Conference on Media, Religion and Culture 2010

The 7th International Conference on Media, Religion and Culture will be held in Toronto from August 9 – 13, 2010, hosted by Joyce Smith of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University. Below I list all the sections and papers from the program (PDF, as of August 2) that are explicitly pertinent to this blog and had abstracts available. (Apologies for the unusual length of the post.) Many other presentations will touch on the topic, of course. The conference can be viewed online live.

Lorenzo Cantoni, Emanuele Rapetti, Stefano Tardini and Sara Vannini (Università della Svizzera italiana) The use of ICTs by Christian Catholic Priests: Canada Compared against the World Picture

The Christian Catholic Church has always devoted great attention to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and to the Internet potential. Aim of this paper is to investigate how Church ministrants exploit ICTs for their pastoral activities, and, in particular, how priests active in Canada differ in their use from priests in the rest of the world.
The project “PICTURE” (Priests’ ICT Use in their Religious Experience – www.pictureproject.info) aims at drawing a map of this scenario. Data about the use of ICT by priests have been collected through a questionnaire, available both online and on paper, which was translated into seven languages (English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish). The questionnaire was addressed only to Catholic priests, and was promoted in different ways, in order to ensure a wide distribution.
Data collection has been made over 3 months and was closed the 28th of February 2010: a total of 5’189 questionnaires were collected, corresponding to 1.3% of the whole population of Catholic priests. Respondents were from 120 countries: 54.9% from Europe, 37.5% from America, 3.5% from Asia, 2.5% from Africa and 1.6% from Oceania.
96 questionnaires have been collected from Canada, representing 1.1% of the population (according to the latest Holy See data, in 2007, 8’421 Catholic priests were active in Canada).
CMRC2010 Ryerson University, Toronto August 2010 9
61% of Canadian respondents filled in the questionnaire in English, 35% in French and 4% in other languages.
The very first results of this research show that, although Canadian priests have a slightly higher access to ICT than priests in the rest of the world (for instance, 63.8% of them have a desktop computer in their parish, while the global average is 54.1%), they seem to exploit them less than their colleagues in their pastoral and spiritual activities.
Priests in Canada seem to appreciate the use of ICTs within their religious experience less than the world average: 45.7% of them declared to consider the Internet very useful for facilitating their pastoral activities (compared to 55.6% globally) and as much as 11.7% appreciate it only a few or not at all for that purpose (compared to 7.6%). Also, only 5.3% uses the Internet everyday for praying (compared to the 15.5% in the rest of the world), while 36.2% would never use it for that purpose.
On the other hand, the Internet appears to be considered a very useful tool to retrieve information and especially to better prepare for preaching: 61.7% of priests in Canada declare they use it for their homilies.
A last glance about the usage of social media shows that in Canada priests who are not in contact with anyone among their colleagues using a social network amount to 50.0% (versus 35.4% in the rest of the world).

Nabil Echchaibi and Rianne Subijanto (University of Colorado, Boulder) Building Religious Authority in the Media Age: The New Muslim Media Personality

The actions of Muslims have often been inscribed in a cultural and political discourse that casts them in subordinate terms as traditional, introverted and fatalist. Re-instituting faith in a culture that sees itself mostly at the receiving end of a powerful imported secular culture, no matter how liberating it might be, is unequivocally considered regressive and anti-modern by those who see no emancipation in the dogmas of the religious. But a number of Muslims have turned to modern media technologies like satellite television and the Internet, not necessarily to re-invent religious tradition and stir up pious passions but to seek original ways to render religious discourse more deliberative and create an alternative modernity. Today, Islamic television is a far cry from the staid sheikh delivering his sermon on a state-owned channel. Men and women host talk shows, reality programs, and music variety shows where formerly taboo issues like politics, sexuality, relationships, and women’s rights are openly debated. A growing number of teleIslamists effectively weave Quranic narratives into elaborate programs of social change and civic engagement. And traditional institutions of religious authority like Al-Azhar University in Egypt and other state-sanctioned constituencies are also adopting aggressive media strategies to counteract what they see as an emerging culture of semantic disarray over what Islam means today. On the Internet, videobloggers and otherwise marginal actors are capitalizing on much cheaper means of media production to join this massive fray of new cultural producers in Islam.
The paper we propose analyzes the rise of a new generation of dynamic Muslim media and situate the emergence of this arguably democratized religious space within changing historical contexts both in the Muslim world and among Western Muslims. Through our comparison of Egyptian and Indonesian Muslim media personalities we examine the ways in which these new religious celebrities gain legitimacy as influential religious figures capable of competing with traditional anchors of authority both in their country and transnationally. Specifically, we ask how this new face of public Islam is appropriating specific media aesthetics and communication modes to draw inspiration and establish alternative sources of authority in Islam. How much of this mediated Islam is a rupture from the traditional tropes of religious preaching and how much of it is a break from traditional sermonizing and doctrinal Islam? What particular norms do these personalities create and what kind of public do they produce? We also probe the question whether there is a uniform transnational mediated Islam or if its modes of delivery and discourses change from one Muslim country to another.

Piotr Bobkowski (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) “My upmost hero is Jesus Christ”: Emerging adults’ communication about religion and spirituality in online profiles

Young adults use social networking sites extensively for self-presentation and communication purposes. Latest surveys indicate that 72% of 18- to 29-year-olds who have access to the Internet use social networking sites (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). As such, social networking profiles constitute an important repository of information about today’s youth culture. By investigating how young adults communicate about religion and spirituality in their online profiles, this study promises to generate unique information about the place of religion and spirituality in the lives of young people.
Recent survey and interview findings have increased substantially our understanding of emerging adults’ religious and spiritual lives (e.g., Smith & Snell, 2009). One facet that has not been fully examined is how individuals in this age group communicate about their religious and spiritual lives outside a research setting. By focusing on social networking sites, this study aims to address this gap. Additionally, by examining the place of religion in young people’s communications with their peers, this study answers the challenge issued by Ammerman and others to study religion as it is lived out in people’s everyday lives (e.g., Ammerman, 2007).
The overarching research question guiding this study is what personal attributes, such as demographics and religious identity indicators, predict the quantity and character of religious self-disclosures in young adults’ online profiles?
This study’s findings are based on a quantitative content analysis of 573 social networking profiles examined in relation to corresponding National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) Wave 3 survey data. The NSYR began in 2002 with a panel of 3,290 teenagers that was statistically representative of U.S. teenage population. Wave 3 survey was administered in 2007 when respondents were between 18 and 23 years old.
The online profiles analyzed here belong to 573 Wave 3 respondents. Coders performed a three-step content analysis: 1) they split each profile into a series of “utterances” (59,751 in total), 2) they identified which utterances concerned religion, and 4) they coded each religious self-disclosure into a series of topical sub-categories.
Thus quantified, the religious self-disclosures are currently being examined in relation to the demographic and religious history data available through the longitudinal survey. Initial findings indicate that the quantity of religious content in an online profile is associated with that profile owner’s religiosity (belief in God, frequency of attendance, importance of religious faith); potential negative perceptions of organized religion or religious people; and the proportion of the profile owner’s closest friends who are religious. The content categories most frequently used are religious affiliations, direct mentions of Jesus or God, and identifications of favorite religious media. Religious practices, experiences, institutions, and other figures are mentioned less frequently.
The research presentation will summarize the quantitative findings of this study and discuss in greater depth specific textual and graphical examples of the religious content presented in these online profiles.

Panel C: Considering the Online-Offline Connection within Studies of Religion and the Internet Room: LG5
Chair/Moderators: Heidi Campbell (Texas A&M) and Mia Lövheim (University of Oslo)

Erica Baffelli (University of Otago) ‘The guru is the truth’: Aum Shinriky? and the Internet

In the mid 1990s some Japanese new religious movements (shinsh?ky?) established a presence on the Internet. One of the most active was Aum shinriky? (Aum Supreme Truth), the group who would go on to perpetrate a sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Aum’s website featured an extensive online store, selling not only books and comics but also group merchandising. The website was eventually removed and in 2000 was replaced with another site, this one for another religious group that called itself Aleph, which had been established by former members of Aum. On this new site, the figure of Asahara, who had been imprisoned since 1995 and was sentenced to death in 2004, was much less visible. In May 2007, a number of members of Aleph, including J?y? Fumihiro, a one-time spokesperson and public relations manager for Aum, left the organization and founded another new group called Hikari no wa (Circle of Light). Hikari no wa’s website was immediately opened at the time of the group’s founding. In contrast to the caution exhibited by Aleph, the leader of Hikari no wa is not only the main figure on the website, but is also becoming something of an Internet celebrity in Mixi, the biggest social network website in Japan. However, the rise of J?y? as a Web ‘celebrity’ seems to be paralleled by an increasing amount of ridicule and criticism directed at Asahara’s image online. Large numbers of user-generated videos have appeared on video sharing websites such as YouTube or Niko niko d?ga, videos that parody the anime films that Aum Shinriky? once produced and distributed among members. In the most common form of these videos, an original animation movie or video from Aum is presented with different background music, creating a humorous effect aimed especially at ridiculing the ex-leader Asahara.
This paper investigates the differences and similarities between Asahara and J?y?’s self-representation online. Is J?y? creating the image of a new leader or in he merely replicating the image of Asahara in new clothing? Is ‘Web 2.0’ giving rise to what Jolyon Thomas (2006) has called ‘playing with religion’ (sh?kyo asobi)? Do these videos show us the increasingly blurry boundaries between religion and entertainment? How is J?y?’s involvement online impacting his potential influence offline?

Knut Lundby (University of Oslo) Patterns of belonging in online/offline interfaces of religion

This paper explores patterns of belonging that may develop around religious activities in the interface of the online and the offline. This is a theoretical contribution aiming to find fruitful concepts for use at the present stage of research in this field. This implies concepts that could account for the new potentials with ‘social’ media technology and user generated activity in the multicultural diversity of contemporary modernity. Any understanding of the online and offline as parallel worlds are rejected. The same goes for any conceptualization of the online as representations of the offline. The two today appear as intertwined in each other and have to be grasped theoretically as such. Belonging is shaped by offline relations as well as by online relations. A critical discussion of concepts of the imagined (i.e. ‘cyberspace’, ‘virtuality’ and ‘imagined community’) will be contrasted to sociological concepts of the social (like ‘institutions’, ‘practices’, ‘interactions’). ‘Social networks’ in sociological understanding then meets the ‘social media’. This is brought into a theoretical framework where religion and religiosity in online/offline settings are conceptualized through patterns of belonging. ‘Belonging’ involves relations with stronger sentiments than the ‘weak ties’ of shifting networks but it is more concrete and nuanced than the term ‘community’.
The main focus of this paper is on patterns of belonging that build various forms of social cohesion. However, there may be conflicts of belonging as a person relate to several contexts. Such conflicts will be discussed. The paper takes it offset in a critical reading of Lorne L. Dawson’s chapter on “Religion and the Quest for Virtual Community” in the 2004 collection on Religion Online (ed. by Lorne L. Dawson and Douglas E. Cowan). This implies a Durheimian conceptualization of religion as a starting point. The relevance of this definition of religion, however, will be critically assessed for academic study of religion and religiosity in the present online/offline co-habitat. Patterns of belonging related to religious online/offline activities are relevant for the academic debates on changing conditions of authority and identity that follows the new web-based media in the domain of religion. Questions for these debates will be raised but are not a core part of this paper.

Pauline Hope Cheong and Shirlena Huang (National University of Singapore) and Jessie Poon (University of Buffalo) Online and Offline Pathways to Enlightenment: (Re)legitimizing authority and regulations in Buddhist organizations

In recent years, a key issue of contention has been the nature of online and offline interaction, and the changing roles of authority in society, spawned by the growing development and diffusion of information and communication technologies. One common view is that the Internet challenges traditional hierarchical authority structures, and is directly linked to the erosion of relationships between superiors and subordinates, clergy and laity. Significantly, the debate on religious boundaries and authority online takes place in context of the alleged secularization of (post)modern society, where the information society might mean the a) opening up of multiple spiritual marketplaces and online social networking platforms, b) loss of exclusive control of religious knowledge and values by elites, c) move away from vertical authority towards flatter organizations or, d) a co-existence of technological modernization and religion as the Internet is perceived and shaped by religious leaders of diverse faiths. In light of contemporary trends in the mediation and mediatization of religious life, to what extent and in what ways do clergy manage the growth of their communities and (re)legitimize their authority, online and offline?
This paper examines the implications of Internet and other web-enabled application use on the ways in which religious authority is enacted with the reorganization of informational access and the social settings in which members of the Buddhist religious faith interact. We draw upon our data from our three year multidisciplinary study on religion, social capital and the internet, particularly from in-depth interviews with twenty five Buddhist monks in Singapore. Singapore provides a rich context to examine online and offline religious connections as it a highly wired, multi-religious site, with Census 2000 data indicating that Buddhism is the majority and fastest growing religion in the country. Recent attempts by Buddhist leaders to adopt the internet and engage Web 2.0 in local and transnational ways provides an interesting milieu to investigate the dialectics of tradition, change and transformation of the “sangha” (purposeful assembly) within established houses of worship. Our paper will demonstrate that instead of merely presenting religious online, in varying degrees, religious leaders are involved in the framing of religious experiences potentially facilitating the development of networked communities while changing time-space distantiations. In this way, we draw out insights for the future conceptualizations of religious community and “samagra-sangha” (harmonious order) to add to a better understanding of the governance and accessibility of socio-religious spaces. As the bulk of research on religion and the internet have largely represented views from Christianity in North America and Europe, our paper contributes to empirical research from a non-Western context to derive fresh insights on religious community and leadership. We expect that the paper’s theme is consistent with the special issue’s questions regarding the relationship between practice and conception of religion online and offline as well as the strategic management of temporal, spatial and informational resources in cyber and actual sanctuary spaces. Findings will suggest significant implications for the performance of religious authority and the reexamination of regulatory norms, and policy of religious organizations.

Tim Hutchings (University of Durham) Contemporary Religious Community and the Online Church

“Online churches” are Internet-based Christian communities, pursuing worship, discussion, friendship, support, proselytisation and other key religious goals through computer-mediated communication. My research has followed five well-known examples over the last four years, including forum, blog, chatroom, Second Life and “online campus” formats, interviewing over 100 people, participating in online and offline events and analysing media coverage. This paper introduces some of my findings, with particular attention to the multi-layered relationship between the digital and the everyday. Participants predominantly use the Internet as an additional resource to broaden and fulfil religious lives firmly based in local church communities. The churchgoing experience of members is one factor underlying the scarcity of innovation in worship or theology reported since the mid-1990s (Schroeder et al., 1998; Miczek, 2008). What is significant here is more subtle: the emergence of loosely networked global communities exchanging ideas, prayer, support and conversation, maintained alongside the local church. I attend particularly here to Wellman’s “networked individualism” (2003). Adequate understanding of the significance of online religion requires attention to all levels of the relationship between online and offline activity. I identify four dimensions and illustrate each with examples from my research. Online churches copy elements of the everyday, in ritual, visual design and organisation. They become part of the everyday, incorporated into members’ material, social and online lives. They remain distinct from the everyday, separate in certain respects from local social networks. Finally, they become distinctively online, developing patterns of media use and social structures that are genuinely different from those found in local religious communities. Online churches are increasingly popular and significant forms of Christian communication and community, supported by denominations and large churches around the world. This paper offers insights into the design and practice of these groups and suggests a new theoretical framework to connect online religion with offline life and activity. The author hopes that both contributions will prove valuable for the growing academic field of religion and new media.

David Michels (Dalhousie University) Little church on the Internet

Popular Internet applications have made sophisticated marketing and communication accessible to even little congregations. Numerous studies have examined individuals’ religious activities online, and the growth of online religious communities, but little research has been conducted on the impact of these new technologies on offline congregational life. Additionally, there has been a lack of qualitative research on online religious experiences of adult mainline Christians. My study describes the impact of new online technologies on the experience of congregational life. The respondents were members of a conservative protestant Christian church in suburban Atlantic Canada. I explored the ways new technologies transform traditional religious activities and challenge implicit ideas about participation and belonging.

Through a micro-ethnographic case study, I describe how one small church decided to embrace the Internet as part of their internal communications and outreach strategies to the community. The use of email was supplemented with a professionally developed web presence; a Facebook site; wireless access throughout the church building; digital audio sermons available online; and eventually, live streaming video of the services with online chat. Data were gathered using participant observation, individual and group interviews, archival research, and analysis of print and online content. The online content gathered was official or semi-official, representing the views of the church and pastor and was either accessible to the public generally or just to members and adherents. This study adopts a constructivist/interpretivist approach and data analysis was conducted using a grounded theory methodology aided by Hyperresearch software. The data was drawn from a larger ongoing ethnographic study that explores religious information behaviour of leaders of churches in transition, with particular attention to the impact of the Internet.
It was found that the congregation generally welcomed the engagement with Internet media and accepted its use internally in the contexts of worship, education and decision-making. The use of these media did underscore the digital divide within the congregation, frequently associated with age, as some members did not have and were not interested in having online access. The outward use of these technologies was more divided. Over time questions around the efficacy of these media began to surface, as well as ardent support for this new approach. The question of belonging also arose, as some members were hesitant to consider online participants as members of the community in the same manner as those physically attending.
Although it may be too early to appreciate fully the impact of these new technologies on the future growth of this church, the leadership believes that these technologies will allow them to more effectively engage digital natives. Yet if this strategy is successful, it may require a rethinking of traditional beliefs about belonging and participation in the local as well as global church.

Marie Fahlén (University of Gothenburg), Internet as a Medium for Images of Christ – in the Intersection with Young Peoples Reception

The focus of my paper is one specific image of Christ, a poster from 1999 presented by a British Christian organization, CAN (The Churches Advertising Network), on the Internet – and the reception of this image by a group of young Swedish people in a multireligious context. CAN presents itself as an independent ecumenical organisation, consisting of Christian communicators aiming at producing national Christian advertising campaigns of high quality. The visual representation of Christ in the history of the western church has always been in symbiosis with culture. The fact that images of Christ are presented on the Internet indicates, however, a shift from a traditional context of Christian communities, liturgy and the church room. The new medium make possible for people with different backgrounds to encounter a wide field of representations of Christ. The border between sacred and profane has become unclear. The CAN poster illustrate how Christian organisations use Internet as a new arena to mediate the Christian gospel. The fact that this image is sold on CAN:s website, printed on posters and t-shirts, also clarifies commercial aspects. The actual image interprets Christian tradition in a new way, using computer technology. The characteristics of the Jesus figure are joined with an iconic image of Che Guevara. This paper will analyze interpretations of this image starting from qualitative interviews with a group of young persons with different relations to Christian faith and various experiences of Christian symbols and iconographic themes, and discuss what kind of challenges the Christian theology of images, based on the theology of the icon from Nicea 787, face in this new situation. The theoretical perspective is hermeneutic- phenomenological, aiming at a multidimensional understanding of the experience and interpretation of this image.

Rianne Subijanto (University of Colorado, Boulder) Is Blogosphere a Public Sphere? A Study of Islamic(ist) Discourses in Indonesian Muslim Blogs

This paper analyzes whether the blogosphere constitutes a public sphere. Several studies on forums, news, debates and websites in the Internet from Laos, Australia to Europe have made an attempt to study if the Internet and its interactivity open up a space for people to engage in the public sphere (Albrecht, 2006; Murphy, 2006; Wright, 2007; Bruns, 2008; Siapera, 2008; Stein, 2008; Mayes, 2009). Eisenstadt (2006) Gole and Ammann (2006) as well as Siapera (2008) specifically link the question of the public sphere with Muslim societies. However, most studies that attempt to challenge the universalistic tendency of the concept of the public sphere quickly look away from Habermas’s public sphere and seek to formulate an alternative concept of the public sphere only through the particular contexts, e.g. Muslim societies in diaspora (Siapera, 2008). I would like to argue that the challenge to the theory’s universalism can only be answered after we measure the extent to which the Muslim blogs adhere to the requirements of the concept of the public sphere—dialogical type of communication, free participation, objective reasoning, critical-rational debate that push forward political praxis. Doing so will give us the basis to move forward to critically analyze the alternative form of the public sphere at work in the Muslim blogosphere, and to revise the theory itself.
This paper takes the Indonesian Muslim blogs affiliated with the community of Indonesian Muslim bloggers called “Muslimblog 2.0” as a case study. It only focuses on Indonesian Muslim blogs because centered in the concept of the public sphere is its relationship with the creation of the nation-state. The very subjectivity of the bloggers as an Indonesian will give more validity to see the construction of the public sphere within the Indonesian context, despite its virtual imaginaries. The paper will be presented as follows. First, the blog posts and their replies are content analyzed to measure the degree to which they constitute the Habermasian public sphere. Six variables are used for this: reasoned opinion expression, disagreement, topic, sourcing, engagement and equality (Stromer-Galley, 2007). Next, because the content analysis demonstrates that the Indonesian Muslim blogs do not constitute the Habermasian public sphere, I conduct a textual analysis on 20 blogs. By focusing on “the domestic issues” that are commonly discussed in these blogs, I attempt to explore in-depth what is “private” in “public,” and vice versa. Finally, I discuss how blogosphere is involved in expanding and constructing an alternative public sphere especially among the Indonesian Muslims.

Heidi A Campbell (Texas A&M University) Creating Religious Digital Enclaves: Negotiation of the Internet amongst Bounded Religious Communities

Since its emergence the Internet has been rejected by a number of fundamentalist and conservative religious groups as a source of contamination and moral pollution. However, as the Internet has become more embedded in every day life a rising number of websites and social networking forums linked to these groups can be found. This upsurge in user participation and website providers creates both challenges and possibilities, as traditional authorities seek to create Internet policies that protect their community values and unique identities in the face of these new power brokers online.
This paper explores the challenges encountered by conservative religious groups in relation to their response to the Internet, namely Jewish Orthodox groups in Israel. The emergence of many new Orthodox websites in the past few years has created a shift in information access and expressive behaviors within these tightly-knit and often closed communities. The result is a conflict for these bounded populations concerning the growing utility and affordances of the Internet, raising the research question: What tensions emerge for religious stakeholders and Internet entrepreneurs as they negotiate their use of the Internet in light of their offline communal affiliations? We argue that current Internet use within the Israeli Orthodox community highlights a new dynamic being created between traditional and new sources of authority in these communities in an information age. It also illustrates tensions the Internet generates for bounded communities trying to maintain traditional boundaries while presenting their unique identities online.
This article focuses on three areas of contest at the heart of bounded religious communities’ interaction with the Internet: social control, authority, and communal boundaries. This is achieved through investigating how webmasters, content providers and rabbis associated with religious-oriented web sites in Israel negotiate their use of the Internet in light of their offline affiliations. In-depth interviews with 19 individuals associated with four key religious Israeli websites (Kipa.co.il; Koogle.co.il; Bhol.co.il and Aish.com) allows us to highlight key issues related to their personal beliefs about the Internet, their respective website’s perceived mission, and their understanding of the role they play in constructing a religious web presence. This further allows us to elucidate the motivations and strategies used by individual stakeholders in these Orthodox websites. Finally this leads to a discussion of the tensions and possibilities emerging between offline Israeli Orthodox communities and groups seeking to create space for Orthodox engagement online.

Sam Stevens (University of Otago) Independent New Zealand Church and the Internet: production, visibility and changing ritual

In recent years various independent churches in New Zealand – such as City Impact Church and Life – have increased resourcing to develop an extensive and sophisticated online presence which both reflects the demographic make-up of existing and potential church members’ and shows an awareness of the need to follow broader trends in internet use by continually updating content.
The paper will discuss specific churches’ motivation for the shift online and the strategies they have employed to enhance their presence. Comparisons will be made with the online presence of (numerically larger) institutional churches and the difference in production values, as they appear on various websites.
Some commonality is evident: websites are mostly aimed at enhancing the profile of the group; they are seen as a tool for recruiting new members; or for fulfilling more practical “notice-board” type functions. However, discussion will also cover the extent to which “mainstream” and independent groups have maintained static, “brochure” sites, or moved to formats which emphasise high accessibility and which make extensive use of flashing content, links and “backlinks”.
This paper seeks to discuss ways in which internet content augments the dyadic, “in-church” experience for followers; internet based communication ties in with existing traditional electronic media and material culture; the way in which informal, inter-denominational networks of independent churches have arisen as a result of internet use; non-religious content and styles of presentation are incorporated into religious communication systems.
Observational content on resourcing and production will be underpinned by discussions on cultural visibility, which is potentially enhanced through use of modern communication technologies, and the extent to which online forays are indicative of a desire independent churches to challenge their position of religious and social marginality.
The paper’s material is based on wider research which examines changes in religious practice due to internet use, and whether “mediated” religious forms are representative of new trends in religious media use, or simply a continuation of a varied approach which utilises an array of communication technologies.
The paper will discuss specific communication models in relation to material derived from interviews conducted with media developers from several New Zealand independent and mainstream churches and interdenominational “hub-sites” in 2009 and 2010.

Denis Bekkering (University of Waterloo) The Struggle for Religious Authority in Dynamic Web 2.0 Environments: The Case of Todd Bentley

This paper contributes to the understanding of religious authority on the Internet by examining how religious authority is established, upheld and debated within participatory Web 2.0 environments. In a recent study, Heidi Campbell criticizes what she views as a widespread assumption that the Internet primarily facilitates challenges to religious authority. Examining references to various types of religious authority in a sample of single-authored Christian blogs, Campbell demonstrates that the authors overwhelmingly supported traditional concepts of Christian religious authority; a somewhat unsurprising finding considering that 62% of the blog authors worked within Christian organizations. While each blog in Campbell’s sample represents an online space constructed to prioritize the religious opinions of a particular individual, the impetus towards interactivity characteristic of Web 2.0 has led to an increase in online spaces encouraging multiple voices. Following the work of Douglas Cowan, we can consider these participatory areas as “contested spaces,” within which users seek to establish and defend their particular points of view.
With this in mind, this paper extends Campbell’s work by examining the maintenance of, and challenges to, religious authority in dynamic Web 2.0 arenas centered on the controversial Christian faith healer Todd Bentley. In April 2008, Todd Bentley garnered international attention due to his popular healing revival in Lakeland, Florida, which abruptly ended in August of that year following increased media scrutiny of Bentley’s miracle claims, and his admission of an extramarital relationship. As Stephen Hunt has argued, it was the perceived moral failings of the preacher that led to the collapse of the charismatic authority that his followers had ascribed to him. Following a period of silence, the embattled Bentley announced his return to active ministry in May 2009, accompanied by an aggressive expansion of his ministry’s online presence, including a revamped website. Like the blogs in Campbell’s study, Bentley’s site presents a singular viewpoint, in this case supporting all aspects of Bentley’s authority. Yet, the site also contains links to the ministry’s presence on the popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. These social networking sites represent both an irresistible opportunity for reaching new people, as well as a potential source of challenges to Bentley’s authority by visitors. First, this paper demonstrates how Bentley’s ministry and his supporters attempt to control online discourse by removing user comments that question the preacher’s authority. On the ministry’s Facebook site, this is accomplished through the surgical removal of individual comments, while on YouTube, Bentley’s supporters often remove the ability of users to comment on videos featuring the preacher. Using tools drawn from the fields of discourse and frame analysis, I then examine the discussion and debate regarding Bentley’s authority in the commenting area of a single YouTube video featuring Bentley. Although the anonymous comments underneath the video initially appear chaotic, this paper identifies broader discursive frameworks within which individual commentators operate. Particularly notable is the importance of the Bible as a source of authority within the commenting area, against which all other claims of religious authority are measured.

E. Nezih Orhon (Anadolu University) Social Networking Sites and Social Voyeurism: Example of Turkey

According to Colin Wright, social networking “represents the latest stage in the Omnopticon (everyone watching everyone) stage of social interaction that modern societies have entered. Within social networks, you are able to represent yourself however you like, manage your reputation and personality, and create niches that weren’t there before. What social networking means to me personally is a way to reach audiences that might be unaccessible to me in real life, whether because of age or socioeconomic status or geographic hurdles. It’s also a way to explore and find out more about different ideas and cultures.” At the same time, Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison define “social network sites as web?based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi?public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”
Today, social networking is considered as one of the most important phenomena. For instance, according to ComScore’s 2009 reports reflects Turkey has the third most engaged online audience in the world, with 30 hours spent online each month in the ranking after USA and Canada with 29.7 average hours per visitor per month. Similarly, because of its young population -over half of the population under thirty years old- Turkey appears to be one of the leading countries for social networking, such as Facebook and friendfeed.
In relation to the fact stated above, the meaning and purpose of social networking gains new meanings within the population. While some individuals consider social networking as a way of surveillance for gender related issues, some others consider it platform for questioning values. In Turkey, there are even examples from television shows, which they use social networking sites as a way of assessing social relations and social values of those individuals –especially for females- who take part in those television shows. In relation to these developments, this study intends to analyze and reflect how social networking sites in Turkey are considered as means of social voyeurism and tools for assessing values.

Mohamed Ben Moussa (Concordia University) Local and global networks of meanings and solidarity: Comparing Islamic and leftist social movements’ use of the Internet during the 2009 Gaza conflict

The impact of the Internet on collective action and, specifically, on social movements has been widely studied in the last fifteen years (Castells, 1996; Cerulo, 1997; Diani 2000, 2003; Downing, 2001; Van Aelst and Walgrave, 2004). Commentators have highlighted many aspects in which the Internet has shaped communication among and within social movement organizations (SMOs) as well as transformed the way these SMOs engage in action. In the context of Muslim countries, however, this area of interest has received scant attention so far. Moreover, existing studies that concentrate on the use of the Internet by Islamic-oriented groups and organizations rarely situate this use in the larger socio-political contexts of Muslim countries where secular and religious civil groups compete over influence within very fragmented and highly polarized public spheres.
The present paper examines the role of the Internet in collective action within Islamic countries by focusing on the case of Morocco. Drawing on social movement theory (Habermas 1981, 2008; Mellucci 1989, 1996; Tarrow, 1998, 2002; Diani 2003), as well as on radical democracy theory and the concept of ‘agonistic’ public sphere (Laclou and Mouffe, 1984; Mouffe, 1993, 1999, 2000b), the paper investigates the impact of the Internet on three distinct social movements, namely the Islamic, the Alter-Globalization and the Amazigh (Berber) movements. It compares the way these movements appropriate the Internet to mobilize actual and potential constituents, create networks of solidarity and reinforce collective identities. Using both feature and framing analysis, the paper concentrates on fifteen websites belonging to various organizations within these three movements. These websites were downloaded during the 2009 Gaza war, a highly mediated event during which the Internet was heavily used by all party involved for mobilization and propaganda purposes. The paper compares the way Islamic-oriented and secular movements used the Internet to frame the conflict and mobilize support for the Palestinians, and highlights patterns of similarities as well as important variations in the way the studied movements have used the Internet to frame the conflict and mobilize actual and potential constituents. It is argued that whilst the majority of social movements have benefitted from the internet, albeit to varying degrees, to build alternative public spheres, Islamic-oriented movements remain the most adept in exploiting the Internet’s potential for mobilization, community building and identity construction. In addition, the paper argues that one of the key implications of the Internet for collective action is that it has allowed social movements, particularly Islamic-oriented ones, to develop “networks of meanings” (White, 1992) that arecontributing to building and enhancing transnational collective identities at the regional and global levels.

One thought on “Conference on Media, Religion and Culture 2010

  1. Joyce

    Thanks for giving the conference program a look! One minor correction: we’re going to encourage blogging on the presentations, but we won’t be streaming the conference live…

    Reply

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