Saturday, January 30, 2010

Social in the Glue of the Network: Report on social networking

Today the Economist posted a very interesting report on the state of social networking online. Global swap shops -Why Social Networking has grown so Fast does not deal with religion online, it does provide an interesting review of the current trends in social networking and the emerging "network effect" of how media audience respond to new technologies. It also makes some interesting observations about facebook being in the business of memory production and documentation. It is worth a read.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Summer School on Digital Religion. Research in Virtual 3D Environments

University of Bremen is hosting an interesting Summer School on “Digital Religion. Research in Virtual 3D Environments". The school will be held in Bremen (Germany) from July 30 to August 9th. The course is mainly addressed to graduate and postgraduate students, but undergraduates with experience in the field are also
very welcome to apply!

As a cooperation of the University of Bremen and the Jacobs-University (Bremen) the Summer course will broach the issue of the relevance of new environments like "Second Life" or "World of Warcraft" for nowadays culture and social life with special focus on rituals and religions.

Instructed by more than 10 international teachers, the participants of the Summer School will engage into the interdisciplinary study of practical methods and theoretical approaches for the scientific handling of ritual and media. The media will not only be subject to methodological, theoretical and practical research and discussion but will also serve as platform for academic exchange and teaching. After this Summer School participants will be able to design and perform research projects on religion in and within Virtual Worlds.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ultra-orthodox rabbbis call for a boycott of community Web sites

Israeli Ultra-orthodox rabbis this week called for a boycott of community focused Web sites. This is part of an ongoing debate since 1999 when the Belz community called for a ban of the internet for religious Jews. Concern about whether or not the internet is a permissible technology for this typically closed community have been raised on a regular basis over the past decade. A fresh wave of heated debates emerged in December 2009 resulting in the resignation of several key ultra-Orthodox web masters from well known sites such as Bharedi Haredim. Current concerns seem to be about these websites making private community discussion more public and the increased ability for community member to share their opinions in ways that are perceived as being slanderous or gossiping especially to religious leaders. For more details see: Rabbis Say Web Sites Not Kosher.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Go forth and blog

Since the 1990s the Catholic church have been ready adopters of the Internet and new technologies to get their message out. This week the pope openly advocated that priests embrace blogging "to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources". His message upheld the longstanding Catholic social communication tradition which sees media as "gifts from God" to be use to benefit the ministries of the Church. For more details check out the story at Pope: Go Forth and Blog.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Providing Spiritual Relief through Solar-Powered Audio Bibles

An organization called Faith Comes By Hearing is sending a unique type of technological aid to disaster victims in Haiti in the form of solar-powered Audio Bibles known as Proclaimers that can transmit the scripture in Haitian Creole to crowds of up to 300 listeners at one time. The group also offer an MP3 Bible is a collection of compressed audio files that can be uploaded to your personal computer and Biblesticks which are digital audio players that come pre-loaded with an entire Audio New Testament. The organization's aim is to use digital audio technology to disseminate bibles into the developing world. This is a unique missionary response to the current situation in Haiti.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Vatican critiques enchanting technology of Avatar

The blockbuster hit Avatar came under criticism of the Vatican over the weekend, which was slated for release in Italy this week. The consensus over the controversy seems to be that the the Church feels that the “stupefying, enchanting technology” does not make up for it's problematic messages related to nature worship, as the NYT's highlighted in its article. AP reports suggested a concerns that the audience might be seduced by the latest computer graphics and fail to decipher what it seems as a problematic spiritual message. Many reports noted the fact the Vatican described Avatar as "bland" while other bloggers and critics have highlighted racist and anti-military undertones. For those who have watched the film I would say I would agree. The movie was a 3 hour epics that was visually tantalization, and beautiful at points, especially in 3D, that left me with a digital induced headache and an empty feeling due to the thin plot. What do other thinks? Do the graphics make up for the controversy?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day Conference on Virtualisation and Society in Edinburgh

If you find yourself in Edinburgh, Scotland next week you might be interested in a free day conference sponsored by the Church of Scotland.

The conference is on Virtualisation and Society and the aim is to reflect on how society and the Church are being impacted upon due to the rise of digital networked technologies. They have assembled an interesting panel of scholars and researchers to talk on a variety of issues related to virtuality and technology and I have been asked to speak on religion and the internet, albeit virtually via skype.

The event will be held Thursday Jan 21st and is open to the public (but you have to RSVP). For more details check this link at the CofS website.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Confession and Absolution Online

A friend of mine blogged today about finding absolution on the internet where he writes about services such as , that offer people space for public confession of their wrongs and an absolution via the internet public. There are dozens of these sites out there (,, etc) and even runs a weekly contest where readers can vote for the best apology of the week.

This is just another example of how the internet is becoming a mediator in our private and personal lives which has interesting religious implications. There has been debate for over a decade on whether or not confession in the Catholic tradition can or should be heard online via email, chat or even text messaging. Although the Catholic church does not endorse such practices, they still exist which raises the question in a culture that allows us to do most of our daily tasks online as well as facilitate religious rituals such as prayer and worship why not confession?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God

Publishers's Weekly has just come out with a positive review of Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God a book soon to be released on religion and video games edited by Craig Detweiler. I was especially please to see that my chapter on Islamogaming earned a special mention. See what they have to say here:

Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God Edited by Craig Detweiler. Westminster John Knox, $19.95 paper (241p) ISBN 978-0-664-23277-1

Rather than write off as childish one of the most influential popular culture phenomena ever, Detweiler (Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century) assembles a savvy group of experts to explore the spiritual and theological implications of video gaming. Those not familiar with the contemporary scene will be amazed to discover how far video games have evolved since the days of Pac Man and Space Invaders. Video games, as a number of these scholars point out, have integrated a narrative aspect that is fascinating and complex—the characters have literally become three-dimensional. Some of the other important issues raised include the power of gaming to build virtual communities, the ways games can help children develop virtues, and the myriad ways religion is portrayed. Especially compelling is an examination of how Muslims are characterized in games. These essayists are fans who lovingly approach and reproach video games, and they earnestly hope that all who pick up a joystick will reflect on the spiritual possibilities. (Feb.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Google and Islam: censorship or technological glitch?

Online reports this week accused Google of religious favoritism, or problems with their search coding resulting with Islam being treated differently than other religion in search requests. Stories such as "Islam Is': Google Glitch, or Religious Favoritism?" and Fox's What's Islam? Don't Ask Google highlighted the fact that typing in the phrase "Islam is" to the search engine caused the auto-response frame to disappear. These reports and assertions raised many questions and accusations of censorship, such as Wired's piece on
Epicenter The Business of Tech Is Google Censoring Islam Suggestions? Google's response attempted to clarify it's search policy and describe it simply as a software problem. However the fact this made national news suggests that technological problems have significant social impacts in a digital age.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Article: Searching for salvation Online

Bernard J. Jansen, Andrea Tapia,and Amanda Spink have an interesting forthcoming article entitled: Searching for salvation: An analysis of US religious searching on the World Wide Web.

This seems to be a very interesting and important study as it show and continued growth in religious online practice and points to the fact that religion online affirms traditional religious affiliations rather than spiritual seeking

Their full abstract is as follows:

The goals of this research were to answer three questions. How predominant is religious searching online? How do people interact with Web search engines when searching for religious information? How effective are these interactions in locating relevant information? Specifically, referring to a US demographic, we analyzed five data sets from Web search engine, collected between 1997 and 2005, of over a million queries each in order to investigate religious searching on the Web. Results point to four key findings. First, there is no evidence of a decrease in religious Web-searching behaviors. Religious interest is a persistent topic of Web searching. Second, those seeking religious information on the Web are becoming slightly more interactive in their searching. Third, there is no evidence for a move away from mainstream religions toward non-mainstream religions since the majority of the search terms are associated with established religions. Fourth, our work does not support the hypothesis that traditional religious affiliation is associated with lower adoption of or sophistication with technology. These factors point to the Web as a potentially usefully communication medium for a variety of religious organizations.

For a view of the in-press proof check here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Gorgias Book Grant Program

Though not necessarily strictly geared towards religion and new media, Gorgias Press has an interesting grant program open to grad students doing work in religion which I though was worth posting.

Gorgias Press offers annually the Gorgias Book Grant, a program offers outstanding graduate students grants in the form of Gorgias Press publications. Grants consist of books in the value of $500.00 per grant. Each year, two grants are distributed.

2009-2010 Grant Field: Any field within the scope of Gorgias Publications
Application Deadline: January 31, 2010

Candidate must be enrolled in a graduate program (Master's or Ph.D.) in an accredited university or an institution of learning in the field of the grant.
Candidate must have the equivalent of a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Send by mail the following items to: Gorgias Press LLC, Book Grants Program, 180 Centennial Ave., Suite 3 Piscataway, NJ 08854. (All documents, apart from official transcripts, must be in English. Part 1 and 2 of the application can be emailed to Christine Kiraz,

A letter indicating your interests in your field and plans for the future.
A two-page description of your thesis, or a one-page description of your course work in the case of course-based programs. Official transcripts of the previous 2 years of university education. If the institutions you come from do not give out transcripts please contacts us to make alternative arrangements to satisfy this requirement. Two letters of recommendations from professors familiar with your work (one must be your current supervisor in the field of the grant).

For more information click here.

Conference: Divining the Message, Mediating the Divine

Divining the Message, Mediating the Divine is a conference hosted by the Columbia University Religion Graduate Students Association, 1-3 April 2010 at Columbia University in New York City.

Whether sacred symbols or sanctioned authorities, intermediaries have been both conduits for and barriers to access to the divine. Mediating objects, forms, rituals, and people have long been central to religious practice and belief. They are conditions of both possibility and impossibility, at one and the same time providing glimpses of the heavens and anchoring us to the earth.

New media technologies have transformed not only how people commune with one another, but also how they communicate with the divine. With the printing press and telephone wires, and with television and the internet, we can now consider whether our message to the divine is best delivered by letter, email, voicemail, or text message. While many still attend brick and mortar churches, build a sukkah in their backyard, or chant at a Shinto shrine, the current moment of technological acceleration has changed the ways in which many people practice religion. Some study Buddhism in the virtual gaming world of Second Life, others visit a satellite campus of Saddleback Church to see Rick Warren's Sunday sermon streamed in from the other side of Orange County, and still others sit on the beach while reading the New International Version of the Bible on their Amazon Kindles. As intermediaries proliferate, and as our relationship to old mediations changes, so do the ways in which we practice religion, imagine the divine, and imagine ourselves.

The 2010 Columbia University Religion Graduate Students' Conference seeks to bring together papers from a wide range of disciplinary, theoretical, historical, and geographical perspectives that examine varying conceptions of mediation, including:

1. The media of mediation (print, TV, internet, cinema, icons, translation, etc.)
2. The institutions of mediation (Church, state, theology, tradition, economy, culture)
3. The people who mediate (the Pope, gurus, pastors, priests, seance mediums, other spiritual leaders, and the spirit possessed)
4. Temporal mediations (prophecy, mourning, melancholy, and trauma, as mediating the past, present, and future)

Click here for more info.