5 recommended sources for studying normative claims and utopian discourses regarding the internet.

1. Connolly, Randy (2001): The Rise and Persistence of the Technological Community Ideal. In: Online Communities. Commerce, Community Action and the Virtual University, hg. von Chris Werry & Miranda Mowbray. Upper Saddle River [u.a.]: Prentice Hall PTR, 317-364

This article is outstanding. Connolly depicts the continuity of community ideals linked to technological innovations starting with 18th century channels, going on with the telegraph, phone, television, Internet. In all these cases the community ideal of a brotherhood of all men (and women) was articulated.

2. Ayaß, Ruth (2012): Media Structures of the Life-World, in: Staudigl, Michael (Hrsg.), Alfred Schutz. A Phenomenological Hermeneutics of the Social World. Dordrecht: Springer

Ayaß is a sociologist of communication and here she adresses a fundamental problem of the conception of the life-world (Lebenswelt) by Alfred Schütz (and thereafter the sociological school of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann). While the life-world is according to Schütz mainly based on face-to-face communication, Ayass argues to include communication via media as part of the daily life-world.

3. Katz, Elihu & David Foulkes (1962): On the use of mass media as „escape“: Clarification of a concept. In: Public Opinion Quarterly 26/3, 377-388

This article marks the starting point of all media reception research, and a counterpoint to McLuhan’s essentialist determiniation of constant media effects inherent to certain media. They ask „ … the question (is) not ‚what do the media do to people?’ but, rather, ‚What do people do with the media’.“

4. Friedrich Kittler (1999): Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Stanford (=Grammophon Film Typewriter. Berlin 1986)

Kittler (1943-2011) was a German literary scholar and media theorist, he also taught in Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Stanford, Yale and Columbia. He introduced a sophisticated and innovative perspective on the cultural and social history of media. This book is a classic.

5. Pasche, Florence (2008): Some methodological reflections about the study of religions on video sharing websites. In: Marburg Journal of Religion 13/1,

As far as I can see, this is the first article dealing with religion on video sharing websites, a field that I consider to be as important for religions as the social networks.

Mary Hess - Saturday, September 1, 2012 - 13:33

Pastoral practice is a constantly changing field, which means that digital publications are able to be much more responsive than are print books or journals. Here are five sites worth bookmarking or putting in your RSS readers.

State of Formation is a multi-authored publication that was founded by the Journal for Inter-religious Dialogue. Written by an intriguing group of younger scholars and pastoral leaders, State of Formation engages a wide variety of religious traditions, and frequently comments on challenges having to do with new media and pastoral practice.

Call&Response is a multi-authored publication focused within the Christian landscape that is published out of Duke University’s Divinity School. While this publication comments on many topics that are not directly connected to the media, religion and culture conversation, nevertheless it frequently points to recent scholarship from that conversation noting pastoral elements and implications to be found there.

GlobalVoicesOnline (search for the keyword “religion”) is a wide-open space for blogging and other forms of citizen media which report on news around the globe. While there is no central editorial voice at this site, the sheer diversity of the voices present makes it a fascinating site to visit regularly.

Odyssey Network Videos is very much not a text-oriented publication, but rather a video-blog with reporting from the US context. The site is clearly multi-faith in orientation, and not afraid to engage very current news issues, while yet maintaining a pastoral orientation.

The Jesuit Post is the most recent of these sites, begun in 2012. It is written by Jesuits (a vowed religious community within Catholic Christianity), and brings a wide-ranging but deeply grounded perspective to pastoral engagement with media culture.

Finally I would note that several “old” media publications (Tikkun, the National Catholic Reporter, Christian Century, Sojourners, and so on), regularly report on media issues with a nuanced awareness of the complexity of the media, religion and culture conversation, and with an eye towards pastoral practice.

Mary Hess - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 11:03

Putting together a brief overview of what’s going on with “theological education, religion and digital culture” is a daunting task.

Is “theological education” only what occurs in departments of theology and/or free standing seminaries? Or is theological education also something that occurs in religious studies departments, not to mention in settings in which undergraduates are learning about theology? What about theological issues that are raised in the midst of popular cultures?

I’m reminded of the distinction that was recently reiterated by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas (in A New Culture of Learning). That is, are we teaching “about” a stable body of knowledge, or are we learning "through" engagement with the world? My own writing has tended to take the latter stance, that theological education is best exemplified through engagement with religious practice – whether one is a believer in that specific practice, or not. Here I would point you to two of my books, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind (Rowman&Littlefield, 2005), and Teaching Reflectively in Theological Contexts (Kreiger, 2008).

I have been deeply impacted by the work of media scholars who take reception theories and cultural studies very seriously, and I have also learned an enormous amount from scholars exploring new media environments (people like Mimi Ito, danah boyd, Lisa Nakamura, David Weinberger, Clay Shirky, Yochai Benkler, and Lawrence Lessig).

Where does that lead in exploring “theological education and new media”? I’m going to answer that question in two ways, and hope that this first entry will not prevent you from reading the second. Those two streams are, one, the theologians whose theological (philosophical) work is giving us room to engage these changes more effectively within theological education; and two, the pastoral leaders who are finding ways to embrace new media in ways that are deeply grounded both in pastoral practice and nuanced engagement with media. One final caveat: although I teach and work in interfaith settings, the following resources are drawn from within Christian theological settings, as that is the context within which I am most fluent.

In this first post, I’ll start with theologians who are taking nuanced engagement with culture seriously. I think the following five books are essential reading:

(1) Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

This book is a compelling and serious examination of the ways in which Christian imagination takes shape from the earliest communities following Jesus to today. Jennings unmasks the destructive ways in which supersessionism, colonial powers and a general tendency to align with “power over” rather than “power poured out” has contributed to hegemonic Christian practice. In many ways the book is a grim indictment of Christian imagination, but it is also a vivid and hope-filled exploration of the many Christian alternatives which persisted alongside of dominant narratives. Given Jennings’ thoughtful engagement with critical cultural studies, and his innovative exploration of the arts (particularly jazz, the blues, and certain kinds of storytelling), the book paves a way for a deeply Christian theological engagement with new media, even though that is not its explicit goal.

(2) Jolyon Mitchell, Media Violence and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

This book is the single best theological engagement with a wide range of current media, religion and culture scholarship of which I am aware. Mitchell considers a wide range of media genres – everything from video games and films, to news media and photojournalism – bringing a keen theological engagement with representation of violence to the task. The book is a brilliant and significant contribution to the emerging conversation taking place at the intersection of media studies, Christian ethics, and practical theology. It’s also a model for bringing to bear a diverse array of disciplinary lenses respectfully and fruitfully, while keeping a focus on a specific topic – media violence. I was particularly struck by the innovative way in which he engages ritual theory and liturgical practice.

(3) John McClure, Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011).

This book is an excellent exploration of digital audio technologies and the ways in which they have entered into music production – particularly as represented in the vibrant music scene in Nashville, Tennessee, where McClure is on the faculty at Vanderbilt Divinity School. The book is grounded in some of the best of the recent engagement with audio and the ways in which soundscapes contribute to meaning, as well as bringing a mature theological imagination to bear. McClure is particularly adept at pointing to the resonance that exists between preaching and crafting songs, a process of “mashing up” tunes with layers of meaning.

(4) Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997).

This book first appeared more than a decade ago, and is an accessible and engaging introduction to various “theories of culture” as they have entered into Christian doctrinal reflection. While Tanner does not engage digital media at all, not surprising given the book's date of publication, she does work through a variety of perspectives on how “culture” is to be understood, concluding with a postmodern engagement with fluid notions of “culture” as a medium in which meaning is created, circulated, negotiated with, and contested.

(5) Brad Hinze, Matthias Scharer, Jochen Hilberath. The Practice of Communicative Theology: An Introduction to a New Theological Culture (Crossroads Publishing Company, 2008).

This book grows out of a pedagogical practice that is particularly common in German-speaking Catholic communities across Europe, and which is spreading into other settings (this book is the first comprehensive English translation of that work). Drawing on the theorizing and practice of Ruth Cohen, a psychoanalyst known for her work in theme-centered interaction, this form of theological engagement is rigorously grounded in actual communities, and is a dynamic communicative process featuring nodes of “I” (an individual person’s reflections), “we” (a community’s or group’s reflections), “it” (the logos or heart of a specific doctrine), and the “globe” (distinctive reflection centered in and through the surrounding world contexts).

While this form of theological reflection is only beginning to be used intentionally or in a focused way in relation to digital media (cf. my own work), its pointed attention to these four nodes inevitably means that people reflect in the midst of their lives, and thus in the midst of new media.

Heidi Campbell - Thursday, July 5, 2012 - 13:44

A recent set of posting on the Association of Internet Researcher's email list generated an interesting list of sources reflecting on and/or challenging the notion that technology in general and the Internet in particular is "ideologically neutral". I would like to share a selection of sources \ for those who might be interested in also exploring these debates.

Daniel Chandler, Shaping and Being Shaped Engaging with Media article from 1996 in the Journal of CMC

Susan Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting

Ellul, J. (1964). The technological society (J. Wilkinson, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1954)

Andrew Feenberg, Questioning Technology

Andrew Feenberg's Critical Theory of Technology (1991), which lays out a very useful heuristic distinction between instrumental ("technology is neutral"), substantive, and critical perspectives on technology development and use.

Mary Flanagan, Daniel Howe, Helen Nissenbaum, Embodying values in technology: theory and practice, Information Technology and Moral Philosophy, Eds. Jeroen van den Hoven, John Weckert, chap 16, Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Johnson, J. (1988). Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer. Social Problems, 35(3), 298-310. [Bruno Latour's article which he published under Johnson pseudonym]

Marcus Leaning (2009)The Internet Power and Society: Rethinking the Power of the Internet to Change Lives, Chandos: Oxford.

Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New

Arnold Pacey, Technology: practice and culture, Amherst, New York, Controlling technology: contemporary issues, Ed. Eric Katz, Andrew Light, William Thompson, Prometheus Books, 2007,

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Tom Streeter, Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States

Sally Wyatt, (2008) *Technological Determinism is Dead*; Long Live Technological Determinism. The Handbook of Science & Technology Studies, MIT Press.

Langdon Winner's "Do Artifacts Have Politics?", also to be found in his book "The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology".

"Algorithmic Ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines",

Ruth Tsuria - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 03:29

Turku, the old capital of Finland was the host city for the 'Digital Religion' Symposium which was held by the Donner Institute for Research in Religion and Cultural History. Prof. Hannu Salmi, who welcomed us to the Symposium, explained that Turku is an old Finnish word for 'marketplace'. And indeed, the conference in Turku was a marketplace, an Agora for ideas.

Although dominated by a European crowd (many of whom are members of the 'Nordic Network for Religion and Media') the conference started with the American 'rock star' Prof. Heidi Campbell ('Rock star' being a title she received at the international conference held earlier this year in Boulder, Colorado). Campbell set the tone for a conference that will deal not only with the phenomenology of religion online and/or online religion, but also with the theories and methods used to understand these phenomena. After establishing the five characteristics of the research made so far (convergent practice, multi-site reality, networked community, storied identity and shifting authority), she finished with the statement that the future of Media and Religion studies is in nuance examination and critical thinking. Mostly, it seems that religion online should not be seen as a separate or independent occurrence – the relationship between online and offline seems to be a prominent aspect in the future of this field. I later felt that the issue of online and offline religion became a 'sacred concept' throughout the conference, present almost in every session, explicitly or implicitly.

For example, Prof. Jolyon Mitchell, one of the keynote speakers, tried to examine the translation which occurred when Passion Plays were transmitted online – were we watching the same play? Did the religious feelings changed when watching it offline or online – and what were those changes? Mitchell put a spin on the notion of offline-online relationship by bring into mind the concept of 'translation'. Another interesting example was Claire Clivaz's crusade to put the manuscripts of the New Testament online, which – not surprisingly – raises issues of authority within the Christian world of manuscripts.

What I found interesting in Turku, is that – much like its name, the conference itself became a marketplace of ideas from a variety of religions. True, Christianity has been the dominant religion talked about, but by far not the only one. Islam (and Islam video gaming! Given by Vit Sisler), Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and monks, druids and vampires were all explored online and offline.

Lastly, but most importantly, the Finns know how to treat their guests. In both nights of the Symposium we were treated – on the first night we went on a boat to a small island just outside Turku, where we ate and danced, and on the second night we traveled to a marvelous old manor were we ate (but didn't dance, sadly). Every day we enjoyed music performed by locals, and being so high north, we got to experience whole days and night of light.

The Donner Institute marked the Symposium as a success, and I couldn't agree more. However, the need to keep on exploring the right tools to understand religion and media is only growing, as the relationship between online and offline becomes blurry and the question of 'what is religious?' becomes harder to answer.


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