Friday, November 11, 2011

Authority Online

As we have discussed in class, the online world offers a platform where the everyday man can voice his or her opinions. One of the most prominent platforms are online forums, or Blogs. Blogs allow for any likeminded people to come together over a number of issues, the most popular of these issues is religion.  An example of this type of religious online forum is “”  On this website, viewers are allowed to voice their thoughts and opinions on matters concerning Jewish fundamentals from philosophies, the Torah, and even to issues concerning marriage.
 Since these types of online blogs are a space where anyone can voice a thought and gain followers, blogs create what we have discussed as a, “flattening of hierarchy.”  This means that offline religious authorities, such as a Priest, or Pastor, in the church are competing with online authors who have gained followers and popularity regardless of formal training. It is important to define what constitutes authority especially when considering these online contexts. As Pauline Cheong discusses, authority, when concerning the Internet, can be looked at in terms of two assumptions.  The first assumption Cheong makes is that religious authority is being destroyed by religious online activities, such as blogs, which pose a definite problem for religious communities.  The second assumption is that online practices are sustaining offline religious authority by reiterating and supporting the traditional views of authority.
Blogs however are unique; they can be looked at as relating to both assumptions.  Depending on the theme of the blog, it can either be looked at as a place that supports offline authority, by offering a space which supplements traditional offline practices, or a blog can be a space that challenges authority by offering new ideas that go in the opposite direction of existing offline beliefs. Cheong describes this paradox as being “dual logics” explained through a  “dialectical perspective”, which means that, “he logic of dialectics on religious authority would imply understanding the management of conflicting tensions, uneven gains, multiple opportunities, ambivalences and challenges that new media users like religious leaders face within their online and offline experiences” (Cheong, p. 20).  Religious blogs are double edge swords that can be useful or harmful, depending on the context, either reiterating or undermining offline religious authority. 

Cheong, P.H., Fischer-Nielsen, P., Gelfgren, S., and Ess, C. (eds) (Forthcoming, 2012)
Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices, Futures, New York:
Peter Lang.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Final Paper Topic

The research question that my final paper will address is how the Catholic Church and its authority choose to engage and incorporate new technology into religious teaching. The specific case study this paper will look at is how the Catholic Church deals with the issue of confession online, exploring mobile phone applications. This case study will help further explain the research question because it studies a very relevant case in which the Catholic Church integrates new media with a specific ritual, the act of confession. Thus, illustrating how the church exercises its authority concerning new technological advances. The specific case describes how the Catholic Church, in order to bring those astray back, have invented an application for the iphone which allows an individual to conveniently confess their sins (Beck, 2011).  Although as the article states, this digital type of confession does not replace or get rid of traditional confession; one must still go to a priest for absolution. (Beck, 2011). The article also discusses the Pope’s position on technology, which helps address the aspect of authority in the research question.  Overall, the case study will help provide further evidence that the Catholic Church is engaging in using technology for its religious practices, and these online practices are furthering the teaching in Catholicism.

Beck, Father Edward L. (2011, Feb. 8). Confession App: Catholic Church Sanctions New iPhone App. Retrived from app-roman-catholic-church-sanctions-iphone app/story?id=12866499#.TrMtGK48QzU.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Online Identity

The idea of identity in relation to religion has over time changed.  Identity began as something very strong, concrete and simple, being a member of a certain church within a specific domination defined your religious identity.  Now though, with the creation of the Internet and online churches and religious forums, this solid definition of identity has began to evolve into something more dynamic and less static. Having these resources online, such as religious blogs, allows an individual to construct a more flexible religious identity. Instead of being bound to one church with a specific list of beliefs, a person now can be a member of an array of different online church forums, discussing their beliefs with others.  Digital media allows for an individual to craft their own identity instead of having it crafted for them, thus strengthening their ability to perform and act out their religious identity. As Lovheim states, “These web applications provide new genres where individual self-performance is combined with interactivity through the possibility of links and comments (cf. Miller & Shepherd 2004).” A constant belief in our society is that there is no “perfect religion”, but now with all the different platforms, a person could construct their perfect religion.  As Lovheim also states, “New media genres enable individuals to present texts and images of private moments and reflections in a public setting, which enhances expectations of openness and intimacy. At the same time, they enhance users’ possibilities of monitoring and editing self-representations, which gives them an apprehension of greater control over the representation of identity” (p. 7).  A prime example of this flexible online identity is the “Debating Christianity and Religion” forum.  On this website, members are encouraged to engage in debates regarding all areas of Christianity, from politics to philosophy.  This illustrates the fact that religious identity can be strengthen through the use of digital media, individuals can enter online forums and argue and articulate their beliefs without being looked down upon by their physical church. Digital media allows for an individual to define who they are while commutating, whether debating or conversing about their beliefs on many platforms, thus strengthening their identity. 

Identity by Mia L√∂vheim, pages 1-33. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Online Community

Religion penetrates every aspect of society, thus the creation of the Internet was no exception. From the time the Internet was first invented, religious websites with forums and chat room discussions have existed.  As time and technology have progressed, the Internet has now become a way for people with like faiths and beliefs to come together and worship, forming religious online communities.  This week’s blog posts focuses on a specific online community, ( It is a nondenominational online community where Christians can fellowship in a friendly and clean environment, whose purpose is to provide a “feature rich online community.”  Community is sustained by communication.  Much like the Church St. Pixels in Hutchings article, operates in the same way, both websites offer profiles, chatrooms, forums encouraging the members to communicate, and both expect a level of respect from the users. This encourages community over great distance and space, what is also referred to as a loose community.  The structure of is centered on a key idea of keeping the focus of the online community clean, friendly, and safe.  Members are encouraged to communicate with one another on topics relevant to religion.  The website does not turn down nonbelievers but it is centered on Christianity and it expects the upmost respect of its users.  The offline impact this might have is that because it is a nondenominational website, this means there is no central, core belief or practice bounding these individuals together.  There is a sense of freedom, that the users can come together and discuss topics without any type of authority. By allowing such unrestricted communication, this could cause some people to question certain beliefs or traditions.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Online Rituals

As we have discussed and learned in class, online rituals are a very convenient and engaging process.  They allow for individuals who may not have the time, money, or the necessary recourses to partake in certain religious practices to perform rituals at their own pace and convenience online.  While online rituals are a very user-friendly process, they however do not offer the full engagement that a real, physical ritual would offer.  As Connelly explained the difficulties and limitations in her case study, she stated that an online ritual would only engaged two senses: sight and hearing. She states that, although technology has come a long way, the sense of smell, taste, and touch are left out, leaving visualization to pick up the slack.  The sense of sight, through graphics and text, is highly exaggerated to invoke the other senses. For example this Puja  wesite, illustrates the online practice of Puja, a Hindu religious ritual in which a presentation is made to various gods as an act of worship.  In this site the user can perform a home Puja, in which they give personal offerings virtually, like flowers, or incense.  This supports Connelly’s claim that, while there are vivid images, text, and audio, the user still cannot smell the incense they present to the certain god.  Thus proving that while this online process is convenient, it cannot be 100 percent replaced by the physical ritual, meaning it is more of a supplement than a substitute.

Connelly, L. (2010) ‘Virtual Buddhism: An Analysis of Aesthetics in Relation to
Religious Practice within Second Life.’ In Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the
Internet. Available HTTP <> (accessed 10 February

Friday, October 7, 2011

I attended the "Approaching Rituals Online" seminar presented by Christopher Helland at the Digital Religion Symposium. Although this blog is centered around digital identity, digital religion is an aspect included in someone's digital religion. For example, on Facebook many people choose to include their religious affiliation on their profiles. Professor Helland explained that his topic is relevant because levels with online interactions have increased. It is because of this digital revolution that many people do not make distinctions between "online" and "offline". This digital media has assimilated into our life.  This assimilation has gone so far as to include religion.  Religion is making it's way into our social media. As Pressor Helland argued, sometimes the computer can be seen as sacred space or a portal to connect us with sacred information. Professor Helland's argument centered on the fact that a person's definition of what a ritual is dictates how they interact with rituals online.  For example, if one thinks a ritual to be sacred, while attending a service on Second Life, they would take it seriously as if they are physically present in the service. The operators of the site must place the highest importance on the ritual ensuring that there are no distractions or people being disrespectful in order to keep the integrity of the ritual. Keeping the ritual sacred is the main obstacle for online religious rituals. As far as Judaism goes, the acceptance of online rituals would depend on the classification. An Orthodox Jew for example would not embrace the online ritual practice, since the Sabbath is essential to the foundation. Keeping the Sabbath sacred is the main principle, and refraining from any type of creative activity, especially technology is a rule that would not be compromised.

Monday, October 3, 2011


This blog will discuss the different branches of Judaism and their relationship with digital religion; specifically how they either acknowledge, encourage, or forbid its use depending on the specific community.