I am sitting in St Catherine's College in Oxford at the end of a 3 wonderful day conference called Exploring Religion and the Sacred in a Media Age which brought together sociologist, theologians and media scholars from the UK, Europe and the USA to discuss a variety of topics on the intersection of religion, media and culture. The papers ranged from religion in club culture and the spirituality of Harry Potter to studies of Muslim Identities in Europe and Religious Media in Turkey.
There were several conference highlights for me. Lynn Schofield Clark, author of From Angles to Aliens, gave a great keynote address on Religious Branding, highlighting the rise of Fashion Bibles like Revolve and Muslim Hip Hop artists such as Native Deen as examples of the growing trend towards religious lifestyle branding making faith both more accessible and marketable to wider audiences. Tom Beaudoin, author of Virtual Faith, made an through provoking plea to use fandom studies as a basis for academics to become more self-reflexive in their study of popular culture and made interesting observations of how the act of spiritual direction provides a model for critical guided reflection on religion and media.
My favourite paper session--besides my own of course, where I think Pete Ward and I did a fine job of talking about spirituality and youth and specifically what youth led prayer meetings have to teach us about Evangelical Identity construction--was today's session on religion and the internet (no surprise there, eh!) PhD student Tim Hutchins from Durham University did a great job providing insights into institutional born cyberchurces such as i-Church and the Church of Fools, as did Katharine Moody from Lancaster University introducing her research on theo(b)logy and the Emerging Church (and citing my now good friend Mr. tallskinnykiwi) . Both demonstrated in how the field of religion and internet studies is maturing through exhibiting a developed knowledge of the field and well thought out methodologies. I think these will be 2 young scholars worth watching as their research projects mature.