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Technology and Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome  

Tatiana Bur

Coupling together “technology” and “religion” might, to the modern mind, sound rather antithetical. The former, as we know it, is based in scientific knowledge and produces tangible results; the latter is phenomenological and spiritual. Yet this does not do justice to the full character of ancient science, or of ancient religion. Technologies in Greco-Roman antiquity could, and did, help create and sustain a sense of the divine, whether this was in the context of sanctuary space, or as part of religious occasions or rituals, for example. The kinds of evidence available to unearth the realities of the relation between technology and religion in ancient Greece and Rome span literature, material culture, and, importantly, ancient technical manuals. This final genre tends not to be as familiar to students of the Greco-Roman world in general and especially to students of ancient religion. Yet by combining these dry, and at times abstruse, texts with anecdotal evidence, technical realities and issues of viewership which surround the use of technology in ancient religious contexts can be better understood. One of the more familiar instances of religious technologies from ancient Greece is that of the theatrical crane (mēchanē). There, epiphanies of gods were fabricated using a conspicuous mechanical construction which speaks to the fundamentally mediated nature of ancient epiphany. The sense of sacred presence within ancient temples in the Greco-Roman world was enhanced using various technical methods including catoptrics—the science of reflection. Religious processions in antiquity involved parading a vast array of objects through the cityscape and technologies of automation began, in the Hellenistic period onward, to feature as part of this conspicuous display of the marvelous. Various other rituals which formed the very basis of Greek religious life, such as divination and dedication, relied on technical, including mechanical, expertise to create, enhance, or authenticate connection with the divine. Traces of the intersection between religion and technology in Greco-Roman antiquity can be found not only from the Classical institution of the theater but even earlier, including in the Homeric epics. Yet the formalization of the discipline of mechanics in the Hellenistic period gave new shape and vigor to the relation between religion and technology. Subsequently, the Roman period saw increased meta-discourse on the phenomenon, especially thanks to the culturally vibrant “Second Sophistic,” as well as the rise of Christianity, where the word (logos) of god was privileged above anything material.


Religion, New Media, and Digital Culture  

Giulia Evolvi

The study of religion and new media explores how the contemporary proliferation of technological devices and digital culture impacts religious traditions. The progressive mediation of religion through websites, social networks, apps, and digital devices has created new conditions for religious experiences, practices, and beliefs. From the diffusion of internet technologies in the mid-1990s, scholars have individuated four waves to describe the evolution of religion and new media: (a) The first wave (mid-1990s–beginning 2000s) is characterized by enthusiasm for the potential of the Internet and the establishment of the first websites dedicated to religion, such as the Vatican official webpage and chatrooms where Neo-Pagans celebrated online rituals. These may be considered examples of “cyber-religion,” a term that indicates religious activities in the virtual space of the Internet, usually called in this period “cyberspace.” (b) The second wave (the mid-late 2000s) involves the growth of religious online presences, and is characterized by more realistic attitudes on the potentials and consequences of internet use. For example, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish virtual sacred buildings have been created on the platform Second Life. At the same time, the virtual congregation Church of Fools attracted both positive reactions and criticism. In this period, scholars often talk about “religion online,” which is the online transposition of activities and narratives of religious groups, and “online religion,” a type of religion that exists mainly because of the increased interconnectivity and visual enhancements of the Internet. (c) The third wave (late 2000–mid-2010s) saw the creation of social network platforms and the proliferation of smartphones. Religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and the Pope established social network accounts, and smartphone developed apps for reading sacred texts, praying, and performing confessions. This type of religion is usually called “digital religion,” a concept that indicates the progressive blurring of the line between online and offline religiosity. (d) The fourth wave (the late 2010s) includes online religious groups circulating narratives beyond religious institutions, and greater academic attention to elements such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, politics. This is the case of veiled Muslim influencers who talk about religion in fashion tutorials, and Russian Orthodox women (Matushki) who use blogs to diffuse patriarchal values. The notion of “digital religion” is employed in this period to explore how religious identities, communities, and authorities change in the internet age. Scholars have approached these four waves through the lens of existing media theoretical frameworks, especially mediation, mediatization, and social shaping of technology, and adapted them to the field of religion and new media. While existing scholarship has often focused on Europe and North America, the study of religion and new media is expected to become increasingly global in scope.