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Abstract

Since the coming of the Internet scholars have been discussing its implications for the future of religion. With its high levels of Internet use and low levels of religious practice Sweden represents an interesting case for studying these issues. This article presents findings from the first online survey of Swedish teenager’s use of the Internet for religious purposes, conducted at one of the largest social networking sites LunarStorm. The results show that more young people seem to come into contact with religion via the Internet than through local religious communities. However, the findings also challenge several early expectations about the Internet as a new arena for religion in contemporary society. Thus the article initiates a critical discussion of what conclusions may be drawn from these results, and where future research on young people, religion and the Internet should be directed.
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Nordicom Review 29 (2008) 2, pp. 205-217
Rethinking Cyberreligion?
Teens, Religion and the Internet in Sweden1
MIA LÖVHEIM
Abstract
Since the coming of the Internet scholars have been discussing its implications for the future
of religion. With its high levels of Internet use and low levels of religious practice Sweden
represents an interesting case for studying these issues. This article presents ndings from
the rst online survey of Swedish teenager’s use of the Internet for religious purposes,
conducted at one of the largest social networking sites LunarStorm. The results show that
more young people seem to come into contact with religion via the Internet than through
local religious communities. However, the ndings also challenge several early expectations
about the Internet as a new arena for religion in contemporary society. Thus the article ini-
tiates a critical discussion of what conclusions may be drawn from these results, and where
future research on young people, religion and the Internet should be directed.
Keywords: Internet, social networking sites, religious change, teenagers, Sweden
Introduction
In the summer of 2007, the largest Christian daily paper in Sweden, Dagen, published
an article entitled ‘Religion on the Net – challenge and possibility’. The opening part
of the article reads: ”The number of churchgoers in Sweden has been steadily dropping
during recent years. At the same time, many people turn to the newly opened religious
Internet sites. This implies a challenge for churches and denominations that are trying
to reach new groups.” The article is a good illustration of expectations that have re-
mained a salient theme in discussions about the impact of the Internet on religion since
the early 1990s. Research on religion and the Internet has been carried out for almost a
decade (Hadden & Cowan 2000, Dawson & Cowan 2004, Højsgaard & Warburg 2005).
Religious organizations have been an important force behind the interest in studying
these issues. As the article in Dagen shows, the Internet is framed as a crucial issue
for the future of these organizations, and young people are seen as a key group in this
respect. Churches and denominations develop their own websites and provide services
such as broadcasting services online, discussion groups and possibilities to chat with
or post questions and prayer requests to religious leaders. Furthermore, the fact that
the majority of studies published so far focus on Christianity (cf. Campbell 2006:12)
suggests that the interests of religious organizations have also played a role in shaping
the aims of the research. The present study takes place within the scope of a research
program on religion in young people’s lives initiated by the Church of Sweden. The
aim of the article, however, is to discuss the ndings from a perspective that calls for
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reconsideration of the expectations of the Internet as a new arena for exploring religion,
as expressed in the article cited above, and to initiate a discussion on what this implies
for future research in the area.
Religion on the Internet: Indications in Previous Research
In 2004, the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with Stewart M
Hoover and Lynn Schoeld Clark at the Center for Research on Media, Religion and
Culture, University of Colorado at Boulder, published a frequently cited report called
“Faith online”2. The ndings of their study show that 64 percent had used the Internet
for religious purposes. This gure indicates that the Internet is a signicant context
for religion among American Internet users. However, their ndings also show that
their use of the Internet may not correspond to the expectations expressed by religious
organizations: The majority of users were already members of local religious organiza-
tions, and the most frequent activities were sending and receiving e-mail with religious
or spiritual content, exchanging online greeting cards related to religious holidays or
reading news accounts of religious events and affairs (Hoover, Clark & Rainie 2004:i)3.
For these reasons, the report “Faith online” provides an interesting point of departure
for the present study. Do these ndings correspond to the situation in another national
context, and especially among young people?
The religious situation in Sweden differs in several ways from the American context.
A national study of youth and religion in the United States showed that three quarters of
American teenagers between 13-17 years of age consider themselves Christians (Smith
2005:31), and almost 60 percent attend services at least once a month. In Sweden, almost
80 percent of the population aged between 16-24 years are members of the former of-
cial national church, Church of Sweden. However, not more than a few percent of these
attend services as often as once a month. Almost 36 percent state that they never visit
the church4. In international comparisons, Sweden stands out as a country in which the
general transformation of values in the Western world from traditional-religious values
to secular-rational and individualistic values is most advanced (Pettersson 2000). Sweden
has also undergone rapid development in computer-mediated communication (Nordicom
20075). In 1995, 3 percent of the population had access to the Internet and less than a
third to a computer. In 2006, 80 percent of all Swedes have access to the Internet and
to computers, and three out of ve use the Internet on a daily basis. Among Swedish
teenagers about 90 percent have a computer of their own and access to the Internet via
broadband. As a group largely distanced from traditional, organized religion, but highly
connected to the Internet, Swedish youth provide an interesting case for studying the
signicance of the Internet as a new context for exploring religion.
Young people and their use of the Internet for exploring religion has been the topic of
some earlier Swedish studies. Anders Sjöborg (2006) studied a website for information
and discussions about the Bible set up in cooperation between Christian Churches. The
study, which involves young people with varying degrees of previous experience of a
Christian tradition, shows how they use the Internet in various ways to explore a traditio-
nal religious authority on their own terms. Other studies (Larsson 2003) have argued that
the relative anonymity of computer-mediated communication makes it easier for young
people to nd alternative sources of information about religious beliefs and practices,
pose questions to religious leaders or approach them in order to talk about problems and
existential questions (Stenberg-Roos 2006). A central assumption in early discussions of
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religion on the Internet has been that because the Internet expands the range of religions
that most individuals have access to in the local context, people would primarily look
for alternatives to mainstream religions online. Case studies of young people drawn
to new religious movements such as Wicca and Satanism (Lövheim 2004, Berger &
Ezzy 2004) show that the Internet not only provides access to information about these
traditions, but is also supportive networks of likeminded individuals. This is also the
case for young people belonging to newer religious traditions in Swedish society, such
as Islam (Schmidt 1999). However, interviews with and observations of young people
who interact in discussion groups on religious sites as well as social networking sites
show that this may also bring new challenges (Lövheim 2004, 2007). The format of
short, written contributions and the high inow of new participants seem to encourage
polarized debates rather than open dialogue. Whether an individual can develop the
kind of trust needed to use the possibilities of the Internet for his or her purposes is also
structured by the discourse and social relations formed in a particular setting (ibid., see
also Lövheim & Linderman 2003). This applies particularly to young women, while
young men seemed to be more condent in using this kind of interaction.
In sum, previous Swedish case studies show some support for the expectations de-
scribed earlier. The Internet gives young people several possibilities to approach religion
beyond the organizational framework and to access information supplied by religious
institutions and authorities, as well as to explore religion on their own terms alone or in
networks of likeminded individuals. However, these studies also show that differences
between young people with differing social and cultural backgrounds, including previous
experience of religion, affect how they use these possibilities (cf. Lövheim & Sjöborg
2007). Because most previous studies have been small case studies focused on certain
religious groups or uses of explicitly religious sites, there is a need for studies set in
a larger and more heterogeneous group of young people. The present study is the rst
online survey conducted on a site in which large numbers of young people with diverse
backgrounds meet, and which is not set up by a religious organization or oriented toward
religion as such. Thus, the study provides a good possibility to discuss some indications,
found in previous research, concerning the signicance of the Internet for religion, and
especially young people’s relation to it.
The Study
The present ndings are based on an online survey conducted in April 2007 on the
Swedish-speaking web community LunarStorm (www.lunarstorm.se). During the rst
part of 2007, the site had 1,200,000 individual members and 363,300 unique visitors
daily. At that time, LunarStorm was the largest social networking site for teens in the
Nordic countries. LunarStorm provides members with a range of functions such as a
personal webpage, chat, discussion groups and clubs. Among these were several focused
on religion, faith and philosophies of life.
The total of 540,000 members are between 15-20 years of age. This represents al-
most two-thirds of the age group in the Swedish population6. The study consisted of an
online survey directed to members of LunarStorm in this age group. The survey was
distributed to a random sample of this population through LunarStorm’s internal e-mail
system ”Lunarmejl”. The respondents had seven days to answer the questions. A total
of 1100 individuals answered the survey7. The survey consisted of eight questions based
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on assumptions and indications from the previous research outlined above. These will
be presented in more detail together with the results in the next section.
Age, Gender and Religion
Of the 1100 individuals who answered the survey, 49.3 percent were women and 50.7
men. The mean age of the respondents was 16.8 years. Compared to LunarStorm’s
members between 15-20 years, the distribution of respondent age is in accordance with
the normal distribution, but there is a slight overrepresentation of men in our sample8.
The rst four questions focused on the religious prole of the young people partici-
pating in the survey. When asked about their beliefs in God, the largest group chose the
alternative “I do not believe in any form of God or supernatural power”. Together with
those who chose the alternative “I do not know what I believe”, they make up the majo-
rity of the responses: 56 percent. Less than a fourth of respondents chose alternatives in
line with traditional religious teachings about God, such as belief in a transcendent God
or a personal God (“a God that exists within each individual”). When asked about how
they would describe their own religiosity, the largest group, 42 percent, chose the alter-
native “I believe in my personal way”. Almost a third or 27 percent described themselves
as Christians, but not more than 4 percent as Muslims and only 1 percent as Buddhists9.
Around 10 percent used the possibility to describe their religiosity in their own words,
and among those around 3 percent described themselves as Satanists or Neopagans.
Fifteen percent described themselves as atheists. When comparing these questions, we
see that in most cases, the answers follow a pattern, in which self-described religiosity
matches beliefs in God. Thus, most of the respondents believed in their own personal
way and were uncertain about their beliefs about God or believed in a more general
supernatural or spiritual power. Because the groups of Muslims, Buddhists and new
religious movements were too small for a meaningful separate analysis, in the coming
analysis they will in most cases be combined into one group of “other religions”, which
then make up a total of 16 percent.
Findings from previous studies show that there are several reasons for focusing
particularly on differences between young people who participate in organized religion
and those who do not. In Sjöborg’s study of a website particularly aimed at discussions
of the Bible, more than two-thirds of users were members of religious youth organiza-
tions and at least half of the respondents took part in services as often as once a month
(Sjöborg 2006:120). In the present study, 15 percent of the respondents took part in or-
ganized religious activities such as youth programs or services as often as once a month.
The majority of these individuals (61 percent) described themselves as Christians and
believed in either a personal, inner God or a transcendent God. 12 percent described
themselves as Muslims, Buddhists or Jews. It is a common pattern in studies of young
people and religion that women are more active in organized activities than men are.
However, in the present study, the number of men and women who reported being active
in organized religion was not different from the sample in general – which implies a
slight overrepresentation of men.
We have no gures on the rate of participation in organized religion among the po-
pulation of members of LunarStorm in the age group under study. A survey based on
a representative sample of the population of young people between 16-29 years (Ung-
domsstyrelsen 2007:270) showed that around 5 percent take part in religious meetings
at least once a month. Participation in conrmation classes is also higher in the sample,
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%
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
In school or Among friends In the family Through tv On the internet
at work
40 percent, than the numbers for all 15-year-olds in Sweden, which in 2006 was 35.6
percent10. Thus, we may conclude that the young people in the present study who were
active in religious organizations outside the Internet represented a minority of the
sample, and that they also held beliefs closer to traditional religious beliefs than did the
rest of the respondents. This group seems to be larger in the sample than among Swe-
dish teenagers in general, but smaller than users of a more explicitly religious website
in the same age group. The majority of the respondents, 85 percent, reported not being
as active in organized religion, and most of them described themselves as believers in
their own personal way or as atheists.
The Internet as a Context for Exploring Religion
In the survey, we wanted to know how young people value the Internet as a context for
exploring issues of faith and religion in relation to other contexts in their everyday life,
outside of organized religion. The question was: “In which of the following contexts
have you encountered questions about faith and religion during the past 12 months?”
The chart below shows what percentage of respondents chose the different alternatives
given. More than one alternative could be chosen11. About one-fourth or 25 percent of
respondents chose the alternative “I don’t know”. These are not shown in the chart be-
low, but this gure is important to keep in mind, as it indicates that a signicant group
of young people may not come into contact with religion in their everyday life through
any of the options given.
Chart 1. Percentages of all Respondents who during the Past Year have had Contact
with Questions of Faith and Religion in Different Contexts (N=822)
The responses show that the context in which Swedish teenagers most often come into
contact with religion is in school (52 percent), and among friends (33 percent), while
around 20 percent have encountered religion via the Internet, and an almost equal
amount through television. Thirty percent responded that they have come into contact
with religion through the Internet and television. The proportion of young people who
say they encountered religion in the family is 23 percent. There are also differences in
the groups of young people that come into contact with religion via the Internet. When
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we compare12 the responses of the different groups described earlier, we see that young
people who are active in religious organizations are more likely to report that they have
encountered religion in the family, among friends and via the Internet. Also, young men
seem to have had more experiences of religion online than young women have.
Using the Internet for Religious Purposes
As a platform for computer-mediated communication, the Internet offers several applica-
tions for exploring religion. On the basis of previous research, nine different alternatives
were listed, and respondents were asked to estimate how often they used these13. Re-
sponses for each of the listed alternatives show clearly that the majority of respondents
reported never having used this application. Therefore, percentages for individuals who
said they use these functions a few times a year or more frequently have been combined
in the chart below to provide an overview of the results.
Chart 2. Percentages of Respondents who have Used the Internet for Religious Purpo-
ses a Few Times a Year or More (N varies between 1073-100)
%
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Search through Google, Wikipedia etc
Visit religious website
Religious music
Religious film
Personal communication
Questions to religious leader
Discussion general website
Discussion religious website
Religious magazine
This chart shows that the most frequent use of the Internet for religious purposes for
all respondents is to use web browsers or encyclopedia sites to nd information; 38.5
percent use this function at least a few times a year. Seeking information by visiting a
religious website is less common; about 23 percent say they have done so. About 20
percent reported looking for religious music or lm online. Seeking information and
seeking religious entertainment on the Internet, thus, seem to be the most popular activi-
ties, while forms of social interaction are less popular. Here, the respondents seem to use
personal communication slightly more than more public forms of discussion in groups.
Twenty-one percent reported having had experience of personal communication through
e-mail, MSN messenger or similar forms of communication, while a total of 19 percent
have had experience of discussing religion in a group or chat. A closer analysis of these
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respondents shows that the majority, almost two-thirds, reported discussing religion in
both of the contexts given as alternatives. However, as the chart above shows, most of
them discussed religion in groups provided by sites with a more general character, such
as LunarStorm, while a smaller group used groups at explicitly religious sites.
When we compare different groups in the sample, it is, rst of all, clear that young
people active in organized religion reported using all of these alternatives more fre-
quently than did those who are not as active (cf. Sjöborg 2006:131). The largest diffe-
rence between the groups concerns activities that are more explicitly related to religious
organizations or representatives. While more than 50 percent of those actively involved
in religion ofine have posed questions to religious leaders, visited religious websites or
looked for religious music and lm, less than 20 percent of young people who are not
active in religious organizations have visited religious websites, or looked for religious
music, magazines and lms. About 12 percent of those who are not active have posed
questions to religious leaders, and less than 11 percent have taken part in discussion
groups at religious websites or read religious magazines.
Differences in self-described religiosity are small and somewhat difcult to read.
However, it seems clear that Christians reported using all alternatives more frequently
than others did, but most frequently religious websites, music and lm as well as posing
questions to religious leaders. The group that seem to use discussion groups as well as
personal communication more frequently than others is the somewhat awkward category
of “other religions”, including among others Muslims, Satanists and Neopagans. Also the
atheists reported using discussion groups at websites of a general character or personal
communication more frequently than others did. Finally, those who believed in their own
personal way seem to look for religious lms and pose questions to religious leaders
most frequently. The only difference related to gender seems to be that young men use
discussion groups on religious websites more frequently than young women do.
The survey contained no questions about uses of the Internet for other purposes than
religion. Studies of Internet use in a representative sample of the population (Nordi-
com 2007) show that the most frequently used activities in the age group closest to our
sample, 15-24 years of age, are e-mail (54 percent), participation in chat or discussion
groups (53 percent), looking for information (37 percent), listening to music (20 percent)
and playing games (18 percent). Thus, some of the most frequently used options in our
sample, such as information seeking and use of music and lm, seem to correspond to
young people’s habits of Internet use in a more general sense. The most obvious excep-
tion is social interaction in the form of discussions or personal communication through
e-mail, where young people in the sample seem to use these less frequently for religion
than they do for other purposes.
As described in the introduction, one assumption about the Internet has been that it
gives access to a wider range of religions than what is available in most local contexts.
Therefore we asked about what kind of religion young people look for online. The re-
sponses show that the religion respondents looked for most frequently was Christianity:
More than 36 percent did so at least a few times a year. About 30 percent also looked
for information about the other major world religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and
Judaism. Thus, new or alternative religious movements seem to be less popular than
expected. Most popular was Satanism, which more than 25 percent reported looking
for online a few times a year. When comparing different groups we can, again, see that
it is the group of respondents active in organized religion that most frequently look for
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%
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
For school Personal Meet other Talk about Keep Discuss Tell others
or work development opinions difficult issues contact with existential about faith
like minded issues
Active Not active
information about all kinds of religion online. It also seems as if they mostly look for
information similar to their own religious beliefs.
Why Use the Internet for Religious Purposes?
The nal question concerned reasons for using the Internet for exploring religion. On the
basis of previous studies in Sweden, we would expect to nd differences between young
people with regard to involvement in religious organizations ofine, self-described reli-
giosity and gender. Here, a number of alternatives based on indications found in previous
research were presented. The respondents were asked to state whether they agreed with
these reasons. In the analysis below, only the percentages of those who responded that
they agreed strongly with the statement will be displayed14. When looking at the whole
group, it is clear that the reason most of the respondents agree with concerns uses “for
school or work”. More than half of the respondents, 55 percent, chose this alternative.
The next two alternatives, with which more than 10 percent agreed strongly, were “for
personal development” (13.4 percent) and “to encounter opinions other than my own”
(11.6 percent). The pattern showing that these three reasons seem most in line with
respondent’s experiences is similar for all groups regardless of involvement in organized
religion, religiosity or gender. As can be seen in the chart below, young people who are
actively involved in organized religion agreed to a larger extent with all of the given
alternatives than did those who are not active. We can also see some between-group
differences in the reasons given.
Chart 3. Percentages of Respondents Active and Not Active in Organized Religion who
Strongly Agree with Reasons for Using the Internet for Religious Purposes (N
varies between 99815-1016)
It seems as though the group of respondents who are active in religious organizations
use the Internet to nd someone to talk to about difcult issues in life, to tell others
about their faith and to maintain contacts with likeminded individuals to a greater extent
than do those who are not active. The latter group seems to use the Internet to discuss
existential issues rather than to talk about their problems, their faith or to seek out the
company of likeminded individuals. There are also some differences between men and
women. Men seem to agree more strongly than women do with reasons concerning per-
sonal development, telling others about faith and maintaining contacts with likeminded
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individuals, while women tend to stress reasons of school or work. Finally, the responses
also show some differences between individuals who described their religiosity in dif-
ferent ways. These differences are small, but they indicate some interesting patterns: For
those who described themselves as Christians, maintaining contact with fellow believers,
sharing their faith with others and nding someone to talk to about difcult issues are
the reasons most agreed with, while discussing existential issues and school seem to be
less valued. This pattern is somewhat similar to the group of “other religions” (Muslims,
Buddhists, Satanists, Neopagans), except that these respondents placed more value on
the possibility of encountering opinions other than their own. The largest group, those
who reported believing in their own personal way, seem to use the Internet primarily
for reasons that have to do with school, personal development and discussing difcult
and existential issues.
Rethinking Cyberreligion?
Since the advent of the Internet, expectations about its implications for the future of
religion have been high, not least within religious denominations. Swedish teenagers are
among the most active users of the Internet in the world, but does this also imply that
they will embrace the Internet as a new arena for exploring religion? Although previous
studies have indicated this potential, the ndings of the present study challenge, in several
respects, early expectations of the signicance of the Internet as a new arena for religion
in contemporary society. In this nal part I will, rst, summarize the ndings of the study
and relate these to some of the assumptions and indications outlined in the introduction.
Second, I will point out some ways in which these ndings can contribute to a discussion
on future research in the area of young people, religion and the Internet.
Results of the Study
The ndings of the survey presented here show that about 20 percent of the respondents
have encountered religion and about 40 percent have looked for information about re-
ligion on the Internet at least once a year. A survey distributed among a representative
sample of the Swedish population in February 2007 (Linderman 2007) shows a similar
percentage of respondents between 15-23 years who have had contacts with religion
on the Internet. This survey also reveals signicant differences concerning such con-
tacts between younger and older generations. While almost 20 percent of the young
chose this alternative, only 7 percent in the total sample did so. As we have seen, other
studies have shown that about 5 percent of Swedish teens visit organized religions at
least once a year. In so far as these ndings reect general patterns among Swedish
teenagers, then more young people do seem to come into contact with religion via the
Internet than through local religious communities. However, the present study clearly
shows that researchers need to be careful in drawing conclusions about the signicance
of the Internet for young people’s relation to religion based on such results. The present
ndings also show that, for the majority of respondents, the Internet is not the context
in which they primarily come into contact with religion. Although Swedish teenagers
spend considerable time online daily, school and friends are still the primary contexts
for encountering religion in everyday life.
A majority of the survey respondents were not afliated with organized religions, nor
did they share the beliefs of these. Most of these young people had not had contacts with
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religion on the Internet, nor had they used the Internet for any of the purposes listed.
Thus, the present study gives little support to expectations that the Internet can be a
way for organized religions to reach out to new groups. Instead, the ndings in several
ways support the results of the Pew report “Faith Online” (Hoover, Clark & Rainie
2004). Also among teenagers in Sweden, the Internet seems to be a signicant context
for exploring religion particularly for the “ofine faithful”. Young people who are active
in organized religion outside the Internet, who describe themselves as Christians and
whose belief in God is in correspondence with the teachings of the Church form a clear
minority of the respondents in the present study. Yet this group contains by far the most
frequent users of religious websites and discussion groups as well as religious music,
lms and magazines.
The group of respondents already involved in organized religion, and in particular the
Christians, also stressed the possibility to keep in contact with likeminded individuals,
to pose questions to religious leaders and to nd someone to talk to about difcult issues
in life more than the other groups did. Thus, the present results support the argument
made by, among others, Campbell (2005) that, for individuals actively involved in ofine
religious life, faith-related activities online are a complement to rather than a substitute
for organized religion. As argued by Hoover, Clark and Rainie (2004:ii), the Internet does
provide access to resources outside formal religious contexts. However, these resources
seem to be primarily of a kind that augments already strong commitments to people with
whom these individuals share their faith ofine. Also, it seems that the relative anonymity
of interaction online may not in itself be enough for young people to approach religious
groups or representatives when facing difcult questions about meaning, life and death.
Some previous experience of religion seems to be needed to initiate such contacts.
The present survey shows clearly that most of the respondents used the Internet to
look for information about religion through Google, Wikipedia or similar search engines
or encyclopedia sites. The reason for using the Internet to explore religion that most of
the respondents agreed with was “for school or work”. One may argue that this nding
is self-evident, given that schoolwork takes up a large part of young people’s everyday
lives. Nevertheless, it shows that researchers should be careful in interpreting the number
of visits to religious websites as a growing personal interest in religion. The 13 percent
in the study who chose the alternative “for personal development” does show that some
young people seem to have such intentions. However, even in this case, we cannot con-
clude that the interest concerns the beliefs and practices of religious institutions. These
ndings rather point to a pattern in which religion on the Internet is more frequently
used as a resource for purposes that relate to the individual and the personal concerns of
everyday life, than for purposes that relate to social interaction within a religious com-
munity. The study shows clearly that discussion about religion in groups is much less
popular among young people of all religious backgrounds, while searching for religious
information, lm, music and personal communication occur more frequently. Also in
the Pew report, the most frequent uses of the Internet for “religious purposes”, such as
exchanging e-mail with religious or spiritual content and online greeting cards, relate
to individual faith or at least social interaction in ways other than those traditionally
offered by religious institutions.
The present ndings show that those respondents who described themselves as Mus-
lims, Buddhists, Satanists, Neopagans or atheists are somewhat more interested than
others in using discussion groups. These respondents are, of course, different in many
ways, but they share the experience of being seen as marginal groups in a society histo-
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Rethinking CybeRReLigion?
rically dominated by the major Lutheran religious institutions. Thus, these ndings give
some support to the indications found in previous research that young people in religious
minorities can nd access to alternative sources of information and form supportive
networks of likeminded via the Internet. An interesting issue for further research is how
such sites may come to serve as religious subcultures for these youth. However, we need
more studies in order to draw further conclusions about such tendencies.
Finally, it is interesting to note that while the majority of the “online faithful” in
earlier studies (Hoover, Clark & Rainie 2004, Sjöborg 2006) were women, the present
study shows that young men seem to be more actively engaged in exploring religion on
the Internet than young women are. The results show signicant differences between
men and women, particularly concerning the use of discussion groups, and telling other
people about their faith. This corresponds to earlier Swedish case studies, where young
men seemed more at ease with using public forms of discussion online than young wo-
men did (Lövheim 2004). Also, young men seem to value the possibility to nd someone
to talk to about difcult events in life more than women do. Thus, these ndings indicate
that if the organized religions can hope to reach any “new” groups through the Internet,
such groups might be young men, who in most ofine contexts form a minority.
Concluding Discussion
In a review of the rst decade of research about religion on the Internet, Lorne Dawson
and Douglas Cowan called for reconsideration of early assumptions that the Internet
per se is transforming religion (Dawson & Cowan 2004:6, cf. Højsgaard 2005:62). The
present ndings support this conclusion. Furthermore, previous research has primarily
focused on specic religious groups or sites and on individuals who actively take part in
activities connected to these, which may have contributed to an over-estimation of the
signicance of the Internet for religion. One fruitful approach for further research would
be to situate research about religion online in the wider discussion of general transfor-
mations of religion in contemporary society, as well as research about the impact of the
Internet on other areas of social life. I will end by pointing to two issues in relation to
which the ndings of the present study can contribute to a more rened discussion.
The rst issue concerns how to evaluate the signicance of the Internet for young
people’s experiences of religion. It may be tempting to interpret the present results as
showing signs of a resurgence of religion on the Internet. In line with the argument that
young people’s attitudes and habits are predecessors of future trends in society (Ingelhart
1977), these ndings suggest that the Internet will become a signicant context for reli-
gion in the future. However, I would argue that rather than interpreting these ndings as
signs of a religious resurgence among young people, they show how traditional contexts
for religious socialization, such as the Church or the family, are gradually being replaced
by other contexts. The ndings also indicate that mediated experiences of religion, here
primarily via the Internet and television, may be almost as common as contacts with
religion through friends. Thus, the media are an important part of this process, but we
need further studies of the meaning of this transformation. Here, the ndings also show
that how young people make meaning of what they encounter in the media needs to be
analyzed within the contexts given by the conditions and patterns of social interaction
in the schools as well as in peer groups. Thus, by comparing the Internet and other con-
texts in which people encounter religion in contemporary society, we can gain a better
understanding of how the Internet contributes to this development.
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216
Mia LövheiM
The second issue concerns how young people approach religion in contemporary so-
ciety. Hoover, Clark and Rainie (2004:20) argued that the most signicant impact of the
Internet lies in augmenting a development in which individuals come to exercise more
autonomy in relation to formal authorities and institutions in matters of faith. The study
presented here also shows that young people’s contacts with religion on the Internet
primarily concern individual needs and interests. Overall, only a minority had experience
of several of the activities and purposes given as alternatives. Thus, the present results
call for reconsideration of the purpose for which people look for religion online. They
also reveal how little we know about if and when religion becomes actualized in young
people’s uses of the Internet. One area in which this comes to the fore concerns why
young people do not seem to use e-mail, chat or discussion groups, which they generally
use frequently, for issues related to religion. This result corresponds to the tendency for
religion to become more of a personal than a social matter, but it may also be a conse-
quence of the questions used in the survey. Contrary to the assumptions of several earlier
studies, the social contexts of interaction on the Internet do not seem to be religious
discussion groups or e-mail lists. Lynn Schoeld Clark (2004) argued for an approach
to religion online that starts out from how new technologies become interwoven with
the off-line, socially oriented meaning making practices of young people. The present
study suggests that such practices can take place by sharing sources of information for
schoolwork, music and lms, the concerns of everyday life or by making connections
across personal networks. These practices can also show where future research needs
to be directed if we are to understand more about when and how issues of meaning,
belonging, life and death, previously expressed in religious words and ritual, become
actualized in young people’s experiences online.
Notes
1. Paper originally presented at the NordMedia 2007 Conference 16-19 August 2007 in Helsinki, Finland by
the author.
2. The study was based on telephone interviews with a sample of the American population aged 18 and
older. The ndings reported here are based on Internet users (1358 individuals out of a total of 2013 indi-
viduals).
3. 38 percent had sent and received e-mail with religious or spiritual content, 35 percent had exchanged
online greeting cards and 32 percent read news accounts of religious events and affairs.
4. Statistics retrieved from the Church of Sweden statistical database (http://www.svenskakyrkan.se/statis-
tik/, July 7 2007).
5. Nordicom-Sveriges Internetbarometer is a yearly study based on telephone interviews with a random sam-
ple of the Swedish population between 9-79 years of age.
6. It is, however, important to point out that the sample analyzed here should not be seen as representative of
the Swedish population in the age group 15-20.
7. Surveys at LunarStorm are conducted by the administrators of the site. A survey is sent to a sample of
approximately 2000 members and remains open until a requested number of responses, usually 1100, is
reached. Thus, it is not possible to know the exact response rate. The number of participants, however,
enables calculations of levels of signicance for different groups. For all results reported here, p is lower
than or equal to 0.05 (i.e. the probability of these differences being random is less than 5 percent).
8. The mean age of members is 18.1 years and the distribution of gender among members 15-20 years is
53 percent women and 47 men (www.lunarworks.se). LunarStorms statistics give no information about
ethnicity or social background.
9. 4 persons also chose the alternatives Hindu or Jew.
10. www.svenskakyrkan.se/statistik 2007-07-10.
11. A closer analysis shows that the largest group of respondents, 41 percent, has chosen one alternative while
25 percent chose 2-3 alternatives, and 11 percent 4 to 5 alternatives. The majority of those who responded
that they had three or more contexts for contact with religion were active in organized religion.
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217
Rethinking CybeRReLigion?
12. Comparisons made using cross tables and chi-square tests as well as Mann Whitney U-test (for gender
and activity) or Kruskal-Wallis test (mean ranks, for categories of self-described religiosity).
13. The alternatives given were “every day”, “at least once a week”, “at least once a month”, “a few times a
year” and “never”.
14. The alternatives were “agree totally”, “agree to a large extent”, “either/or”, “agree to some extent” and
“do not agree”. These have been combined into three categories, where the rst two form the category of
respondents who agree strongly.
15. The lowest rate of responses is for the alternative “To tell others about my faith” (n=998).
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Introduction. The promised land or electronic chaos? Toward understanding religion on the internet (J.K. Hadden, D.E. Cowan). Internet Research: Studying Religion on the Web. Researching religion in cyberspace: issues and strategies from the sociology of the internet (L.L. Dawson). Religious ethnography on the world wide web (W.S. Bainbridge). Doing research and teaching with the American religion data archive: initial efforts to democratize access to data (R. Finke et al.). Religion, rhetoric and scholarship: managing vested interest in e-space (D.E. Cowan). Internet Faith: Religions in Cyberspace. Surfing Islam: ayatollahs, shayks and hajjs on the superhighway (G.R. Bunt). Toward understanding how religious organizations use the internet (S. Horsfall). Dispatches from the electronic frontier: explorations of mainline Protestant use of the internet (K. Bedell). Online-religion/religion-online: virtual communities (C. Helland). On-line ethnography of dipensationalist discourse: revealed versus negotiated truth (R.G. Howard). Webs of Deceit: Religious Propaganda on the Net. New religious movements and the internet: the new frontier of cult controversies (J.-F. Mayer). "So many evil things": anticult terrorism via the internet (M. Introvigne). Internet Teaching: Pedagogy and the World Wide Web. Evolution of a religious web site devoted to tolerance (B.A. Robinson). Mapping a "cyberlimen": a test case for the use of electronic discussion boards in religious studies classes (J.M. Robinson). A history of the religious movements homepage project at the University of Virginia (J.K. Hadden). List of contributors and contact information. Biographical information on the authors.
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Mapping Three Waves of Research“First-Wave” Research on Religion and the Internet“Second-Wave” Studies of Religion Online“Third-Wave” ResearchFuture of Research on Religion OnlineReferences
Book
This book contends that beneath the frenzied activism of the sixties and the seeming quiescence of the seventies, a "silent revolution" has been occurring that is gradually but fundamentally changing political life throughout the Western world. Ronald Inglehart focuses on two aspects of this revolution: a shift from an overwhelming emphasis on material values and physical security toward greater concern with the quality of life; and an increase in the political skills of Western publics that enables them to play a greater role in making important political decisions.
Chapter
Sweden is often categorized as one of the most secularized and postmodern countries in the world. The Internet has been described as the "epitome" of transformations of traditional religion in late modern society. This chapter analyzes how youth negotiate religious conventions in discussions of religion on the Internet. If there is a "test case" for the breakdown of religious conventions based on the traditionalized beliefs and practices of institutionalized religion and traditional modes of religious socialization, this would be it. It is argued that despite these anticipations, the construction of religious identities, even in the transient sites of late modern society, is not only a question of individual choice in a "spiritual marketplace", but also structured by religious authorities and conventions.
Book
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.
Book
This book aims to provide new insights on the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. It presents the main findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a research project on the religious and spiritual lives of American adolescents conducted at the University of North Carolina from 2001 to 2005. The survey captured a broad range of differences among U.S. teens in religion, age, race, sex, socioeconomic status, rural-suburban-urban residence, region of the country, and language spoken. The book provides answers to questions about the character of teenage religion, the extent of spiritual seeking among youth, how religion affects adolescent moral reasoning and risk behaviors, and much more. It is hoped that by informing readers about the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers, it will help foster discussions in families, religious congregations, community organizations, and beyond, not only about the general state of religion in the United States, but also about cultural and institutional practices that may better serve and care for American teens.
En studie av medierade kontakter med bibeln med särskilt avseende på ungdomar och internet [The Bible on my own terms. A study of mediated contacts with the bible with special regard to youth and the Internet
  • A Sjöborg
Sjöborg, A. (2006) Bibeln på mina egna villkor. En studie av medierade kontakter med bibeln med särskilt avseende på ungdomar och internet [The Bible on my own terms. A study of mediated contacts with the bible with special regard to youth and the Internet]. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Psychologia et Sociologia Religionum 18 (Diss).
’Internet, Religion and the Attribution of Social Trust
  • A G Linderman
  • M Lövheim
Linderman, A.G. & Lövheim, M. (2003) 'Internet, Religion and the Attribution of Social Trust', in Mitchell, J. & Marriage S. (eds.), Mediating Religion: Conversations in Media, Religion and Culture. Edinburgh, London & New York: T&T Clark/Continuum.
Att vara ung och muslim i Sverige
  • G Larsson
Larsson, G (2003) 'Att vara ung och muslim i Sverige' [Being young and Muslim in Sweden], in Larsson, G (ed.) Talande tro. Ungdomar, religion och identitet. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
The Internet as Virtual Spiritual Community. Teen Witches in the United States and Australia Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet
  • References Berger
  • H Douglas
References Berger, H. & Douglas, E. (2004) 'The Internet as Virtual Spiritual Community. Teen Witches in the United States and Australia', in Dawson, L.L. & Cowan, D.E. (eds.) Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. New York, NY: Routledge.