Category Archives: Online religion

American Muslims Make Video to Rebut Militants

The Saturday issue of The New York Times had an article about a YouTube video and the people behind and in it. The piece opens with these lines:

A recent spate of arrests of Muslims accused of terrorism in the United States has revealed that many of them were radicalized by militant preaching they found on the Internet.

Sheik Hamza Yusuf is one of nine influential American Muslim scholars appearing in a YouTube video repudiating radicalization.

Now nine influential American Muslim scholars have come together in a YouTube video to repudiate the militants’ message. The nine represent a diversity of theological schools within Islam, and several of them have large followings among American Muslim youths.

Then it goes on sharing some of the words from the video and the background of those who said them. Here are the quotes from the article that are relevant to my topic: online religion.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said of the video: “It can be a powerful outlet. It is the kind of thing that, formatwise, is matching what’s being done by the jihadist groups.”

Mr. Magid [leader of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society] said in an interview: “This is the beginning of a greater effort. Imams have to be virtual imams, answering questions on the Web, having blogs. We have to have open discussions for youths to talk about what is frustrating them.”

And now the video (that has a viewcount of about 10000 right now):

The launch of mormon.org

The official website for the “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“, aka Mormons has been lds.org for at least a decade. (According to its whois record it was registered exactly 12 years ago today.) On July 14 the church launched mormon.org. (That domain was owned by Mormons  for 15 years and here is a copy of its first incarnation.) The details, goals and tools of the relaunch were written up by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the The Salt Lake Tribune. (I learned about it at the PEW forums religion in the news service.) Here are some highlights from the article:

…Now the nearly 14 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is attempting to revolutionize the way Mormons find converts and it’s all online.

This involves experimenting with blogging missionaries, self-produced member profiles and stereotype-bursting videos

…However, the electronic universe also is uncontrollable, an aspect that has traditionally been tough for the hierarchical church but one that organizers readily acknowledge.

…The online missionary effort began in 2001, with the launch of www.mormon.org, a site aimed at telling outsiders what Mormons believe.

…Two years ago, the church expanded the site to add a chat function and called its first online-only missionaries,

…The president of the Rochester mission is one of the “Facebook friends,” Wilson said, so he will know what missionaries write.

…the church has rolled out additions to www.mormon.org, which currently showcases 15 video portraits and 2,000 written profiles of Mormons across the globe; there are another 75 videos and 13,000 more profiles ready to be posted.

…”We want to show people how Mormons live their faith. We want them to be authentic and transparent. That is the way misperceptions disappear.”

Haemony: The Practice of Religion in Cyberspace (2009)

Last November a YouTube user, Haemony–or as I learned based on the link she provided Tiffany Christian, who is a graduate student in Oregon–posted a series of videos on “The Practice of Religion in Cyberspace.” She described the videos as:

This video log is the culmination of a term-long project for a class of mine at the University of Oregon. My goal with this project was to investigate some of the ways people practice religion (specifically, neo-paganism) in cyberspace in order to assess the “artificiality” of the spirituality.

My opinions here are my own, created by my own research and aided by various published scholars. I do not claim to speak for the entire neo-pagan community.
Citations:
Berger, Helen A., and Douglas Ezzy. “The Internet as Virtual Spiritual Community: Teen Witches in the United States and Australia.” Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Ed. Lorne L. Dawson and Douglas E. Cowan. New York: Routledge, 2004. 175-88. Print.
OLeary, Stephen D. “Cyberspace as Sacred Space: Communicating Religion on Computer Networks.” Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Ed. Lorne L. Dawson and Douglas E. Cowan. New York: Routledge, 2004. 37-58. Print.

Here are the three videos:

In this segment she explores the value of text-based ritual over image-based ritual.

Online religion articles

As I am collecting scholarly articles on the topic of online religion to read I realize that I will need a system to organize them. For now I created a simple spreadsheet on Google Docs. Right now I have 53 articles listed in them.  My plan is that I will read one by one the 41 that is available to me  and post my reactions, observation about each. I will probably keep adding articles to the list though. For now I am quite omnivorous and want to read everything I can find on the topic. Later I might narrow my appetite.

A note on the Google Docs version. The document has many columns such as title, authors, publication date, source, URL, availability, my blog URL (if it exists) date added to the spreadsheet and abstract. In the version I am working on it is is easy to sort by any of these. However others could sort it only if I  share it with the whole world, but that would mean anyone could edit it. I am not ready for that. Instead I published it as a webpage and also made the CSV version available. If you download this latter and open it with your spreadsheet software that you can sort it anyway you want. At a (much) later point when I create a website dedicated to this topic there will be a simple webpage version of the list that anyone would be able to sort without having to download a file.

Finally, in order that I could find the list fast I added it as a webpage to this site. At the top of the page, right at the About: button from now on you will see a link to the page. I hope eventually it can be useful for others. For now it only has the most recent articles and some of the classics.

Campbell’s iPhone4 as religion

Heidi Campbell posted a new entry on her blog in which she points out that The Atlantic has a piece in which an article is quoted that she co-authored. The article, written with Antonio C. La Pastina, appeared in the June issue of New Media and Society:

How the iPhone Became Divine: New Media, Religion and the Intertextual Circulation of Meaning

This article explores the labeling of the iPhone as the ‘Jesus phone’ in order to demonstrate how religious metaphors and myth can be appropriated into popular discourse and shape the reception of a technology. We consider the intertextual nature of the relationship between religious language, imagery and technology and demonstrate how this creates a unique interaction between technology fans and bloggers, news media and even corporate advertising. Our analysis of the ‘Jesus phone’ clarifies how different groups may appropriate the language and imagery of another to communicate very different meanings and intentions. Intertextuality serves as a framework to unpack the deployment of religion to frame technology and meanings communicated. We also reflect on how religious language may communicate both positive and negative aspects of a technology and instigate an unintentional trajectory in popular discourse as it is employed by different audiences, both online and offline.

Hijab online: The Fashioning of Cyber Islamic Commerce

The July issue of Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies has a study about:

Hijab online: The Fashioning of Cyber Islamic Commerce
Author: Emma Tarlo
Published in: Interventions, Volume 12, Issue 2 July 2010 , pages 209 – 225

This essay looks at the world of cyber Islamic commerce and the marketing of new forms of hijab through tracing the connections between the British Muslim entrepreneur Wahid Rahman who runs a website called HijabShop.com and the Dutch designer Cindy van den Bremen, designer of a new form of sports head covering known as Capsters. It considers the lifestyles of these two individuals, their diverse philosophies and their personal involvement in the promotion of Islamic fashion for women and how cyberspace has provided them with an opportunity for a business partnership. The essay explores some of the representational challenges inherent in the reframing of hijab as fashion, showing how those involved in this niche market navigate complex tensions between different Muslim interpretations of the relationship between beauty and modesty, fashion and faith.

Hindu temples/online cultures & Muslim punks online

The July issue of the South Asian Popular Culture journal has two essays related to religion online. I copy their abstracts here and hopefully I can access the full articles soon.

Desktop deities: Hindu temples, online cultures and the politics of remediation
Madhavi Mallapragada
Pages 109 – 121

This study examines Hindu temples on the Web by focusing on three key types, the temple homepage, the commercial puja site and the Hindu discourse site. It argues that Hindu temples sites demonstrate the emergence of what I call ‘desktop deity culture,’ constituted through the practices of digital darshan, online rituals and virtual Hinduism. These Web practices in turn exemplify the ‘remediation’ (Bolter and Grusin) of new media conceptualizations of digitality, network capital flows, hypertextuality and virtuality as they are articulated to ideas of the Hindu image, embodied ritual practice and the temporal and spatial logic of the temple as sacred place. Remediation in Bolter and Grusin’s influential theorization of new media is a refashioning characterized by a ‘double logic’ whereby new media ‘remediate and are remediated by their predecessors’ (55). Hindu temple sites, I argue, are repurposing ‘older’ media forms such as photographs of deities, Hindu calendar art, the analog sacred texts and temple books, audio tapes of religious discourse through their textual and discursive practices of representing online temples. Likewise, aspects of digital media such as hypertextual connectivity, virtual forms of dis/embodiment and im/materiality and mobile flows of capital and culture are deployed to pay service to place-centric, embodied and material practices shaping Hindu temple cultures. In this remediation of Hindu representational forms and material practices with new media ideologies and practices, both Hindu temples and new media as cultural forms are reinvented as ‘desktop deity cultures.’

Muslim punks online: A diasporic Pakistani music subculture on the Internet
Dhiraj Murthy
Pages 181 – 194

This article seeks to explore how Internet media is shaping transnationally-mediated South Asian music subcultures. Rather than serve as a literature review of new media and South Asian popular culture, this paper is especially interested in how particular music websites, discussion forums, social networking sites, and IP-based technologies in general are facilitating the creation of progressive South Asian virtual spaces. One particular South Asian musical scene, ‘Taqwacore’, a transnational Muslim punk music scene, is used as a case study. Reference is made to other non-Muslim diasporic South Asian musical scenes including Asian electronic music and Bhangra as well to contextualize Taqwacore. Ethnographic research (participant observation and interviewing) was conducted both online and offline using Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, discussion groups, and face-to-face meetings.

Where to start studying online religion?

Fortunately for me Heidi Campbell compiled a shortlist of top 10 reads on the topic. She wrote the list August 2008 and modified it November of that year. (Isn’t the history feature of wikis great?) That’s recent enough for me, although I wonder whether there is something more recent out there that would make the top ten.

The list includes six books, two essays, an issue of a journal and a report of survey. I will start my studies with these last two as that’s what I have access to.

The 28 pages long report is of PEW’s 2004 survey on “Faith Online” and is freely available for anybody. The journal is the December 2007 issue of “Studies in World Christianity” and has an editorial, six essays and six book reviews. The journal is published by the Edinburgh University Press and the whole issue is available after a free registration.

One of the essays of the top ten is the first academic article on the topic: Stephen O’Leary‘sCyberspace as Sacred Space: Communicating Religion on Computer Networks”. It was published in the “Journal of the American Academy of Religion” in 1996, so I am hoping to gain access to it through the local college after its library reopens at the end of the summer. The other essay is Christopher Helland‘s “Online-religion/religion-online and virtual communitas” It was published in the 8th volume of JAI Press’s “Religion and the Social Order” series. Interestingly enough one of the six books on the list is this volume itself.

All six books are available on Amazon.com but their (used) price ranges from $8 to $130. When I get some funds I will get them. Meanwhile I will keep them on the top of my wishlist and try go them via ILL (inter-library loan). The local public and college library has none of them. Just for the record here is the (incorrectly, but simply cited) list:

  • Jeffery K. Hadden, and Douglas E. Cowan. (2000). Religion on the Internet. Research Prospects and Promises.
  • Anne Zukowski and Pierre Babin. (2002). The Gospel in Cyberspace: Nurturing Faith in the Internet Age
  • Dale F. Eickleman & Joh W. Anderson,(eds). (2003). New Media in the Muslim World. The Emerging Public Sphere.
  • Lorne Dawson and Douglas Cowan, Eds., (2004). Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet.
  • Morten Hojsgaard and Margrit Warburg. (2005). Religion and Cyberspace.
  • Heidi Campbell. (2005). Exploring Religious Community Online.

Online religion

I have been interested at least for 10 ten years in the question whether one’s religious affiliation/persuasion/background values influence how one uses new media. I am curious about this topic not just on the individual level, but also whether it manifests on the group, church level. In other words whether there are any differences in how adherents of a certain religious group behave in the online environment.

Five years ago, as I was finishing my double BA in Sociology and Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara, I started to think about what kind of graduate degree I would like to have. At the time I put the above in these words: “I am interested in the area where technology, sociology and religion meets.” Back then I had financial and time constraints so I decided not to pursue a PhD. I researched which US university would offer an MA where I could study the above. I didn’t find any program that would meet exactly my needs and interest and eventually decided to get a Masters of Library and Information Sciences. My compromise was supported by three reasons:

  1. I loved the idea of becoming a librarian. It also meant that my studies would lead to a field, where I thought, I could find a position and make a living. (I didn’t count on the tough current job market though.)
  2. I was studying religion and sociology at the time, so I was ready to study some technology.
  3. All four graduate schools I applied to had a strong sociology department with some faculty working tangentially on the topic I was interested in. I was hoping I could take some related courses, outside or in combination with my department.

Thus I went ahead and got my MLIS at University of Washington. Every chance I had I worked religion into my papers and projects. In a future post I will list them. Now, two years after I graduated, I realized that even though I still want to know more about the questions I posted in the first paragraph, I haven’t done much about it. I am still not at a point in my life where I could do a PhD, but at least I want to educate myself on my own schedule. I will attempt to do it in two ways.

  1. Read all the scholarly literature I can put my hands on. It may not be  simple, as I don’t have any budget for buying books and the public library system may not have the necessary books and journals. I am hoping that the libraries of the local colleges might.
    The starting point of my research will be Heidi Campbell‘s excellent blog (When Religion Meets New Media) and wiki (Studying Religion and New Media Wiki). She is studying exactly what I would, so I will just read what she writes and recommends. I will keep a log of what I read and learned here, under the new category of my blog titled “online religion.”
  2. Blogging and commenting related news items as they appear. These entries will appear in the same category of my blog and on my new (currently empty) microblog at onrel.tumblr.com.