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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Theology after Google

I am attending a very interesting conference called Theology after Google. It is not at all what I expected but I have found it to be a fascinating journey. The conference has brought together an interesting collection of "progressive techno geeks" from emerging church theolobloggers to networked social activitists and a good helping of theologians. It is one of the most wired events I have been to (so it is a shame my laptop wireless is acting up and not working at the conference site so I can't tweet and blog about it live. They have an active tweet hub going so you follow and back track on the conversation or check out the sessions today via a live stream.

The focus seems to be, as Tony Jones stated on the opening night, an attempt to kick start a conversation on exploring a "progressive populace theology in a new media world". I have found it to be an interesting ride and have been especially provoked by the skype cast lecture from Jeff Jarvis, author of What would google do? and the changes the world of web 2.0 presents to religious communities. While I am still waiting for the theological conversation to get past the level of asking questions to trying answering some of the challenges of authenticity, disembodied mediation and shifting authority with true theological based strategies (there is still today) I have learned lots from hanging out with people like Steve Knight, Barry Taylor, Craig Deitweiler and Jana Riess.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The new landscape of the religion blogosphere

The Social Science Research Council recently released an interesting report entitled The new landscape of the religion blogosphere. According to its synopsis:

This report surveys nearly 100 of the most influential blogs that contribute to an online discussion about religion in the public sphere and the academy. It places this religion blogosphere in the context of the blogosphere as a whole, maps out its contours, and presents the voices of some of the bloggers themselves. For those new to the world of blogs, there is an overview of what blogging is and represents (section 1). The already-initiated can proceed directly to the in-depth analyses of academic blogging (section 2), where religion blogs stand now, and where they may go in the future (sections 3 and 4).

Some of the key survey's respondents and noted bloggers have also been given space to respond online to the report's findings and comment specifically on how blogs and new media changing both academic and public discussions of religion. I encourage you to check this out!

Monday, March 01, 2010

We want Religion Online!

One statistic that caught my attention in the most recent Pew Internet and American life survey, is that 41% of respondents said they wished online news covered more stories on religion and spirituality. This ranked just behind the 44% who said they would like to see more on scientific news and discoveries online. So while this is just one of a number of finding in a report the primarily focuses on how the internet is effecting the news industry I find it striking that interest in religion seems to be growing or at least maintaining momentum, rather than declining as some have suggested.

Other interesting findings of the study are that in the USA the internet now ranks above newspapers and radio as American's primary news source and that the people's relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized and participatory.

For summary of the full study report see: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1508/internet-cell-phone-users-news-social-experience