Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SSRC & the New Landscape of the Religious Blogosphere

Recently the Social Science Research Council released a report on the new landscape of the religion blogosphere that mapped an analyzed the top 100 religion blogs to look at their influence on religious discourse and the academic study of religion. Especially interesting is section 3 which discusses the shape of religion blogosphere which seek to categorize the range of blogs and their approach to religion.

Last week the SSRC asked me and several other academics to respond to the report and the question: How are new media—from blogs and social networking sites to mobile technologies and other forms of digital connection—shaping and reshaping the practice of religion? After some thought, here was my response:

More than reshaping the practice of religion, I would argue that the uptake of new media by religious practioners and the resulting forms of religion online points to larger cultural shifts at work in the practice and perception of religion in society. New media tools support networked forms of community, encourage experimentation with religious identity construction and self-presentation and promote the drawing from multiple and divergent religious sources and encounters simultaneously. This encourages an open, fluid and individualized form of religious engagement ,which compliments what many scholars have noted as a move towards “lived religion” where media resources serve as tools to help redefine religious practice contemporary life (see Pew’s Religion Among Millennial’s report). Yet this religion online is clearly intimately connected to offline religious engagement, serving as a supplement and compliment to the ways many people engage religion offline. In a recent study I found that there are a variety of motivations for religious blogging: from a desire for a more integrated online-offline religious experience, a chance to engage in new levels religious discourse, wanting to make their private spirituality public or hoping to create new spiritual networks with like minds. Blogger’s motivation were also frequently linked to their religious or theological tradition, their beliefs about religious authority, and the offline roles or positions they held within a given faith community. Thus religious blogging seems to be embedded and connected to individual’s offline practices and convictions. (see Religious Authority and the Blogosphere) So I would argue paying careful attention to religious practice and belief online is important, because it provides a forum in which to study in a nuanced way the nature and practice of religion in the global information society.

To read other scholars reflections on the report and the question posed check out this link.

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