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Denis Bekkering - Saturday, January 14, 2012 - 10:33

I am often struck by the interchangeability of North American cities at night. Although Boulder is new to me, while looking out the window of my shuttle bus late Thursday evening I was presented with a rather predictable combination of street lamps and store signs. However, as I left my hotel room this morning to start my cold, windy trek to the conference, I was greeted by the magnificent Flatirons, towering high over the assorted coffee shops and gas stations. This sight shot through my prized cynical shield, filling me with both unspeakable awe and a profound regret that I would only be able to appreciate them from afar, perhaps never to set foot upon them. An incredible backdrop to what I have already found to be a truly stimulating conference.

Although I unfortunately missed Thursday’s activities due to a flight delay, I certainly feel intellectually energized by the sessions that I attended on Friday. Heidi Campbell’s keynote speech reinforced her enviable ability to map out our area of study and locate productive pathways for future research. Her concept of networked religion highlights the necessity of exploring the complex and ever-shifting webs of religious associations that individuals forge both online and off. As demonstrated by studies of lived religion, this is time-consuming and messy work that often resists easy generalizations. Yet, it is crucial groundwork for building broader understandings of digital religion.

I found Campbell’s focus on storied identity and the public performance of personal narratives particularly intriguing and in tune with recent developments that I have observed online. For example, not long ago Facebook unveiled “Timeline,” a new profile template for users that promises them the chance to “tell (their) life story” (http://www.facebook.com/about/timeline). Whereas the old profile featured a small picture of the user in the left hand margin followed by a long list of “friends,” the new template fills the top of the page with a picture chosen by the user, and the number of friends listed on the main page is limited to six. The result is an increased emphasis on who you are as opposed to who you know, and it would be interesting to examine how individuals are using this new template in the construction of their public religious identities.

In the session "Motif & Symbol in the Video Game Context," Rachel Wagner asked the provocative question “is it possible to play religion like a game?” and outlined points of potential overlap including structured rules, a sense of purpose, and the requirement of “player” effort. Nathan Walter demonstrated that even in the goriest of video games, there are often opportunities for players to make moral decisions that they would unlikely face in their daily lives. Although not central to his discussion of Jewish computer games, I noted Vincent Gonzalez’s reminder to recognize the significance of “non play,” examining the motivations and contexts surrounding the refusal to participate in particular religious video games.

To open the session that I participated in, "Humor, Commentary & Consequence," Timothy Fallis argued that the Internet is a “safe space” for religious humor, which has often been denied a place on television and radio. I contributed with an overview of the “Farting Preacher” videos, a series of absurd remixes of the televangelist Robert Tilton that have made it difficult for him to start an online video ministry. As part of my presentation, I briefly discussed the concept of “Recreational Christianity,” coined by one of my interviewees to describe his use of televangelist programs and events for entertainment purposes only, with no spiritual investment. The existence of “Recreational Christians” warns us against assuming motivations behind particular practices that we may observe in the media. I invite you to watch the following clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC3Xvo34ubY. What appears to be a genuine baptism is actually the infiltration of a televangelist program by an avowed atheist who detests the host and his ministry, and who views this video as a trophy of her conquest. I was also intrigued by Jeffrey Garber’s discussion of the complex theological themes explored by the mysterious author of the webcomic "Sinfest," and am wary of visiting the site (www.sinfest.net) for fear of getting hooked by yet another quality online product.

My day ended with "Online Christianity: Technologies and Spaces." Sam Han offered an informative overview of activity in the online campus of www.lifechurch.tv. While he suggested that the preaching and discussion on the site is certainly not “theologically robust,” there exists a sacred sociability among the gathered “worldmates” who chat, pray, and praise God with “written chat singing”. Finally, Tim Hutchings talk on “CyberBibles” introduced me to the wide variety of ways in which Christianity’s central text is being transformed in our digital age. From solar-powered mp3 Bibles geared towards the mission field, to mobile phone Bible apps particularly popular in the United States, these products offer a number of investigative opportunities surrounding issues such as materiality, evangelism, and even the surveillance of one’s devotional habits by online Bible study buddies.

Great stuff everyone! I look forward to the remainder of the conference and meeting more of you over the next two days.


Heidi Campbell - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 17:20

To celebrate the official launch of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies website at the International Conference on Digital Religion at the University of Colorado-Boulder on January 14th we are running a membership promotion. Everyone who joins the network by 1 February 2012 and adds at least one new entry to the site bibliography will be entered in a drawing. In early February one lucky member will recieve a free copy of When Religion Meets New Media (Heidi Campbell, Routledge, 2010), a unique book on how to study religious communities engagement with new media.

Membership in the network enables users to contribute to the site bibliography, list their profile and add news items. To learn more about how to apply for membership, please check out the following link: http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu/join-network
And don't miss the opportunity to be one of the first members in this exciting collaborative space.


Heidi Campbell - Friday, October 28, 2011 - 22:29

New York University's Center on New Media, Religion and Digital Culture has launched a two year research project entitled "Digital Religion: Knowledge, Politics and Practice". The project will study how religion intertwines with the update of digital/social media in recent unprecedented social and political transformations–in particular but not exclusively in the Middle East, North Africa and Central and Southeast Asia–along with the implications of these developments for international relations. Supported by a grant from the Henry R. Luce initiative on Religion and International Affairs the project seeks host a number of events and develop an online journal for this growing research area.


Shawn Moore - Friday, February 25, 2011 - 10:01

The Social Science Research Council recently released an interesting report entitled The new landscape of the religion blogosphere.

According to its synopsis:

This report surveys nearly 100 of the most influential blogs that contribute to an online discussion about religion in the public sphere and the academy. It places this religion blogosphere in the context of the blogosphere as a whole, maps out its contours, and presents the voices of some of the bloggers themselves. For those new to the world of blogs, there is an overview of what blogging is and represents (section 1). The already-initiated can proceed directly to the in-depth analyses of academic blogging (section 2), where religion blogs stand now, and where they may go in the future (sections 3 and 4).

Some of the key survey’s respondents and noted bloggers have also been given space to respond online to the report’s findings and comment specifically on how blogs and new media changing both academic and public discussions of religion. I encourage you to check this out!


Shawn Moore - Friday, February 25, 2011 - 10:01

One statistic that caught my attention in the most recent Pew Internet and American life survey, is that 41% of respondents said they wished online news covered more stories on religion and spirituality. This ranked just behind the 44% who said they would like to see more on scientific news and discoveries online. So while this is just one of a number of finding in a report the primarily focuses on how the internet is effecting the news industry I find it striking that interest in religion seems to be growing or at least maintaining momentum, rather than declining as some have suggested.

Other interesting findings of the study are that in the USA the internet now ranks above newspapers and radio as American’s primary news source and that the people’s relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized and participatory.

For summary of the full study report see the Pew Research Website.


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