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date: 01 July 2022

Religion, New Media, and Digital Culturelocked

Religion, New Media, and Digital Culturelocked

  • Giulia EvolviGiulia EvolviLecturer, Erasmus School of History, Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Summary

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.

Subjects

  • Global Perspectives on Religion
  • New Religions
  • Rituals, Practices, and Symbolism
  • Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology of Religion

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