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A theoretical essay laying out the argument for the Hoover/Echchaibi concept of "Third Spaces." Will appear soon in a book by the same name.
Media Theory and the “Third Spaces of Digital Religion”
an essay by
Stewart M. Hoover and Nabil Echchaibi
The Center for Media, Religion, and Culture
University of Colorado Boulder1
[Draft: please do not cite or circulate without permission]
©2014 Stewart M. Hoover and Nabil Echchaibi
This essay assumes that what is needed in scholarship on digital religion is a re-centering
of the "object" of digital religious practice into and on its own emergent terms, and that scholars
and observers need to find new ways of thinking about and interpreting practice that assumes this
re-centering. Our reflections on this are rooted in our own explorations in a research project
focused on finding the ways and places that religion is represented, in significant ways, in media
cultures2. While we intended to look across all media, "new" and "legacy," it soon became
apparent that the digital revolution is so driving the way that media are operating today that we
shifted our focus entirely to "the digital." Once we made this shift we decided to cast a wide net.
We did not limit ourselves to looking at only those places where "the received religious" was
active, expressed, or contested, but instead decided to adapt an aphorism applied to religion (and
variously identified with Peter Clarke, Martin Marty, and J.Z. Smith) that points to the
categorical inclusion of those things which "...bear a family resemblance to religion...." There is
a compelling theoretical reason for this. As we now understand cultures in terms of what can be
1 The authors acknowledge the contributions made to our thinking here by members of the research colloquium of
the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture: Professors Deborah Whitehead and Pete Simonson, Drs. Susanne
Stadlbauer and Rachael Liberman, and graduate fellows Samira Rajabi, Joanna Piacenza, Krissy Peterson, Seung-
Soo Kim, Ryan Bartlett, Hugo Cordova, and Brooke Edge. We also especially acknowledge the influence of
Professor Jin Park of Seoul Women’s University, a Center visiting fellow for 2013-14, and Laurens De Rooj, a
visiting doctoral fellow in the Spring of 2014.
2 This is a project of the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder, titled
"Finding Religion in the Media," and funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. More information can be found
on the Center's website:
deconstructed, reconstructed, remade and redeployed through the reflexive practices of cultural
actors, it is obvious that a different approach to the cultural “object” is justified. Consistent with
current thinking in the field of religious studies, we wanted to be open to the affordances of “the
religious” in the digital sphere, including the margins, boundaries, and borderlands. We thus
began looking in digital spaces for things which either are religion or spirituality, which refer to
then, or which bear a family resemblance to them, as each of these could be significant3.
The result has been a set of case studies that operate in a variety of registers of
relationship between “culture” and “structure.” We do not claim that these are a representative
sample, but that they are significant because of what they can tell us about what "the digital"
makes possible in the way of religiously and spiritually-registered explorations, resistances,
articulations, and remediations. If we have any particular object in mind in assessing these cases,
it is to think about what they mean in relation to changes within the category of “the social.”
We are less interested in examples that are oriented to the maintenance of tradition, for example
(though there are important questions there) than we are in considering how the various cases we
look at might intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly, “lead somewhere” in social
As we have interpreted our cases, and began to look at others, it has become obvious to
us that much could be gained in our understanding by re-centering our focus on "the religious
digital" (thus broadly defined), its attributes, extents, and limits. Rather than assuming received
categories of religion, spirituality, or religious or spiritual politics, or received physical or
cultural geographies (the local/global dualism an example of the former, and gender politics an
example of the latter) we have asked what might we learn by assuming that in digital religion we
3 This was more than a casual decision. It was very much rooted in the evolving literatures in digital religion which
continue to demonstrate that digital cultures host (and seemingly encourage) explorations that verge well beyond
the reservation of "the received religious."
are looking at something on its own terms4 and its own locations? This approach made sense to
us as we encountered examples among our case studies that were not easy to fit within received
categories, yet had clear trajectories out of and into those categories. The significance of this to
the "received religious" or "received spiritual" is obvious along a number of dimensions, but one
in particular stands out: if there is some way that digital religion might be uniquely sited or
located5 to be able to help re-imagine religion, then rather profound implications for religious
authority present themselves.
As we continued our reflections on our cases, we found ourselves calling these practices
in the digital realm, in relation to these cases, as—or as enabling—"third spaces." We were clear
in this that we wished to make a distinction between what we meant by this and a more common
prior usage (in a number of different literatures and disciplines), "third place." At the most basic,
we wish to point away from physical location (an implication of "third place" as it most often
used) and toward fluid, conceptual, and imagined locations (an implication of the less common
use of the term "third space"). "Third place," and "third space" share in common an intention to
describe something alternative to other, prior, or dominant domains. For our purposes, we
initially thought of the idea of “third space” as something to “think with,” and we have been
grateful for the collaboration of scholarly colleagues as we have done so.
Our work on digital religion takes place at the boundary between the disciplines of media
studies and religious studies, and benefits as well from the emergent discourse in media and
religion which boasts a vibrant scholarly community focused on that has been called “religion
4 We credit here the observation by Deborah Whitehead, early in our explorations, that it is valid to look at objects
that seem focused simply on “being about religion,” that is, practices in digital space can have their own inherent
and internal logics and motivations. They need not be about “other” or “larger” purposes in the first instance.
5 We are well aware of the extent to which much of what we talk about here circulates around physical and
geographic metaphors for the digitally-religious. We are, of course, not alone in this.
online,” “religion and new media,” and now “Religion, New Media, and Digital Cultures.”6 It is
the purpose of this essay to explore our idea of the “Third Spaces of Digital Religion” in relation
to evolving discourses in media studies. While there is much about the approach here that is
consonant with contemporary trends in religious studies, such as our focus on practice as
opposed to structure and on the emergence of “the religious” rather than the imposition or
construction of reified or essentialized notions of religion, it also remains for us to articulate our
project more completely with that field, as well.
First, though, is the challenge of connecting our thinking with our “home” disciplines of
media and communication studies. Emerging expressions of digital religion are significantly
articulated in relation two important trends: the coincidence of the increasing prominence of
digital mediation on the one hand and the persistence and re-imagining of the category of “the
religious” in contemporary life on the other. The digital sphere is a central social and cultural
phenomenon and a dominant theme of much contemporary public and private discourse. At the
same time, the whole meaning of religion, spiritualty, and “the religious” is increasingly
prominent in social and cultural spaces and increasingly fluid, particularly in relation to what
once were their commonplace locations in social structure. Therefore, the phenomenon of digital
religion is rooted in two dimensions—“the religious” and “the digital”—that have co-evolved
temporally. This is important—and provocative—both conceptually and methodologically.
Across the same recent historical period that digital technologies and practices have re-made
private and public communication, religion has arisen as a more and more common—and largely
re-imagined—feature of private and public life. Against long-anticipated “secularization” in
modernity, a set of social and cultural trends have brought religion back into prominence. One of
6 See in particular Campbell, 2005 and 2011. Campbell, and other voices in this group including Christopher
Helland and Greg Grieve, have been instrumental in the creation of the Religion, New Media, and Digital Cultures
Facebook Group, which is becoming an important center of scholarly discourse.
the arguable implications of the theoretical explorations in this essay is that this relationship is
not coincidental, but that the affordances of digital spaces and the affordances of new ways of
thinking about, expressing, contesting, negating, and reconstructing “the religious” are related to
one another and to some common dimensions of contemporary life.
Religion has had a troubled and contested place in media studies. As David Morgan
(2013) has pointed out in his recent account, the fields of religious studies and media studies “…
have spent most of their history ignoring one another.” Morgan provides a tart but yet largely
accurate picture of the received framing of religion in media studies:
For its part, media studies has happily presumed that religion expired somewhere
between the French Revolution and Marxism’s dismissal of religion as the opiate
of the masses, a largely inert pacifier that was no match for more interesting
distractions such as entertainment media. Secularization was supposed to mean
that the nasty incursion of religion into public life would be no more and that the
secular state, safely insulated from ecclesiastical control, would arise.
Disestablishment happened, to be sure, but religion did not go away.
And it is this obvious persistence of religion, particularly in the North Atlantic West in
the first decades of the new Century, that has begun to raise its profile as an obvious focus of
study across a range of disciplines—including media and communication studies. The obvious
solution to this situation, at least under what has come to be called the “traditional paradigm” of
media studies, has been to think of ways to examine religion as just another aspect of social and
cultural life. And a certain amount of this is good, necessary, and long overdue. What we will
argue, though, is that there are ways in which religion is unique and uniquely-articulated and
“articulate-able” into media spaces, particularly in the digital era.
It is important as well to position our work in relation to traditions in culturalist media
studies, specifically the legacy of British Cultural Studies, which has been a significant influence
on our work and on the broader fields we wish to inhabit. The sort of articulation of cultural
practice we intend to describe here bears much in common with ideas about the role of culture in
daily life, particularly Raymond Williams’s notion of the “structure of feeling.” Religion was
less explicit than implicit in Williams’s formulation, but yet religiously-inflected ideas, behaviors
and practices were written all over his interpretations of the conditions of cultural meaning. It is
an important feature of the contemporary situation that what could be taken as implicit by
Williams (and Hoggart) is today seemingly by necessity more explicit. This might be in part
(though not entirely) due to the particular influence of the culture of the United States on the
contemporary cultural and political evolution of the North Atlantic West. This need not be an
argument rooted in received or nationally-chauvinistic bromides of “American exceptionalism.”
There is reason to expect that careful historicism could explicate the ways in which the idea of
“the religious” has been formed and shaped differentially in different cultural locations,
including the United States, and how the cultural influence of the North American context has
made its particular understandings or practices significant beyond its shores not least because of
the influence of its media industries7.
7 This is an argument and a historicization which must await another day. The intention would be to explore how
the normative context of the theory-building of the BCS tradition included a particular and unique instantiation of
religion, bound particularly to the post-war period in Great Britain. Much of the work of the CCCS for example
assumed, but did not problematize, religion—or seemingly made an account of a particular differentiated social
history with regard to religion. The also-unique context of the US was made up of dissenting Protestants in
contrast to the British condition of religious establishment. This exploration could helpfully draw on such sources
as the recent work of David Hollinger which re-thinks the role of Protestantism in the construction of U.S. public
The United States, whatever else it may have been in its entire history as a subject of narration,
has been a major site for the engagement of Protestant Christianity with the Enlightenment. This
engagement was—and continues to be—a world-historical event, or at least one of the defining
experiences of the North Atlantic West and its global cultural extension from the eighteenth
century to the present. Still, the United States has been a uniquely conspicuous arena for this
engagement in part because of the sheer demographic preponderance of Protestants, especially
dissenting Protestants from Great Britain, during the formative years of the society and long
thereafter. Relatively recent social transformations can easily blind contemporaries to how
overwhelmingly Northern European Protestant in origin the educated and empowered classes of
the United States have traditionally been. Hollinger (2013), p 3.
Some Conditions
To begin, there are three large, definitive conditions that situate the theoretical and
methodological tools available to us. First is the phenomenon Couldry (2012) has called “media
supersaturation.” By this he means the social condition whereby media are inevitable,
ubiquitous, and increasingly present and definitive of daily private and public experience. To
Couldry, this condition is so complete and absolute that all social theorizing must now take
account of what has been called “mediatization.” We will return to mediatization presently, as
there is a vibrant and growing scholarly consideration of religion in relation to broader thinking
about mediatization.
The second condition is one we’ve already referred to: the seeming persistence of
religion in late modernity. Against long-predicted processes of “secularization” which should
have made religion less and less significant as national and global rates of education and income
rose, religion has not disappeared in the North Atlantic West8. While its role and presence is
unevenly distributed in this context, and its place must be seen (as we have said) in a wide and
diffuse set of locations, conditions, and practices, it seems more present today than at any time
since mid-Century. And its role is increasingly problematic in relation to politics in particular.
This is not only a so-called “post-911” phenomenon, but something that can be seen in a range of
contexts and registers.
The third condition we wish to acknowledge is the nature of contemporary social practice
which centers individual and collective social action as a defining logic of the social. This has
been well-described in Giddens’s work on structuration (1986) which outlined the role that social
8 It is of course the case that the general and superficial case for secularization, as stated here, has always been too
facile a reading of Berger’s (1967) original conception. In fact, a broad literature on secularization has continued
which has persuasively argued that the kind of “restructuring” of religion that has been underway for the past four
decades is in fact evidence of ongoing secularization (Wuthnow, 1990; Casanova, 2006).
action plays in the constitution of social structure, and on the self (1991) where he identified the
contemporary project of the self as fundamental. Social actors today, according to Giddens,
aspire to a reflexive engagement with social contexts of practice through which they may craft an
ideal and plausible version of themselves. Contemporary meaning-making, then, is more than a
solipsistic search for cultural resources fitted to notional or idiosyncratic ideas of value and
purpose. It has a logic that attempts to articulate meanings achieved through a variety of sources
(including mediated sources) to social contexts where those meanings can have efficacy.
Our understanding of the practices which we see as inhabiting and constructing what we
call the “third spaces of digital religion” is informed by a range of scholarly work on the social
and the cultural. Henri LeFebvre’s work on the tacit ideologies that define everyday life
produced two key ideas significant to what we describe here. His ideas regarding the location of
“moments” of revelation, self-clarity, and presence that can resist the “numbing banality” of
social life provides an important insight into how constructive action in the digital sphere could
be about such a project. Equally important is LeFebvre’s insight about the cultural production of
space. Digital spaces are of course conceptual rather than physical, but our case studies have
shown us examples of how a conceptual projects of meaning-making act as though they have
produced spaces of constructive action.
Judith Butler’s ideas about performativity have also informed the way we have looked at
digital third spaces. Following Foucault, Butler (1993) has argued that performance (we prefer
the term “practice” in relation to actions in relation to digital media) “…reiterates the power of
discourse to produce the phenomenon that it regulates and constructs….” What is so significant
about Butler to our project is the near-axiom that through performance and practice, real cultural
work is being done. Janice Radway (1984) applies this idea of productive action to broader
contexts of interaction through media, demonstrating how “communities of practice” can provide
both the contexts and logics of constructive and meaningful action through shared attributions
and experiences with cultural objects.
Clearly power, the attribution of power, the instantiation of power, resistance to power,
and the claiming of power is implied in the practices we see in digital third spaces. Tim Ingold
(2010) has suggested that power can be brought to life through “creative entanglements” in
social space. Objects in social space, Ingold argues, can become “affordances” of purpose, if not
of power. More importantly, perhaps, he suggests (with Latour) that it is an issue of instantiated,
not only revolutionary, power. Power can be incremental, not of necessity interruptive. This
bears much in common with Giddens’s structuration theory, which sees power as “…the
capability to intervene in events….” (1985:7). Power then can be “interventions” in social space
that do social and cultural “work” through reflexively-engaged action.
Of course, much has been written about power in relation to digital media. Manuel
Castells attributes power in the digital age largely to the technical capacities of the “network.”
He does not grant much space for practice. Castells’ “networked power” is all about inclusion
and rules for “the network.” Power is something that is known when it is expressed and
technologically mediated. As he puts it (2011:779): “…power operates…in the human mind
through processes of communication….” Mass-communication and mass-self-communication
are “…how people think….” To Castells, this defines how power can be exercised. It is less
about finding LeFebvre’s “moments” and Giddens’s “interventions” and more about the
determinative realities of the network.
Robert Latham and Saskia Sassen also see in contemporary interactive communication
networks a possibility for rescaling social relations and opening up the frame of social action.
Using a sociological approach to study what they call new “digital formations”, Latham and
Sassen argue that the digital turn requires a critical social perspective as opposed to a strictly
technical and engineering one. From a social science perspective, they say, “such digitized
information and communication structures and dynamics—what we call digital formations—
filter and are given meaning by social logics. By social logics we intend to refer to a broad range
of conditions, actors, and projects, including specific utility logics of users as well as the
substantive rationalities of institutional and ideational orders. The distinctiveness of digital
formations can contribute to the rise of social relations and domains that would otherwise be
absent” (2005:6). It is precisely this type of assemblage of network capacities, power systems,
user practices and visions, and social conditions which gives rise to arguably new and thickened
social formations. This emphasis on a complex configuration of organization of content and
practices, interaction among users, and spatial composition and staging (through the digital) of
both content and social relations renders legible the mobility of knowledge networks and
structures and the possibilities for disruptive interventions. These cultures of use -not access- in
Latham and Sassen’s “digital formations”, is what needs to be properly theorized. “Their
concern,” as they say, “is rather with this in-between zone that constructs the articulations of
users and digital technologies” (2005: 21).
For our work, and our evolving understanding of religion in relation to digital cultures,
the practices we see are much more tactical and iterative, and much more embedded in the
meanings and affordances of social spaces. But they are also about certain kinds of power.
Some aspire to power, some resist, some are clearly expressions of projects aimed at expression
and influence. But their location and their logic are radically in the spaces defined, enabled, and
afforded by emergent digital resources. Their logics are not defined by those technologies and
networks so much as they are negotiated. Thus, seeing these as meaningful practices where real
cultural and social work is being done, we saw as well that their logics involved a kind of
located logic, one that we chose to call “The Third Spaces of Digital Religion.”
Thinking about “Third-ness”
There is a wide range of literatures that have used the concept of “third-ness.9” Best-
known perhaps are the ideas of the sociologist Ray Oldenburg (1989), who wrote about the
“great, good places” that used to exist between the home and the workplace, and of the
architectural theorist Edward Soja (1996) who has contributed much to our understandings here
about how physical spaces work with social and emotional liminality to generate meanings. In
both of these traditions, there is a clear commitment to the notion of physical space as central and
generative, with “third-ness” existing in negotiated, dynamic relationship with the physical. The
social, to both Soja and Oldenberg, is subject to the physical in important ways, but is not itself
central or generative in the way that culturalist social theory (such as Butler or BCS) might posit.
When we thought about the notions of third-ness we were encountering, a range of
locations and registers presented themselves, all oriented around the location of practice in the
digital sphere. What Oldenburg's notion of "third place," and our (and Soja’s) notion of "third
space" have in common is an idea of "in-between-ness." Third places, to Oldenburg, are
somehow between (or beside) home and work, but in our frame of reference, the categories of
"private" as the first space and "public" as the second, are also implied. In talking specifically
about religion, we also intend to point to somewhere beyond institutions (churches, mosques,
denominations, faith groups) as the first space and individual practice as the second space10. As
we are thinking about processes of technological mediation, we might also mean that the digital
9 See Hoover and Echchaibi (2012) for a fuller account of these literatures and our differentiations from them.
enables or “remediates” (in the words of Medianou and Miller, 2013, who we will get to
presently) a third space beyond the first space of legacy media and the second space of entirely
individual and solipsistic articulation and action. Other "first" and "second" spaces that are
implied by digital practices we study include: "commodities" and "authenticity;" "embodiment"
and "virtuality;" "tradition" and "secularism;" "authority" and "autonomy;" "knowledge" and
"practice/performance;" "individual" and "community;" and "static" and "generative" spaces in
cultural production. There are many dimensions on which the digital can be located as a unique
space between and beyond received polarities. This "in-between-ness" is, to our way of thinking,
basic to the meaning of "third-ness."
There are four important distinctions, then, between our use of the term "third space" and
the Oldenburg’s (and others’) "third place." First, for heuristic reasons, at least, we wish to
center things on digital cultures and their capacities to constitute such third spaces, not on their
putative capacities to support normative notions of "third places" in social life. Second, we wish
to focus on spaces as conceptual or notional spaces, not only as physical ones11. Third, we think
of "thirdness" in relation to a range of dimensions, not only "home" and "work" or even "the
domestic" and formal locations of activity beyond the domestic. Fourth, the point is not
necessarily a singular normative good, such as the "civic engagement" that is the concentration
of so many uses of the concept of "third place."
10 There are examples of claims about digital third-spaces rooted in religion, typically using the term in relation to
institutional and personal practice. (Cf.;; However, see Knott (2005) for a substantive exploration of third space
in relation to embodied religious meaning practice.
11 Moje and her associates (2004) provide a provocative and indicative argument close to our own, looking at
cultural articulation in third spaces in relation to literacy education. In their terms, the notion that we might look at
some sort of interaction between "geographic" and "discursive" grounds is also indicative because the practice
they contemplate (sociolinguistic translation and articulation) are homologues to much of the practical generativity
encouraged in digital cultures.
We want to consider the ways that these practices imagine that they exist within a
conceptual context where they make sense and have particular capacities for accountability,
understanding, and action. The online communities of our case studies act, in important ways, as
though these are "third spaces," and as though these third spaces are generative positions from
which important personal, social, and cultural work can be done. Such a sensibility necessarily
relies on a rather complex reflexive interactive engagement with technology, practice, and lived
The “As-if-ness” of Digital Third Spaces
Practices in the Third Spaces of Digital Religion are if nothing else reflexive. They
demand a reflexive consciousness of location, place, project, and technology. They are what
Medianou and Miller (2013) call “remediations” that demand a kind of self-conscious
engagement. There is thus an "as-if-ness" to these practices. People act "as-if" these were
bounded contexts of discourse and interaction. They act "as-if" they were communities of shared
experience and sentiment. They act "as-if" they were contexts of public discourse and public
deliberation. They act "as-if" these were powerful media for the communication of ideas and
"as-if" there are relatively broad audiences of listeners out there. They act "as-if" the various
expressions they craft in these spaces represent grounded, received truth claims for known
communities of shared experience and value.
In using the term “as-if” we do not intend to imply that these position-takings and
practices are in some way less valid than if they were “real.” That is far from our point. Instead,
it will be clear from our further exploration of this turf that these “as-if” practices in fact deepen
and instantiate their significance for those who practice them. They can be more valid and more
meaningful to the extent that they are fluid and that they invite active participation in their
constitution. Their significance derives from this authenticity of participation, but also from a
more teleological level on which aesthetic practice must always, on some level, involve “as-if”
This idea of "as-if-ness" has roots in philosophy, most identified with Kant. This
intellectual history is most relevant to our explorations here to the extent that it points to a
Kantian reflection on the nature of aesthetic practice. In an important essay in this tradition, Eva
Schaper argued (in 1965) that the "as-if" is basic to aesthetic action, to the understanding that we
think about things concretely that are actually immaterial. "To think and speak aesthetically is to
be deliberately aware of and articulate about the nature of some things as fictions. It is to
mention things in a special kind of bracket—the "as if. " (Schaper, 1965) The essential claims of
the Kantian "as-if" that are relevant to us are that it is possible to believe and act coherently in
relation to these kinds of judgments, that in fact that is one of the essential characteristics of
human reason, and that "as-if-ness" can be playful, indeterminate, hybridic, and elastic.
Assuredly, there is some point of determination in such practices, be it merely judgment or
articulated into social action of some kind. The point is that determinancy is not at the center.
What is at the center is playful and negotiative practice, one that in Kant's terms, achieves a kind
of finality on its own terms. And this relies on—and indeed derives a good deal of its resonance
and pleasure from—its reflexive position-taking. This suggests a different way of thinking about
categories of contemporary practice. We can understand digital curation, for example, as a way
of organizing an array of resources and judgments into a coherent whole, and doing so based on
commonly-shared rules of inclusion, exclusion, and judgment. The practice of curation achieves
a kind of finality or determinancy in its indeterminance.
There is a further, playful, aesthetic, and ludic dimension of this “as-if-ness.” It is clear
that for the practices we have looked at, the exploration, the quest, and the pleasures of exploring
and questing in new aesthetic dimensions, including the visual and auditory, have their own role
in constituting the practice, and through their pleasures, justifying and authenticating it. A
further dimension of “as-if-ness” has been pointed to in the work of Adam Seligman and his
associates (2008). Their work suggests that practices, the lived and explored meaning rituals of
life, can be generative and constitutive in their own terms, that they do not have to be
ritualizations about “something else” to which they are bound in legitimating synergy. We want
to point to and interpret the capacities that fluid, exploratory, ludic, and playful practice has to
make things happen.
We can see this "as-if-ness" operating in our case studies. There are of course the rather
superficial references to the online space as "community," but there is the real and embodied
interaction that happens online and on the border between "online" and "offline." The case study
of the Iranian martyr of the 2009 “green revolution” Neda depends on the elastic and creative
imagination of her status and her attribution into ongoing political discourses that necessarily
treats the online space as a central locus of discourse and action. Participants treat it "as-if" it is
a space where an emergent international discursive community, made up of diasporic and
resident Iranians, can share a common practice of productive cultural action. Participants in the
PostSecret phenomenon visit the site each Sunday and attend the live rallies of its founder Frank
Warren "as-if" it were a kind of personal or public ritual of shared sacrality. People create
networks of shared experience through their shared consumption and circulation of the
PostSecret cards, through which a kind of community is defined, which is treated "as-if" it were
real and physical. And, the online as-if-ness generates new offline audiences and communities
through public events of various kinds. The hacktivisim of the various national Anonymous
collectives depends on important and determinative "as-if-ness" around the imagined and shared
sense of purpose.
The hybridic and ludic possibilities of the aesthetic are thus deeply linked to this 'as if-
ness.' Through this connection we wish to argue that autonomy and reflexivity are deeply linked.
The sense of autonomy draws from the resources of the reflexive engagement in the "third
spaces" as subjectivities imagine their capacity to do new and different things through their
online activity. At the same time, the aesthetic operates on its own terms. It is not all about
purpose or power or autonomy. It is important to understand, at the same time, that practices of
meaning-making and articulation through aesthetic action are unique and uniquely-significant on
their own terms.
Homi Bhabha and Third Spaces
Homi Bhahba's use of the term “Third Space” in postcolonial theory has been a
particularly influential source for our project. For Bhahba, the outcome of the necessarily
imbalanced relationship between a hegemonic colonial authority and a subordinate indigenous
culture is a hybridized subjectivity in which individuals negotiate, subvert and reread the signs
and symbols of colonial power while resisting scripted notions of inherited cultural purity. It is
thus a negotiation of space, cultural meaning, and power. "It is in the emergence of the
interstices,” Bhabha writes, “--the overlap and displacement of domains of difference--that the
intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural values
are negotiated" (1994: 2). The postcolonial third space, therefore, is the expression of a “mutual
and mutable recognition of cultural difference” whereby colonized and colonizer can no longer
exist independently of each other. Rather than projecting an image of the colonized as a
complicit or resistant subject, Bhabha's "third spaces" suggest an ambivalent subjectivity which
is a fluctuating process between the two positions. From this location, prescribed meanings about
both the colonial and the colonized are revised and a third location of enunciation is introduced.
These third spaces for Bhabha are liminal and interstitial sites where cultural meaning is not
simply reflected but actively produced by subjects who are constantly interpellated to resist the
monolithic dominance of hegemonic power.
In a similar vein, we can think of digital spaces as important performative sites of
enunciation where formal and unitary structures of religious knowledge and practice become the
object of both revision and transformation. Not all of our cases or all of the examples we might
identify as “Third Spaces of Digital Religion” involve the post-colonial context directly. We see
instead in Bhabha’s ideas of ambivalence and mimicry a way of describing cultural logics of
hybridic performance and action that self-consciously negotiate a place for themselves over
against other dimensions or poles. As such, the digital with its own communication logic,
stylistic features, and convergent properties can become a significant site of disruption and
invention, or at least of imagined possibilities of what values such as community, authenticity,
and civility among others could be in a presumably open terrain of non-linear thinking. It is
important to note here that not all digital formations qualify as transformative third spaces or
sites of radical difference, but we believe the digital hosts and mediates critical articulations of
liminality, translation, and negotiation of cultural meaning. One of the productive capacities of
third space is precisely a competence to operate in a borderland of different modes of being and
fashion something in between, unexpected both in form and substance. As Bhabha (1990) notes
in relation to the value of hybridity and cultural translation as an alternative positioning:
…for me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from
which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the ‘third space’ which enables other
positions to emerge. This third space displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up
new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood
through received wisdom. …The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something
different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and
representation (211).
The quality of thirdness that we seek to foreground in borrowing from Bhabha is
primarily its resistance to the impulse to anchor culture and identity “in place” and within
existing bounded frames of thinking. But it is more than that. Third space arguably unsettles the
singularity of dominant power narratives and opens up new avenues of identification and
In the context of digital religion, this means our research efforts are directed at
interpreting these spaces as critical attempts to recuperate the particularity of the lived
experience of religion or spirituality in late modernity and divest it from a narrow essentialism of
belief. Far from being mere technological events, religious third spaces in the digital realm are
different not because they are radically new, but because they build from the ambivalent
encounter of old and new forms of sociality and negotiate differing poles of cultural identity. As
a “contact zone,” to use Mary Louise Pratt’s concept (1991), these spaces are not simply places
where marginal subjects toy around with their peripheral individuality, but rather are sites where
individuals use the technical capacities of the digital to imagine social and cultural
configurations beyond existing binaries of the physical versus the virtual and the real versus the
proximal religious experience. Recognizing, as Bruno Latour has said, that “technology is
society made durable,” we do not assume these digital spaces to be borne in a social vacuum
(1991). Instead, their very existence is contingent on a dialogic interaction and re-mixing of a
multiplicity of forms, discourses, and subjectivities precisely to ensure the coming together –
albeit in a much more contested sense- of society.
The digital in a third space configuration also becomes much more revealing because it
makes legible the dynamics of translation and reflexivity as individuals—and at times
institutions, too—seek alternative modes of belonging and community building. So, instead of
seeing the digital in the study of religion solely in terms of its technical properties and their
impact on some pure belief or on the authenticity of the spiritual experience, we look at it as a
complex text of social practice, a site of negotiated religious praxis, which resists totalizing and
monologic frames of reference and produces its own spiritual repertoire, its own discursive logic
and its own aesthetics of persuasion.
Bhabha, then, illustrates three fundamental dimensions that frame our understanding of
the third spaces of digital religion. First, his notion that cultural articulation can take place
through a continuous process of hybridity, that they need not be constrained by determinative
externalities. Second, his demonstration of the ways that such hybridity, rather than being
diffuse (as would be a received view) can actually be constitutive and generative of salient
articulations and meanings that can express cultural power and autonomy, and can achieve a new
singularity in articulation and meaning. Third, his argument that the most important work is the
work of distinction, made particularly acute as it resists and renegotiates. Bhabha clearly
believes that significant interpretive communities can form around hybridic articulations of the
situation, that identity work is being done, and that these articulations can result in meaningful
What we think of as "third spaces," then, follows Bhabha's ideas about hybridity, adding
a number of other significant dimensions. In addition to their hybridity, the digital third spaces
of religion are generative (as Bhabha has claimed). They can be and are the sources of ideas, of
claims, of identities, and of solidarities around their articulations. Digital third spaces of religion
are in-between, as we have said. They exist between private and public, between institution and
individual, between authority and individual autonomy, between large media framings and
individual "pro-sumption," between local and translocal, etc. Digital third spaces of religion are
fluidly bounded. Boundaries are important, but they are subject to a constant process of
negotiation. Digital third spaces of religion are interactive and thus "co-generative." Their
"communities" of shared interest and purpose produce ideas and generate action that are realized
in both online and offline contexts. Digital third spaces thus depend on, and help create,
subjectivities of autonomy through the more-or-less constant reflexive engagement into which
their participants are "hailed."
Third Spaces and theories of Mediation and Mediatization
The re-emergence of a vibrant theoretical discourse devoted to “mediatization” provides a
valuable opportunity and a challenge, not least because within mediatization theory there has
been a focused articulation of theories of “the mediatization of religion” (Hjarvard, 2008).
Hoover (2013) has suggested that Mediatization theory as applied to religion needs to be seen in
relation to another tradition, one that focuses instead on the “mediation” of religion. This
framework, persuasively present in the work of Birgit Meyer (2011), David Morgan (2007), and
Jeremy Stolow (2010) (see also Couldry, 2008), focuses on continuities in the ways in which
religions have always been mediated, and sees more modern means of mediation, such as in the
digital realm, as evolutions, rather than disruptions. Proponents of the mediation view rightly
fault some popular and scholarly theorizing that focuses instead on the medium as being entirely
too technologically-deterministic.
This tradition has been extremely productive of conceptual and theoretical tools for
understanding the interactions between “the religious” and modern media. For example,
Meyer’s (2011) work on the mediation of religious sensation has provided important insights into
the nature of media practice including valuable insights about the way that aesthetic logics can
be determinative. Morgan (2007) has shown that the visual is a powerful mode of practice,
providing settings, occasions, and logics through which important cultural work in meaning-
making, distinction, and resistance can take place.
For a variety of reasons though, mediatization theory has a growing influence in the
broader field of media studies. In Hjarvard’s original formulation, mediatization theory focuses
on the ways that, in a media-suffused world (in the North Atlantic West)12 structures and
institutions come to take on a media form, and operate according to a “media logic.” In the
interaction between “media” and “social institutions” or “social forms” something new is
produced. It is not merely a matter of media acting upon these other domains, the interaction
with the media makes and remakes the institution or social form.
The energetic scholarly debates about mediatization theory13 have focused on some
important dimensions of the theory, not least the notion of a “media logic” (Couldry, 2013;
Lundby, 2009). This idea has been at the center of theories of mediatization since the early work
of Altheide and Snow and has remained controversial not least because of the problem of
specification. Is a “media logic” a categorical feature that is applicable across a range of
domains (do all social forms or social institutions experience the same “logic?”) or is it
something that is unique to each context or instance of mediatization? Is it, further, something
that is implicit in the media that drives action in these various spheres, or is it something more
12 This is our amendment and it is intentionally provocative of a needed reflection on the applicability of
mediatization theory beyond its home context.
13 See, for example, Couldry, 2012 and Couldry, 2013.
like Birgit Meyer’s “aesthetic logic,” a necessary—but not sufficient—explanation for the
consequences that flow from the process of mediatization?
As Couldry (2012; 2013) has suggested, the challenge of mediatization theory is also to
better demonstrate how its processes are instantiated in actual domains of action, such as politics.
Lundby (2009) posits that “media logic” must be understood less as for its consequences to
atomized social actors and more in relation to social interactions. Couldry’s (2013) suggestion of
an articulation of mediatization with field theory would appear to be a valuable way forward.
Without such interpretive scope, mediatization theory could founder as merely another re-
statement of a “strong media” theory, this time applied on a large scale to major locations of
social structure. The question of “media logic” and the problem of grounding mediatization in
actual fields of action (taking account of their interstices and interactions) are both problems as
mediatization theory has been applied to religion.
Hjarvard’s (2008) work on the mediatization of religion pointed to media supersaturation
as a social fact, and to empirical data regarding the decline in religious participation, looking for
ways that the latter might well be understood in light of the former. He identified a range of
examples of places where the functions of religion would now seem to have been replaced by
media. What has happened, in Hjarvard’s view, is a “banalization” of religion as media cultures
have increasingly offered opportunities for religious and spiritual “work” to be done through
popular and commodity culture. His conclusion is to see this “banalization” as a loss in the total
presence of “religion” in the culture as the formally or doctrinally, or historically, or
confessionally “religious” is by some unspecified measure “losing out” to these banal forms.
These representations of religion, or so Hjarvard argues, leave some elemental or essential nature
or work of “the religious” in harm’s way.
Lundby’s (2009) account of Hjarvard’s work in this area pointed somewhat beyond such
a formulation.
Hjarvard analyzes these elements as representations, and so they are. However,
the banal religious expressions could as well be studied from the perspectives of
those who produce and those who consume these representations, that is, the
interaction with the texts and symbols that goes on in the production processes as
well as in the reception processes. The media logic will then be de-masked and
demystified, as one will observe actors and agents in play with the
representations. Power relations behind the 'banal' religious expressions will be
visible. (Lundby, 2009:112)
Lundby points to productive as well as consumptive practice. While he may not have had
digital practices in mind, the very mode of action in the digital sphere operates according to a
received hybridic subjectivity (leaving aside for a moment the larger questions of agency and
determination) of production and consumption. What he is arguing is very much what we would
argue in relation to this aspect of Mediatization theory as applied to religion: that what might
look like a diminution of “religion” when looked at from the perspective of the prospects of
traditional religious institutions and their prerogatives, can look quite different when seen from
the perspective of practice. To focus on the prospects of institutions occludes the rich
possibilities that might be present in negotiations in the digital. More significantly, perhaps,
“third-ness” (over against meditatization theory as we’ve characterized it)—doesn’t assume or
lament a disintegration of “the religious.” Social actors are using the digital precisely to work
against the dominant, unitary views of religion. They are not bound by that definition, and are in
fact actively subverting it.
Hjarvard notes that what happens to religion is in the cultural appeal of consumer
capitalism. This can lead to a kind of “re-enchantment,” (following Weber here) according to
Hjarvard. Lundby describes it this way:
within this context, there is space for a re-enchantment of religion and spirituality
and popular, cultural series and stories-contrary to Max Weber's rational prophecy
of how the modern world is becoming disenchanted. These new expressions of
religion and spirituality are not dependent on the church or other established
institutions they develop within the media themselves. (Lundby, 2009:112)
Hjarvard (and Lundby) argue that this situation represents a loss for “religion” because
what is produced is not religion per se, but a banal form that somehow merely quotes religion.
Thus for mediatization theory as applied to religion, there has been a concern with definition,
with retaining as “religion” only those things that are within the prerogative and aspiration of
religious authority. We do not have that problem. As we said, and hope to demonstrate, the range
of things that are significant of and to “religion” and to “spirituality” today, that might constitute
affordances of “the religious” in addition to being “religion” themselves, is somewhat wider
than the field of action within which religious authority acts. Our work has therefore been
distinct from the developing discourse on the mediatization of religion along a number of lines.
For example, our focus on private as well as public action (again while allowing for how this
private action may well have public force and effect). We can see in the contemporary evolution
of religion across a range of domains and contexts that the mediatized practices of “the religious”
that might be interpreted on one level as occurring in “privatized” spheres, do in fact function to
make and remake larger networks, structures, and even institutions14.
Therefore, while mediatization-of-religion theory, as articulated by Hjarvard, has been
preoccupied primarily with the prospects of religions as large, established, public institutions, our
work crosses between that context and other contexts, attempting to account for both, and for the
layered, interactive, and negotiated ways in which those settings or levels interact and relate to
one another through productive acts in the digital sphere. While mediatization theory has tended
to focus on institutions and on a reification of “the religious,” we are more interested in what
14 It could be argued, for example that the growing global phenomenon of Neo-Pentecostalism is best understood in
this way.
hybridic digital practice can generate. This may be a way in which our focus on religion derives
theory-building in a particular way. The phenomenon we contemplate—“the religious”—
operates in a number of registers not typical of all social forms and contexts, and particularly
distinct from the realm of politics which has tended to draw the attention of social theorizing of
the media.
There are a number of ways that religion is particular, or even unique in, relation to
explorations of its contemporary mediation or mediatization. First, religion affords the
possibility of transformations that are not restricted by the terms of politics—religion reserves
the right to stand above it all. Thus, a politics of transformation or of recognition can be central
(though are not necessarily so)
Second, religions have always been multi-modal, multi-media, about the senses,
experience, imagination and revelation, whereas politics has tended toward linear and rational
argument, foregrounding specific modes of deliberation.
Third, the media work in the same turf as religion, in registers of imagination, and can,
through mediations of imagination and experience, interpose themselves into spaces and modes
that were once more the monopoly of “the religious.”
Fourth, there is also, in contemporary life, the consequences of reflexivity and reflexive
engagement. Practitioners are also critical of, or can distinguish themselves from, structures of
authority (their reflexivity necessarily places them in a particular place vis a vis authority). This
can be about their relationship to “the divine” or “the transcendent” where in politics it might be
limited to relationships to “others.” More fertile imagination is possible and afforded—an
economy defined by another dimension of experience, not constrained by the terms of political
practice or the traditional forms of religious participation, either.
It is interesting that there is no significant discourse in digital third spaces of religion that
focuses on “…why we do religion online….” There is no need to, it is tacit, even banal, that “the
digital” and “the religious” have a natural consonance. There is no need to explain or justify or
“theologize” it. There is a further banalization, as well: the banalization of the neo-liberal
market. The mediations within the third spaces of digital religion open this practice and integrate
it into incursions of the neo-liberal market and the positioning of power within it.
What this all looks like in practice is that religiously-inflected digital practice can be
about individual as well as public action and about interaction between these spheres. It can be
about promotion and expression, but also about reflection and individual ascetic practice. It can
be about piety and about resistance to religious authority. The central logic of our inquiry is to
see how all of this works in the unique instantiation of digital spaces.
Other Sources in Media Theory
Important recent work has been helpful and provocative. We are particularly indebted to
Couldry’s (2012; 2013) recent re-thinking of media theory which has moved the questions away
from the technical logics of media or the prerogatives of media institutions and toward the fluid
spaces of media reception and circulation. Placing his work in the broader context, Couldry
suggests that we need to understand mediatization as
...a meta-process that emerges from the continuous, cumulative circulation and
embedding of media contents across everyday social action, rather than as a
reproductive logic or recipe already lodged somehow with media contents
themselves. (2013:3)
Couldry’s formulation thus conceives of whatever logics exist in these processes as
emerging in the interactions of individuals, networks, and publics with the affordances of the
media, with those affordances evolving with new media and social forms as they themselves
evolve. The point is not the technology, but what happens when media are made and remade in
social spaces. His introduction of field theory (2013) into the evolving thinking about
mediatization further elaborates a view which we can see in relation to our own interpretive
work. Thinking in field-theoretical terms, he notes (2013:8), “…naturally generate(s) a diversity
of cases where thinking about mediatization as a broad metaprocess can be refined and applied,”
allowing the theory to emerge from the range of instantiations of media with (in our case) “the
religious” and drawing understandings from that about the affordances of practice in relation to
digital technologies and to emergent cultural projects among various individuals, communities,
and publics. The challenge, to Couldry (2013:9) as “…how transversal or crossfield media facts
can be thought about in ways that both capture their pervasive reach…yet remain consistent with
the differentiated nature of social space, as conceived by field theory….”
The value of Couldry’s approach can be demonstrated by means of some of the insights
he derives from looking at the evolving media landscape in this way. Stepping outside the
received categories of media practice implicit in much prior theory, for example, he has been
able to identify the ways in which media are suffused into broader social practices in “rituals”
(2008) that are conditioned and defined by social experience in the media age. Reflexive
engagement with the media, then, involves more than what one knows from the media, but a
great deal about what one knows about the media and about the ways that social and cultural
value are exchanged in the media age.
Couldry (2012) has also provided an important category of practice—uniquely articulated
to the media and thus a kind of media logic—he calls “presencing.” By this he means that one of
the affordances of digital media in particular is a set of practices whereby individuals can make
themselves, and their voices, known in media spaces. This logic runs very much against much of
the received legacy of media theorizing. The media are not only about projection of messages
across space and time from powerful forces to less powerful audiences, and not only about
interactions through social media that are purposive in information terms, the media can also be
about a kind of cultural ritual of identity through recognition in the sphere that counts the most
(by some logics) today: the media sphere itself. This presencing is a precondition to other things,
of course, including political action, but it can itself be its own justification according the
conventions of contemporary digital media.
This idea, that media practice is about establishing and inhabiting spaces or contexts of
meaning and interaction as much as it is about sharing information, is present in a growing array
of studies s of digital media. For example, Clark’s (2014) account of her studies of social media
storytelling as a mode of identity politics for young people contending with issues of class and
diversity in an urban high school notes that meanings are attached to the technologies
themselves. The social and cultural exchange value of these devices and their imputed and
presumed values in class and social terms in “the moral economy of the household” (see
Silverstone, 1990), are one of the registers through which meaning work is done. It is not just
about the efficacy of these devices for communication and network-building, it is about the
meanings of the technologies and how those meanings attach to other projects in the social
Medianou and Miller (2013) provide a similar account in their work with social media
and diasporic identities. Looking (like Homi Bhabha) at the post-colonial setting, but in terms of
how various communities in diaspora negotiate their “thirdness” in layered responses to locations
both “here” and “there,” Medianou and Miller outline a theorization of digital media they call
“polymedia.” Looking (as we do) at projects of cultural production and exchange within “…
proliferating communication opportunities…”, they lay out the view that it is necessary to
differentiate the systematic ways that individuals can use these opportunities to advantage.
“Polymedia” becomes a way of describing this reality. They put it this way:
Polymedia is an emerging environment of communicative opportunities that
functions as an “integrated structure” within which each individual medium is
defined in relational terms in the context of other media. In conditions of
polymedia the emphasis shifts from a focus on the qualities of each particular
medium as a discrete technology, to an understanding of new media as an
environment of affordances. (2013:170)
While their focus is very much on the use of these technologies for interpersonal
communication among the communities they study, the practices they outline can be seen to have
public and near-public implications and aspirations. Throughout, they argue, individual actions
in relation to media are made with consciousness of the technologies and with relations between
various technologies and their capabilities and meanings, in play. The “remediations” that result
take place both diachronically (in trajectories of received and remembered practice) and
synchronically (focused primarily on contemporaneous exchange and purpose). Throughout,
they see polymedia “…not as platforms, but as cross-cutting patterns of engagement….”
This has provided provocative and persuasive insights into our “third spaces.” The
tactical and negotiative ways in which various media are selected, engaged, and made-meaning-
of very much exists in a fluid register of practice that iterates among locations of social space,
technology, and intended locations of action. It is a fluid space, and one that is fluid in both its
aspirations to social or cultural purpose and in the ways that media “opportunities” (to quote
Medianou and Miller) are valued and potentially used. The affordances of digital practice in our
third spaces are very much a result of these various locations, opportunities, histories, memories,
and valuations of various media. In one way, our “third spaces” are nothing more or less than the
negotiations through which “…users exploit these affordances….”
Our Project in relation to Media Theory
Our thinking about our work in relation to media theory is still very much a work in
progress. We have not been able to start from a stable base of media and communication studies
theory-building about religion in relation to media. As we’ve said, some of the most important
sources of the current productive trends in media and religion have largely been silent about the
category of “the religious.” There has been a tendency to see religion in only the narrowest of
terms, if at all. The instrumental paradigm implicit in mass communication theory before the
critical and cultural revolutions, looked at religion as well, rather instrumentally. The assumption
that it was measured and measure-able by means of its visible public institutions meant that as
their influence seemed to fade, so did interest in studying the larger category.
As we’ve said, religion has persisted, and new forms and new articulations of religion, of
spirituality, of the near-religious and the anti-religious, of religion as piety and religion as
politics, have emerged over the past two decades, making it increasingly necessary to account for
this new field. The project is centered on “religion” as the distinctive object at the center of all
this, at the same time that the very definition of religion and “the religious” has become more
and more fluid. The ongoing evolution of the digital age has pushed this situation ahead.
Lodging our work in evolving thinking in media studies, we’ve encountered a number of sources
that have proven provocative and valuable. We close with some thoughts on Couldry’s evolving
thinking and on our own, and on ways that our project draws from, and is consistent with, his
account of evolving social spaces in the media age, but more importantly on ways that our work
is distinct.
We do not contemplate something so large and total as Couldry’s project: a direct link
between media processes and “ …the changed dynamics and dimensionality of the [whole]
social world in a media age…” (2013:6). Rather, we are trying to understand the ways that
people make sense of the differentiated social spaces of late modernity (here we are heavily
indebted to Bourdieu). Couldry cites Bourdieu: “…Bourdieu readily acknowledges that fields
are emergent phenomena and the concept should only be used if it helps us grasp the order in
what particular types of people do…” (2013:6). We are thus not primarily interested in the larger
effects of media, that Couldry calls “transversal,” or “…linked effects and transformations that
occur simultaneously at all or very many points in social space…” (2013:7). We are interested in
the affordances of media to practices of meaning-making and cultural production. What we
identify might well, in a later iteration, be significant for larger projects and struggles,
particularly in national and global politics. If the affordances of digital practice oriented around
“the religious” operate along certain lines, then important effects in larger or transverse
structures and spaces are obvious. Among the case studies we look at are those that have clear
political valences and objectives. We can see the affordances of practice in these spaces
supporting political efforts beyond. More broadly, the existence of these third spaces as places
where new logics of religious identity, meaning, community, networks, and action can be
explored and instantiated, has serious implications for the prerogatives of religious authority.
Such implications “beyond” abound.
But our fundamental project is not in the first instance about something so large and
grand as politics. We are instead interested in “the religious” and how it is both instantiated and
formed through digital practice and how it—and its various valences across a range of imagined,
lived, and remembered domains—comes to be negotiated into meaning-making in the digital
sphere. Thus, the uniqueness of “the religious” in these considerations is in its multivalent and
hybridic participation in meaning practice in these spaces. It can be at one moment the object of
mediation and remediation and at another a constitutive force and at another a set of symbols or
languages that are brought into play in negotiations about other things—including politics.
Specifically, we ask, what does it mean to “do and imagine religion” within the digital
environments we have at our disposal today. What kind of religion and spirituality do we have in
contemporary societies given the shifting modes of communication and dynamics of social
As our work progresses, we hope to be able to both build stronger links to emerging
thought and emerging literatures focused on other phenomena and other domains. But, we also
hope to be able to articulate the ways in which the religious object can be and is unique in these
considerations. Finally, we do hope that our ideas about the capacities of digital practice to
establish and inhabit what we call “Third Spaces” will prove useful to others looking both at the
phenomena we look at and in other projects as well.
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... Nevertheless, many traditional religious figures tried to adapt to the new environment and leverage their existing authority, as in the case of the Twitter account of the Pope (Narbona, 2016). From this perspective, the internet has become a third-space (Hoover & Echchaibi, 2012) where religious identities can be renegotiated (Lövheim & Linderman, 2005), thus creating an arena where different groups, from radical fundamentalists (Hoover & Coats, 2011) to outspoken rebels (Echchaibi, 2013), compete for users' attention. ...
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In the last two decades, mainstream religious institutions have progressively incorporated ICTs in both their organizational infrastructure and their devotional practices. Stemming from digital religion scholarship, the present article aims at investigating how the official discourse of the Catholic Church around media has transformed during the long transition from the mass to the digital media era. To this aim, the entire production of papal Encyclicals, Apostolic Exhortations, and World Communication Day addresses from 1967 to 2020 have been analyzed. First, texts were analyzed through a text mining software to identify and quantify the terms under scrutiny. Subsequently, an in-depth study around the evolution of the term “media” was conducted, including the selection and categorization of the term’s correlates and their ethical characterization. Data resulting from this double-layered analysis offer insights on the evolution of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the fast-changing world of media.
... I will then draw upon previous scholarship on religion and media, focusing on the concepts of mediation, mediatization, and the social shaping of technology to contextualize hypermediation in relation to the intertwining of different media forms. I will also address the creation of emotional spaces of practice, drawing from the notion of third spaces (Hoover & Echchaibi, 2014). In the second part of the article, I will illustrate the theory with an empirical case study of anti-gender movements in Europe. ...
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The article elaborates the theory of hypermediation to describe actions related to digital religion that involve various media platforms. According to this theory, media simultaneously hold material, institutional, and technological characteristics. Furthermore, hypermediation entails the creation of affective spaces between physical and digital actions. The theory of hypermediation draws upon literature on religion and media and is applied to case studies of anti-gender movements: Christian-inspired groups that oppose same-sex unions and promote traditional family values. The group Sentinelle in Piedi employs the Internet to organize silent protests at which people read books as an implicit criticism of media institutions and technologies. La Manif Pour Tous stages performances in physical settings to provoke emotional reactions, then it enhances their impact through online circulation. The article uses these examples to show how the concept of hypermediation can be a starting point to analyze the multimedia character of contemporary religion across material actions and digital spaces.
... This concept reflects the inter-relationship between religion, media, and culture. Some examples of such interaction manifest as cyber, online or e-churches, religious radios and blogs, online prayers, online or e-bible study, virtual pilgrimages, televangelism (i.e., religious TV broadcasts), etc. Literature emerging from the study Religions 2022, 13, 121 2 of 15 of digital religion focuses largely on the written narrative (Hoover and Echchaibi 2012;Helland 2016), and not necessarily on the graphical and visual expressions of religious spaces, despite the suggestive evidence that virtual representations of religious buildings may facilitate a spiritual experience similar to the ones in real houses of worship (Gelfgren and Hutchings 2014). The E-Church 1 concept was one of the first manifestations of digital religious practices which relied mainly on religious textual discourse rather than graphical representation of the sacred cyberspace (Schroeder et al. 1998;Campbell 2005;Hutchings 2011). ...
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Digital technology became a substantial component of daily life activities where people grew less dependent on the constraints of the physical world. Recent developments of new media platforms have led to important changes in religious practices, resulting in digital religion. However, there is a lack of empirical research assessing the effect on the spiritual experience. Some elements of sacred architecture, light for instance, influence the perception and experience of space. Light is a symbol of the sacred as it uplifts the worshiper’s soul and contributes to the transcendental experience. This paper proposes an analysis of a contemporary space, cyberspace, in framing the sacred experience. The focus is on light and its effect on the spiritual experience in a virtual church. The method employs an empirical approach, adapted from the social sciences scholarship, to examine the extent of the spiritual experience(s) manifested by the participants as emotional responses to the sacred space. The findings highlight people’s experiences of the cyber-sacred space and offer insights into the design of those spaces. This spiritual event could be considered a spiritual appreciation of architectural elements translated as subjective emotional responses to virtual sacred architecture. Such study bridges the research of architecture and social sciences in creating a platform for the empirical exploration of virtual ‘built’ environments. It provides a quantitative approach to a phenomenological concept of digital religion and the future of spiritual practices related to virtual sacred architecture. The importance of the study lies on the designed methodology to assess the effect of light on the spiritual experience in virtual sacred architecture.
... This also makes it possible to construct individual identities based on conscious performance, selection of meanings, and narratives. These and other practices create something like "third spaces" (Hoover and Echchaibi 2014) in the digital space, which are characterized by creativity and autonomy, based on a reflexive approach to participants' engagement. Their generative character also results from their hybrid nature, suspended "between" the private and the public, the institutional and the individual, and the local and the translocal (Hoover and Echchaibi 2014:20). ...
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The analysis presented in this article shows how a hybrid community combining online and offline activity generates a semi-autonomous space of women's activity, neither fully independent of the religious institution, nor entirely controlled by it. Based on results obtained over 15 months of qualitative research conducted in the Captivating (Urzekająca), conservative community of Roman Catholic women in Poland, I show that digital environments are conducive to building a community of women, a creative approach to practices, renegotiating power relations, and building a sense of agency among women, while also recognizing the authority of the Church as an institution. At the same time, I argue that relative autonomy in practising religion online is limited by the pressures experienced by women in the offline space as a result of the nature of the local Church. The article discusses the question of the relations between the online and offline space, as well as the role of the broader context for understanding conservative women's practice of religion. Open Access:
... Then, I will discuss the notion of materiality in relation to the theory of mediation (Meyer 2010). I will also offer reflections on the notion of space and the Internet, discussing the spatial turn in religious studies and the notion of third spaces of digital religion (Hoover and Echchaibi 2014). Lastly, I will discuss the theory of hypermediation (Scolari 2015) to describe the fluid interactions between different media platforms and physical spaces. ...
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This article offers theoretical reflections on the study of religion and the Internet by critically discussing the notion of “digital religion” (Campbell 2012). In particular, it stresses the importance of integrating material and spatial approaches to the study of digital religion. In doing so, it proposes the theory of “hypermediated religious spaces” to describe processes of religious mediation between online and offline environments by taking into account materiality and space. The article discusses theoretical perspectives by means of case studies: first, the importance of materiality within Internet practices is illustrated through the example of Neo-Pagan online rituals; second, the notion of space, and “third space” in particular, in relation to Internet practices is analyzed through the case of the hashtag #Nous-Sommes-Unis, circulated by French Muslims; third, the theory of hypermediated spaces is exemplified by the analysis of a live-streamed mass in the Italian city of Manerbio during the Covid-19 lockdown. The article aims at kindling scholarly reflections on terminologies and theories for the global and interdisciplinary study of digital religion.
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Online social networks can be considered harbingers of modernity and are claimed to encourage individualization in religious practices. Nevertheless, religious minority groups, including reclusive communities, legitimize their use for religious and communal purposes. Accordingly, social networks are emerging as dynamic third spaces of identity reflections on key issues of lived religion. This study examined how members of a religious group negotiate their identity over online social networks. Accordingly, we conducted a content analysis of 70 ultra-Orthodox Jewish public (Haredi) WhatsApp groups and 40 semi-structured interviews with participants. Findings revealed three primary facets of identity performance: communal affinity; proclaimed conformism and practiced agency; and contesting dogmatism and pragmatism. Through these facets, a new social identity is crystallized within the Haredi sector in Israel. Thus, the secluded spaces of WhatsApp groups enable a marginalized grassroots religious public to promote incremental social change without shattering communal boundaries.
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In 2017, visitors to a church in Wittenberg were given the opportunity to receive blessings from a robot. The so-called ‘robot priest’, named ‘BlessU-2’, poses a lot of questions and possibilities. One of these is about the ways that robots might mediate and represent religious teachings, beliefs, and experiences, which is the focus of this paper. Taking Hoelzl and Ward’s ‘new visibility of religion’ hypothesis, the paper asks about what kind of visibility BlessU-2—and similar robots in religious contexts—represents: is it whimsical; novel; authentic; secular? By locating the robot in historical and theological frameworks, the nuances of what it represents and how it might be seen to mediate religiosity in some way are revealed and discussed.
Even after decades of critical scholarship on religion and the Internet, a rapidly changing field and a febrile global political climate demand renewed questions about the relationships between online spaces and gender-related activism. This is particularly the case, in the post-#MeToo era, in relation to women and religion. While digital activism both promotes and challenges gender inequalities, reflecting prejudices apparent in the offline world, women and men continue to create and adapt online spaces that question received wisdom about their roles in religious traditions. We argue that using Nancy Fraser’s concept of the ‘subaltern counter-public’, adapted by Marc Lamont-Hill as the ‘digital counter-public’, allows us to explore the extent to which digital spaces enable traditional religious authority structures to be challenged in ways that might not be possible in the offline environment. The aim of this Special Issue Section is to provide four detailed case study examples, drawn from Sikhism, Wicca, Hinduism, and Buddhism, across varied geographical and political contexts, in order to examine how women have engaged the digital to create spaces that challenge mainstream narratives about their religious attainment and belonging, raising key questions for the ongoing study of religion online.
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