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INTRODUCTION: Rethinking the online–offline connection in the study of religion online



This article introduces current research on the connection between online and offline religion and map out significant questions and themes concerning how this relationship takes shape among different religious traditions and contexts. By bringing together a collection of studies that explore these issues, we seek to investigate both how the Internet informs religious cultures in everyday life and how the Internet is being shaped by offline religious traditions and communities. In order to contextualize the articles in the special issue, we offer a brief overview of how religion online has been studied over the past two decades with attention given to how the intersection of online–offline religion has been approached. This is followed by a discussion of key questions in the recent study of the relationship between online and offline religion and significant themes that emerge in contemporary research on religious uses of the Internet. These questions and themes help contextualize the unique contributions this special issue offers to the current discourse in this area, as well as how it might inform the wider field of Internet studies. We end by suggesting where future research on religion and the Internet might be headed, especially in relation to how we understand and approach the overlap between online and offline religion as a space of hybridity and social interdependence.
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Information, Communication &
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Heidi A. Campbell a & Mia Lövheim b
a Department of Communication, Texas A&M
University, 102 Bolton Hall, 4234 TAMU, College
Station, TX, 77843, USA
b University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden E-mail:
Available online: 18 Nov 2011
To cite this article: Heidi A. Campbell & Mia Lövheim (2011): INTRODUCTION,
Information, Communication & Society, 14:8, 1083-1096
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Heidi A. Campbell & Mia Lo
Rethinking the onlineoffline connection
in the study of religion online
In one of the first edited collections addressing existential and philosophical
perspectives on computer-mediated communication, Ess (1996, p. 9) stated,
‘If CMC only partially effects the revolutionary transformations of values and
social structures envisioned by its enthusiasts, then religion as humanity’s
oldest expression of values and community is likely both to impact and to
be impacted by these transformations’. After a decade and a half of published
research on religion online, we are finally able to begin to make some educated
claims about the impact of the Internet on religious culture and social forms.
In the initial waves of religion and Internet research, focus was often on how
the Internet would drastically change religious practice and ideology, due to the
growth of religious communities online and the integration of religious rituals and
practices into digital environments. Much attention was given to the plurality of
religious expressions online, particularly of fringe or secretive religious groups
that were now able to achieve a public platform making them more visible
(Hennerby & Dawson 1999; Fernback 2002). In scholarship concerning how
mainstream religions such as Christianity and Islam were responding to new
media technologies, research focused on the fact that the Internet made it possible
to reach out to new groups, while also challenging offline institutional control
over traditional practices and theology (O’Leary & Brasher 1996; Bunt 2000).
However, in the past decade, as the Internet has increasingly become
embedded in the everyday lives of many individuals, facilitating their social,
economic and work-related tasks, researchers’ attention has been drawn to
investigating the connection between online and offline religious behaviours
and beliefs. No longer are the online and offline seen as completely distinct
fields of practice, as for many they are integrated spheres of interaction: the
Internet constitutes the space where individuals and groups live out their
social and spiritual lives, and offline boundaries and relations often inform the
online sphere. At the heart of the intersection of the online offline social
world is the important issue of the relationship between new media technology
and religious change.
Information, Communication & Society Vol. 14, No. 8, 2011, pp. 1083 –1096
ISSN 1369-118X print/ISSN 1468-4462 online #2011 Taylor & Francis
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The wide-ranging claims about the transformative power of the new technol-
ogy and emerging cyberculture for the content and practice of religion in initial
research reflected early fascination and hype surrounding the emergence of this
new media. As expressed above, in the quote by Ess, it is not surprising that the
Internet’s impact on ‘religion – as humanity’s oldest expression of values and com-
munity’ evoked scholarly interest. The following review of research on religion and
the Internet will show that this issue has proved to be more complex. As Ess pre-
dicted, religion has not only been impacted by, but also impacts, the ways in which
new media technologies shape meanings, identities and social relations. This devel-
opment exemplifies how the study of the interplay between religion and media is a
significant locus for understanding transformations of modern society and culture.
As pointed out by Hoover and Lundby (1997), a crucial starting point in this study
is to approach media and religion as mutually constitutive, rather than separate or
dichotomous categories. The articles in this special issue illustrate that the question
about the relationship between new media technology and religious change today
concerns how online expressions of religion can be seen as part of broader social
and cultural transformations, where new media technology, as well as offline reli-
gious institutions and traditions, play a part.
This special issue of Information, Communication & Society aims to present
current research on the connection between online and offline religion and
map out significant questions and themes concerning how this relationship
takes shape among different religious traditions and contexts. By bringing
together a collection of studies that explore these issues, we seek to investigate
both how the Internet informs religious cultures in everyday life and how the
Internet is being shaped by offline religious traditions and communities. In
order to contextualize the articles in the special issue, we offer a brief overview
of how religion online has been studied over the past two decades with attention
given to how the intersection of online offline religion has been approached.
This is followed by a discussion of key questions in the recent study of the
relationship between online and offline religion and significant themes that
emerge in contemporary research on religious uses of the Internet. These ques-
tions and themes help contextualize the unique contributions this special issue
offers to the current discourse in this area, as well as how it might inform the
wider field of Internet studies. We end by suggesting where future research
on religion and the Internet might be headed, especially in relation to how we
understand and approach the overlap between online and offline religion as a
space of hybridity and social interdependence.
Overview of the study of online religion
Evidence of religious use of the Internet can be found as far back as the 1980s
when Rheingold (1993) documents some of the first religious-orientated
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activities taking place at this time on BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) under a
‘create your own religion’ topic on the discussion area of CommuniTree.
Helland (2007) also notes how debates between Christian and Jewish
members within USENET’s religion-focused discussion group section, net.reli-
gion, resulted in the first religion-specific online community. However, it was
not until the 1990s that religious practice online became prominent in the Inter-
net landscape. This was evidenced by the rise and diversity of religious websites
from Buddhist to Zoroastrian online, as highlighted in 1996 by TIME magazine’s
special issue and cover story on religion online (Chama 1996). By 2004, 1.7
million web pages with religious content could be found online and ‘approxi-
mately 51 million pages on religion’ (Hojsgaard & Warburg 2005, p. 2). The
quest for religion and spirituality within the online medium has significantly
grown since the introduction of the Internet, resulting in a growing interest in
the academic study of religion and the Internet. Scholars have categorized and
described the religious use of the Internet in terms of a number of phases, start-
ing with research in the mid-1990s, where focus was initially placed on how reli-
gious rituals and behaviours were being transferred to and practiced online.
Cowan and Hadden (2000), in the first edited collection on religion and the
Internet, offered an interdisciplinary overview of cyber religious practice. They
argued that while the study of religion online was still in its infancy (p. 49), three
important areas of research enquiry were noted, namely, ‘identification and
measurement’ of forms of religious practice online, a ‘systematic study of the
key substantive concerns’ emerging in relation to the study of religion online
and lastly the ‘theoretical and empirical exploration’ of how we assess the
impact and influence of religion online (p. 26).
In the field’s second edited collection, Dawson and Cowan (2004) addressed
the social and cultural drivers of why religion is being practiced online. They
raised a number of new questions, including ‘how do we study religion
online?’ in comparison to offline religion and ‘how are offline religious commu-
nities and identity affected by online religion?’. Hojsgaard and Warburg’s (2005)
collection provided a number of additional studies, which, they suggest, help
map the different phases, or ‘waves’, of research on religion online (p. 5).
They stated that the initial wave of research presented the Internet either
within utopian or dystopian contexts regarding the impact of the Internet on
society and religious culture. The second wave sought to offer a more balanced
approach by categorizing and analysing in detail how the Internet can be used for
religious purposes and the potential implications of those choices for religious
groups. They also suggested that a third wave was emerging, characterized by
greater variety of approaches and focusing on the critical interpretation of the
influence of the Internet on religious life both online and offline. It is also
within this collection that the themes of authority, community and identity
were prominently noted by a number of scholars as key areas of exploration
in studies of religion and the Internet.
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In the first two waves of research on religion and the Internet, the primary
focus was placed on documenting the rise of religion online. Initial research often
framed the Internet as a unique sphere of religious engagement, highlighting the
distinctive and dynamic characteristics of online religious practice, when com-
pared with the bounded nature of offline religion with its links to institutional
protocol and tradition. During this time, the distinction between ‘religion
online’ and ‘online religion’ played an important role in framing conceptions
and studies of religion and the Internet. First introduced by Helland (2000),
this distinction differentiates religious uses of the Internet on the basis of
whether information and ritual are largely based on offline sources and practices
or on forms arising from the practicing of religion online. Religion online was
lauded for its flexibility, empowering its members to re-form rituals, bypass tra-
ditional systems of legitimation or recognized gatekeepers and the opportunities
it provided to transcend normal limits of time, space and geography.
Thus, initially, religious culture and practices that emerged online were
largely treated as separate phenomena from offline religious life. Online and
offline religious groups were framed as distinctive groups, even though their
beliefs and practices meant that they were part of the same religious tradition,
and members online saw themselves as an extension of a specific offline religious
community. Furthermore, online expressions of religion were sometimes seen as
opposed to the practices and structures of offline religion.
An example of this is how certain offline religious organizations expressed
concern about the effects of bringing normally closed private policy or theolo-
gical discussions of religious leaders into public forums (Piff & Warburg
2005). Yet, it was also noted that the Internet provided offline religious organ-
izations with unique opportunities to monitor members’ activities online and
control information, thereby reasserting their offline control online (Barker
2005; Barzilai-Nahon & Barzilai 2005).
However, as the Internet has become more ingrained in our daily lives, increas-
ing recognition has been given to the fact that the online and offline share a more
intimate connection. With the move towards third-wave scholarship, and the
growing recognition of the embeddedness of the Internet in everyday life, the
online and offline were increasingly seen as interconnected and in many respects
interdependent on one another (Wellman & Hathornwaite 2002). Here, the pat-
terns and practices of religion online are seen as connected to and having increasing
implications for the offline religious groups from which they are often derived.
Current approaches to studying the online offline
In their collection, Dawson and Cowan (2004, pp. 10– 11) highlighted a number
of important areas for future research related to religion and the Internet,
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including the examination of online religious experiences and closer attention to
how user age, geography, ethnicity and gender influence religious behaviour
online. They also noted the need for a more thorough examination of the
relationship between online and offline religious behaviour and activities. By
the mid-2000s, some work had been done on the links between conceptions
of online and offline community (Campbell 2005), how Internet users seek to
link their online and offline religious identities (Lo
¨vheim 2004) and how the
Internet raises issues for offline religious authorities (Barzilai-Nahon & Barzilai
2005). Yet, the need for more systematic comparisons of online offline connec-
tions, conceptions or structures was still needed. Thus, scholars called for
studies comparing Internet user practice with correlating offline behaviour,
and not just relying on user self-reports of such links. They charged researchers
to draw more explicitly on broader sociological studies of various behaviours and
forms of life online, instead of basing claims only on other studies of religion
online. This, they hoped, would lead to a better grasp of what Dawson and
Cowan (2004, p. 10) call the ‘overall social context of cyber-religiosity’.
Since that time, within the third and current phase of study of religion and
the Internet, scholars have increasingly come to focus on analysing the impli-
cations of new media technology for religion in the context of intersections
between online and offline religion, such as rituals (Helland 2007; Grieve
2010), community (Cheong & Poon 2009; Campbell 2010), identity (Cowan
2005; Lo
¨vheim 2006) and authority (Campbell 2007). As illustrated above, dis-
cussion related to the online and the offline has often focused on identifying the
actual nature and relationship of these two contexts and whether they are sep-
arate or overlapping spheres. In current scholarship, we see a move towards
trying to unpack the symbiotic relationship existing between online and offline
religious practices and groups. In the following section, we outline some key
questions that illustrate how this relationship between the online and offline
has been framed by scholars in the area.
These questions emerge from the issues for further enquiry posed by
Dawson and Cowan (2004). First is the question of how new, digital media is becom-
ing embedded in contemporary religious life. This question points to the need to move
beyond the idea of religion found online as being separate from the offline reli-
gion, towards a mapping out of how online belief and practices are situated in the
materiality and context of everyday religious life. Here, attention is given to what
situations, practices and relations are created in the intersection of the online and
the offline, and what these mean for individual and collective religious life. This
involves looking at the similarities and differences in media strategies used by
religious organizations, groups and individuals, and how these are structured
by conditions such as age, gender, ethnicity and geographical locality. This
exploration helps contribute to a deeper understanding of how religious organ-
izations and individuals are integrated and function in culture and their perceived
position within society as a whole.
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The second question goes beyond the influence of the Internet on religion
and concerns the very relationship between technology and religion; in other
words, does technology shape religion or does religion shape technology? Current
explorations are beginning to investigate how and the extent to which religious
actors use, shape and renegotiate technological platforms (i.e. Campbell 2010),
as well as the social and technological patterns that may develop from religious
group’s ‘culturing of technology’ (Barzilai-Nahon & Barzilai 2005). Here, atten-
tion is given to the new forms of technology and use that may arise from such
negotiations, and how these are integrated into the beliefs, discourse and tra-
dition of a given religious group, as well as the tensions that may arise and
how they are managed.
Third, the question of the extent to which the Internet is a causal actor in
changes occurring within contemporary religious culture must be asked, i.e. is
the Internet changing certain aspects of religion or rather enhancing tendencies already
underway and expressed offline? Studies of religion in modern society have often
highlighted, for example, the individualization of religion and the challenging
of traditional forms of religious authority and religious institutions (Ammerman
2003). At the same time, it is clear that institutions and traditions still play a role
in forming individual religious beliefs and practices. Moving from an understand-
ing of the Internet as primarily a place for individual meaning-making, it is
important to explore the interplay between individuals and institutions
enacted online. By looking at these relationships and patterns, we can begin to
see the extent to which modern religious life is being restructured in multiple
interconnected spheres of experience and practice. Thus, our exploration of reli-
gious life online may also offer deeper and more nuanced understanding of trans-
formations of religious life and culture occurring within contemporary society.
From these questions, three themes regarding how scholars approach the
interaction between religion and computer technology and the spaces this
creates can be observed. These themes reflect a movement within current scho-
larship on media and religion from an understanding of religion and media or
technology as separate domains towards an analysis of how these are interacting
in modern society. Thus, rather than simply asking if a religion is transformed
through technology, scholars seek to explore how online and offline religious
expressions and practices, roles and spaces are being integrated in the lives of
individuals and groups, and how they are negotiating their identities and commit-
ments in these new contexts. This means attention is directed towards the inter-
play between new media technology, religious individuals and groups, and the
particular situations and contexts in which they are located.
The first of these themes concerns how religious authority is negotiated
between newly emerging actors and structures online and their offline counter-
parts. As described above, the online environment potentially undermines
traditional forms of authority as linked to institutions and official sources. Fur-
thermore, new forms of authority figures arise, for example, online offline
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brokers fluent in both arenas. However, the outcome is complex. For instance,
Scheifinger’s (2010) study of online puja ordering websites in the Hindu tradition
shows how online religious entrepreneurs both challenge the authority of tra-
ditional temples and yet also create a dialogue between online and offline com-
munity members about acceptable forms of mediated religious practice. Here,
attention is given not only to exploring the challenge online religious environ-
ments pose to offline religious institutions, but how the online and offline com-
munities are connected. Thus, current research shows that the issue is not so
much a shift from ‘old’ to ‘new’ forms of authority, but rather, the integration
and reconstruction of existing ones in which some relations of power remain and
some are reconstructed. In this process, we also see how recognizing the impor-
tance of online literacy and leveraging of connection resource become crucial for
offline religious leaders and communities (i.e. Pope Benedict’s 2009 World Com-
munication Day speech). A further example is the online offline branding by
groups to construct legitimacy, where the Net becomes a space to shore up
credibility and image, as well as a PR tool for strategic framing narratives.
The second theme concerns integration and negotiations between online and
offline religious spaces and forms of belonging. Here, research focuses on studying
relations and intersections between online and offline religious communities
for example, how offline religious institutions organize and integrate their activi-
ties and aims in online context, such as cyberchurches or Fatwa counseling sites.
This theme also includes research on how individuals integrate the use of online
and offline spaces during different times in their lives and for different purposes,
and how they negotiate tensions that might arise between the spaces. Research
shows how forms of belonging to and participating in religious communities
become reconstructed in a society shaped by limitations of time, experiences
of transnational relations and the ubiquity of digital media. A related issue is
how individuals negotiate the boundaries of sacred spaces in the experience of
moving between offline and online settings for religious practices, and how
they form strategies of mediating between the affordances and possibilities of
these spaces, in order to preserve important values of a community or in indi-
vidual worship.
A third theme concerns the integration of and negotiations between values and
norms of online culture and offline religious discourse. Moving beyond the hypothesis
that online culture, characterized as ephemeral, heterogeneous and increasingly
commercial, would lead to a crisis of authenticity in religion (Dawson & Cowan
2004, p. 2), research has come to explore how religious institutions and individ-
uals negotiate between the requirements of establishing a successful online pres-
ence and traditional criteria for legitimate knowledge, expertise or sincere
commitment, often based in the conditions of offline contexts and sources.
These negotiations also include what is prescribed and forbidden for
example, in Islam interaction in online spaces often implies being exposed to
commercial messages and images that are considered haram or forbidden (see,
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for example, Becker’s article in this special issue). At the same time, these spaces
create new opportunities for carrying out the religious duty and the value of dis-
seminating or learning about Islam. Research on religious videos on YouTube
explores the interplay and tensions between a culture valuing parody and play
and traditional religious values of complexity and seriousness. A final issue con-
cerns the negotiation between control over the religious message and the possi-
bilities and ideals of the participatory culture (Jenkins 2006) emerging with new
web technologies open to broader range of voices and experiences in shaping reli-
gious messages.
In this special issue
The articles in this special issue help us unpack several of the key questions and
themes highlighted above, in terms of analysing how the interaction and interde-
pendency of religion online and offline takes shape, and what it might mean for
understanding the relation between religion and new media technology in the
contemporary world. Thus, this special issue can take the area of research on
religion and the Internet a step further in the task of mapping out the continuum
between expressions and practices of religion online and offline.
We begin with the article by Ineke Noomen, Stef Aupers and Dick
Houtman, In Their Own Image? Catholic, Protestant and Holistic Spiritual Appro-
priations of the Internet. This article focuses on the dilemmas of Catholic, Pro-
testant and holistic spirituality web designers in negotiating the heritage of
offline religious discourses and identities and the requirements of establishing
a presence in the spiritual market of the Internet. In highlighting how these
appropriations become conflict-ridden and power-infested processes, the
article illustrates the theme of integration of and negotiations between
values and norms of online culture and offline religious discourse. The
authors demonstrate how religious users frame the Internet as a spiritual
space in order to utilize it as forum whereby they can amplify certain reli-
gious discourse online and resist religious change in ways they feel are no
longer available to them offline. Here, appropriating the Internet and spiritua-
lizing the online habitat allows them to negotiate and respond to ongoing pro-
cesses of secularization in Dutch society.
In his article, Contemporary Religious Community and the Online Church, Tim
Hutchings provides an overview of ethnographic research on four online
church communities in order to demonstrate the various ways in which affilia-
tions with offline Christian churches or denominations are established. This
addresses the theme of online and offline religious spaces and forms of belonging
by investigating how online churches operating within established Christian tra-
ditions may use online activities to intensify offline relationships and thereby
strengthen notions of religious belonging. Yet, these attempts may be
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complicated by online culture, which encourages individualized interpretative
practices that may run counter to larger Christian discourse and networks.
Thus, the article also illustrates the negotiations of authority and of values in
the intersection of online and offline religion.
Vit Sisler discusses the emergence and character of a ‘new media ecology’ in
the production and consumption of Islamic knowledge in his article Cyber Coun-
selors: Online Fatwas, Arbitration Tribunals, and the Construction of Muslim Identity in
the UK. By focusing on the connections between four Islamic websites and global
and local Islamic institutions, the article explores how normative content online
is formed, particularly through the practice of cyber counseling, and its impli-
cations for how Muslim identities are built, negotiated and performed in new
discursive spaces. The article argues that while the underlying logic behind
this discourse fuels individualization and privatization of faith, the Internet
simultaneously asserts conformity and compliance with established religious
authorities. Thus, the article illustrates the dynamics and negotiations between
values and hierarchies derived from local and traditional religious contexts and
new ones shaped by the Internet.
Pauline Hope Cheong, Shirlena Huang and Jessie P. H. Poon, in their article
Cultivating Online and Offline Pathways to Enlightenment: Religious Authority and Stra-
tegic Arbitration in Wired Buddhist Organizations, focus on the changes, decline and
reconstruction of clergy authority posed by the Internet. The article emphasizes
the importance of a perspective in which previous/traditional patterns of
communication in a religious community are integrated with the affordances
of new media technologies. The article illustrates how Buddhist clergy seek to
reconstruct their religious authority through expanding communicative compe-
tence by multimodal representations and communicative strategies. Thus, this
article illustrates the theme of how religious authority and leadership in the con-
temporary world is built on competence to integrate or mediate between offline
and online, not least commercially informed, communicative acts and values.
The development of online forms and practices to negotiate the boundaries
of sacred space is the theme in Carmen Becker’s article, Muslims on the Path of
the Salaf Al-Salih: Ritual dynamics in chat rooms and discussion forums. The article
focuses on Salafi Muslims in Germany and the Netherlands and is based on par-
ticipant observation and conversations in chat rooms and discussion forums.
Through analysing the dynamics between the architecture and management
of these computer-mediated environments and the interactions that take
place in them, Becker discusses how participants find ways to transfer religious
rituals and values from the offline to the online space. The article highlights the
multiple ways through which rituals are transferred and reconfigured in relation
to the technological affordances of online environments, but also how these
might be converted into shared spaces in which the values of the religious
culture are nurtured.
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Anna Rose Stewart, in Text and Response in the Relationship Between Online and
Offline Religion, explores the connection between online and offline religion as
demonstrated in the ways Christian Internet users interact with texts online,
and how these connect to other forms of religious expression in their lives.
Here, the question of how digital media is embedded in contemporary religious
life is explored by considering how online utterances or engagement may solicit
responses from offline religion. Using ethnography and discursive analysis of
British female charismatic Christians, she demonstrates how online texts can
be important resources for framing broader discussion of church life and personal
worship practices and have the potential to disrupt the conventions of gendered
speech in offline ritual genres.
Finally, Knut Lundby’s article, Patterns of Belonging in Online/Offline Interfaces
of Religion, addresses the question of how interconnections between religion
online and offline can be conceptualized. Using Dawson’s (2004) article ‘Religion
and the quest for virtual community’ as a starting point, he discusses conceptual
consequences following recent changes in the Internet, as well as changes in
offline religion and religiosity. Drawing on an understanding of religion
through processes of mediation and patterns of belonging, he suggests a typology
where patterns of religious belonging could be traced either as ‘participatory’ or
‘vicarious’, online or offline, respectively. This article shows the importance of
grounding studies of online religion in current transformations of offline religion,
rather than essentialist or traditional conceptualizations. It also shows the impor-
tance of grounding studies of religion and the Internet in broader developments
of Internet technology and culture.
The future of online offline religion and Internet
Over time, research on religion and the Internet has shown that the Internet is
being used not only to gather information on religion or perform religious
rituals, but also as a means to actively participate in, engage and integrate reli-
gious community and identity formation in both online and offline contexts.
Current research, as demonstrated by this special issue, is contributing to our
growing understanding of the relationship between online and offline religious
practice and relationships, as well as how this relates to transformations of
religious life within contemporary society.
However, additional scholarship is needed to gain a more nuanced under-
standing and thorough appreciation of the challenges and possibilities of negotiating
the Internet as a medium for religious practice. We foresee a fourth wave of
research on religion online, offering further refinement and development of
methodological approaches, as well as the creation of typologies for categorization
and interpretation purposes. These are needed to enable longitudinal studies on the
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relationship between the online– offline contexts. As everyday life in contemporary
society is increasingly lived in an onlineoffline connection, there will continue to
be a need for better understanding of how religion, refer to Ess (1996, p. 9) again,
‘impacts and is impacted by these transformations’. We need to push for reflection
on the social and institutional implications of practicing religion online; and what
impact, if any, this will have on the construction of identity, community, authority
and authenticity in wider culture. Fourth-wave research should approach the
online– offline question by focusing on how actors and agents within different
sectors of religious communities negotiate and build relationships between their
online and offline counterparts in order to establish community cohesion and
solidify moral or behavioural boundaries in multiple spheres simultaneously
(i.e. Cheong et al. forthcoming-a; Campbell & Golan 2011). Finally, patterns
and practices of religion online must increasingly be explored in comparison to
larger cultural trends in the social and cultural practice of religion in wider,
offline contemporary society (Campbell forthcoming-a). Future work and forth-
coming collections (such as Campbell forthcoming-b; Cheong et al. forthcom-
ing-b) exploring these issues will continue to help us understand the complexity
of the relationship between religion online and offline.
In the past, many explorations of these themes and related questions have
primarily been grounded in religious studies and sociology of religion approach.
Current scholarship often remains more focused on questions raised from the
point of religious scholarship, rather than questions related to broader discussions
in the field of new media cultures and computer technology. Thus, there is,
arguably, in the field of religion and Internet a lack of studies drawing attention
to issues such as the impact of new developments in web design on the develop-
ment of participatory cultures, the consequences of increasing ubiquity of new
media in everyday life and the possibilities of using technology for surveillance
of specific groups with related concerns about security in global society. New
media technology and culture also raise important ethical issues in need of inves-
tigation concerning authenticity, the boundaries of private, public and political and
the responsibilities of individuals and societies. Thus, exploration of these issues by
researchers of religion online, as well as in the wider field of Internet studies,
would benefit from increased cross-disciplinary studies and scholarly dialogue.
Ammerman, N. (2003) ‘Religious identities and religious institutions’, in Handbook
for the Sociology of Religion, ed. M. Dillon, Cambridge University Press,
New York, pp. 207–224.
Barker, E. (2005) ‘Crossing the boundary: new challenges to religious authority and
control as a consequence of access to the internet’, in Religion and Cyberspace,
eds M. Hojsgaard & M. Warburg, Routledge, London, pp. 67–85.
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Heidi A. Campbell is Associate Professor of Communication at Texas A&M
University, where she teaches in media studies. Her work specializes in the
social shaping of technology, Internet studies and online community. She has
researched and published extensively on themes related to religion and the
Internet. She is the author of Exploring Religious Community Online (Peter
Lang, 2005) and When Religion Meets New Media (Routledge, 2010) and her
work appears in the Handbook on Internet Studies (Blackwells, 2011) and Religion
Online (Routledge, 2004), as well as in the Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication,New Media & Society and The Information Society.Address:
Department of Communication, Texas A&M University, 102 Bolton Hall, 4234
TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA. [email:]
Mia Lo
¨vheim is Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion, University of
Uppsala & Media and Communication, Karlstad University (Sweden). Lovheim’s
research focuses on youth, gender and identity and the Internet. Her work has
appeared in a number of journals such as Nordicom Review and Online-Heidelberg
Journal of Religions on the Internet and noted book chapters in Mediating Religion
(Continuum, 2003), Religion Online (Routledge, 2004), Religion in Cyberspace (Rou-
tledge, 2005) and Everyday Religion (OUP, 2007). Address: University of Uppsala,
Uppsala, Sweden. [email:]
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... However, his very definition of a network society-"networks powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies"-seem to allow such a critique. Observation and empirical research suggest that a contemporary network society is not limited to computer powered and mediated relations (Campbell 2005, Campbell and Lövheim 2011, Lenhart and Madden 2007, Wellman 2001b. Offline relations are also constitutive of a network society in which online and offline are not perceived as separate realms, rather they are complementary as an online-offline reality. ...
... At first, researchers conceptualized the two as separate realms, each with their own communities and neighborhoods all neatly arranged. Nowadays, scholars consider them to be one (Lenhart and Madden 2007;Campbell 2005;Campbell and Lövheim 2011). It has been documented that online and offline, or computer-mediated relations and non-computer-mediated relations, are not two separate realms but expanded realities in which the offline informs online practices and also conversely (Wellman and Gulia 1999;Gruzd, Wellman, and Takhteyev 2011). ...
"This paper deals with shifts in the concept of neighborhoods and communities. I propose that the field of social network studies is useful to aid missiological considerations in contemporary global societies. Furthermore, I argue for the thesis that current social shifts require mission studies to move from notions of homogeneous or quasi-homogenous geographically bounded groups, neighborhoods, and communities towards giving attention to the networks of networked individuals—the digital neighbor. The underlying question addressed is, How does this redefinition of community foster mission renewal in the digital age? Answering this question supplies rudimentary material to build a theoretical concept of mission based on a new identity, place, and modes of relationships in a digital-technological-saturated age."
... The online and offline are no longer seen as completely distinct fields of practice (Campbell and Lövheim 2011). Considering the integration of online and offline spaces, the notion of onlife interconnections proves to be constructive as it points out to the blurring distinction between reality and virtuality and insists on the developing entanglements between humans, machines, and nature (Floridi 2015). ...
... On that basis, the term digital religion is proposed to indicate "the technological and cultural space that is evoked when we talk about online and offline religious sphere have become blended and integrated" (Campbell and Evolvi 2020). Current approaches to studying the online-offline relations have been articulated through three areas of inquiry (Campbell and Lövheim 2011): (1) How new, digital media are becoming embedded in contemporary religious life? (2) How do technology and religion shape each other? ...
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Since the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) called on the clergy to embark on an online jihad to rescue youngsters trapped in the “killing field” of the internet, a vast number of clerics and state-sponsored religious organizations and actors have expanded their online activities. The growing body of Islamic online contents produced by the IRI’s promoters and the proliferation of social media-related practices in religious places and events have shaped the online visual culture of the Iranian revolutionary youths. To explore this under-researched area, this study concentrates on three sets of visual tropes: (1) selfies with martyrs, (2) selfies taken by revolutionary clerics in disaster- stricken areas, and (3) shared images of the holy shrine of Imam Reza on Instagram. In addition to online documents (including posters, photographs, and reports), the data includes selectively chosen Instagram postings retrieved by searching pertinent accounts, hashtags, and locations on the platform. The investigation inquires the ways in which online image-making has been incorporated in the construction of holy sites and the culture of sacrifice and martyrdom propagated by the IRI as ideal youth aspirations. The findings demonstrate the extensive appropriation of social media and intensive integration of online image-making in this field. The study contributes to understanding of the online spaces and practices aimed at extending the influence over the online youth culture in Iran in line with the IRI’s cultural plans and policies.
... Understanding how participants conceptualize their relationship with their faith based on their online and offline activities is significant in this field of study. Campbell (2011) believes that examining what constructs offline and online religious activities can provide researchers with a better comprehension of the cultural and social changes of the studied group. Accordingly, this theme suggests that, despite the fast transition toward online religious practices in the last couple of years, the significance of in-person religious services will continue to be essential for many Muslims in the States, even in post-pandemic times. ...
... According to Heidi Campbell's early definition, digital religion can be described as 'the technological and cultural space that is evoked when we talk about how online and offline religious spheres have become blended' (Campbell, 2012, xx). Scholars argue that the current -that is, the fourth wave -research on digital religion is particularly focused on its existential, ethical and political aspects and related connections between online and offline venues in people's everyday media-immersed religious lives and connected platformed practices (Campbell & Evolvi, 2020; see also Lövheim & Campbell, 2011. Digital religion, this scholarship maintains, is also interested in exploring how digital media shapes people's identities and their sense of belonging and community, as well as affirms or questions religious authority (Campbell & Evolvi, 2020;Campbell & Tsuria, 2022). ...
In this presidential address to the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture ( ismrc ) I argue for the relevance of studying digital religion as a public phenomenon in one particular context: within the structures of hybrid media . While hybrid as a concept has achieved, in recent years, considerable interest in media and communication studies, it has also been addressed in the study of digital religion. Here, I wish to provide a structure-oriented approach to such hybrid media and argue how this approach could provide a valuable contribution to the study of digital religion in the future.
... In Ghana, therefore, long before the coronavirus, youngsters who were savvy in the use of the internet and social had reconfigured their sociality in such a way that they had more comfort with their computers and smartphones than talking to the person sitting next to them. It could be surmised that long before the eruption of the pandemic, "social distancing" was already taking place (Campbell & Lövheim, 2011). But even that, the author has observed that marriages, funerals and festivals were concurrently featured offline and online to broaden the range of options available to participants. ...
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The Covid-19 pandemic mandated the closure of all schools globally. E-learning programmes were introduced to promote learning throughout the crisis. This paper, therefore, investigates the impact of Covid-19 e-learning and teaching on students’ social life, indexed by their practice of social conviviality after the pandemic. The study employed multiple sampling techniques in selecting students in the second cycle and tertiary institutions in Accra, Ghana for the study. Using data collected from extensive interviews with students, teachers/lecturers and parents, backed by personal observations, the study found out that the social skills of students were negatively impacted by the pandemic, as several students suffered multidimensionality of social exclusion when schools were re-opened after lockdown rules were liberalised. The e-learning approach that Ghana introduced to stem the debilitating impact of the pandemic yielded some positive results – helping the education sector to retain contact hours. Nevertheless, the outcome of the pandemic had some negative social consequences. Students were unable to effectively recuperate their social skills in fostering social conviviality. Considering the outcome of the study’s findings, the paper concludes that Ghana needs to invest in its Triple Heritage – through the synthesisation of human ontological dignity that is embedded in Islam, Christianity, and indigenous worldview – to restructure its educational curriculum as part of rejuvenating social conviviality among students. The paper contributes to knowledge by providing evidence of the social impact of the pandemic. However, it also recommends a need for further research to explore how Ghana can broaden the frontiers of its heritage without provincializing or marginalisation emerging minority cultures.
Digital religion refers to electronically communicated media practices that are different from other types of practice because users perceive them to offer engagement with the divine. Digital media, in contrast to analog media, use machine‐readable electronic communication to send, receive, and store data. Around the globe digital media continues to transform religion. Religious practice today is increasingly public, personal, and therapeutic. The digital, in its constantly evolving mixture of forms, has become such a ubiquitous part of the mediascape that it is difficult to separate it analytically from other types of media. What can be seen, however, is that digital religion does important work in forming selves, communities, and authority and that religion and the digital are increasingly converging in everyday media practices.
This chapter reviews the link between religion and the Internet, and considers how this relationship between the online sphere and religions became mobile through the role of communities, social media, and especially mobile applications, looking at how phenomena such as robotics and artificial intelligence could become a very close next step. Scholars investigated whether the Internet would change religious practice and ideology, because of the increase in online communities and the integration of religious practices into the digital sphere. Several characteristics of online religious communities emerge in published studies of different religious confessions. Scholars have focused on the study of identity, authority, and the creation of community because the Internet and mobile technology have influenced religious practices mainly in terms of rethinking those three aspects of religious environments and groups. The chapter shows examples of online trends and practices within Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
This chapter explores the landscape of postdigital theologies beginning by contextualising them in relation to posthumanism, transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence and the postdigital. Although it is already clear that digital technology is having an impact on the practical areas of ministry and mission within religious institutions, relationships between technologies and the actual content of belief and practice have received much less attention. The chapter begins with an overview of posthumanism, transhumanism, the postdigital, and digital religion. The main section of the chapter presents seven different genres of postdigital theologies, from postdigital theologies as subversion of leadership to the impact of postdigital theologies on practical theology. Whilst these may offer an overarching map of the current landscape of postdigital theologies, this is only the beginning of work in this area. The chapter concludes by suggesting that one way to understand the influence of these genres in a particular context is in the area of digital afterlife.KeywordsPosthumanismTranshumanismArtificial intelligenceThe postdigitalPostdigital theologiesDigital afterlife
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Digital Religion offers a critical and systematic survey of the study of religion and new media. It covers religious engagement with a wide range of new media forms and highlights examples of new media engagement in all five of the major world religions. From cell phones and video games to blogs and Second Life, the book provides a detailed review of major topics and includes a series of case studies to illustrate and elucidate the thematic explorations. It also considers key theoretical, ethical and theological issues raised within Digital Religion studies.
This is a survey of the phenomena relating to Islam and the Internet. Technology is making a global impact on how Muslims approach and interpret Islam. Given its utilization as a primary source of information, the Internet influences how non-Muslims perceive Islam and matters relating to Muslims.
This lively book focuses on how different Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities engage with new media. Rather than simply reject or accept new media, religious communities negotiate complex relationships with these technologies in light of their history and beliefs. Heidi Campbell suggests a method for studying these processes she calls the "religious-social shaping of technology" and students are asked to consider four key areas: religious tradition and history; contemporary community values and priorities; negotiation and innovating technology in light of the community; communal discourses applied to justify use. A wealth of examples such as the Christian e-vangelism movement, Modern Islamic discourses about computers and the rise of the Jewish kosher cell phone, demonstrate the dominant strategies which emerge for religious media users, as well as the unique motivations that guide specific groups.
Religion Online provides an accessible and comprehensive introduction to this burgeoning new religious reality, from cyberpilgrimages to neo-pagan chatroom communities. A substantial introduction by the editors presenting the main themes and issues is followed by sixteen chapters addressing core issues of concern such as youth, religion and the internet, new religious movements and recruitment, propaganda and the countercult, and religious tradition and innovation.