A few days ago I held a seminar, “Religion on the Net, and religion in the heart”, at the Department of Religious studies concerning ICT and religion (in a broad sense). We read Christopher Helland’s text “Online Religion as Lived Religion” and had a discussion ranging from how to define religion today, to what impact the digital revolution have had on traditional churches and denominations.
In my own research I’ve been interested in how social transformations relates to religious. In my dissertation I studied the changed perception of religion in the late 19th century Sweden. In a later book I wanted, very broadly, to integrate perspectives from both the history of ideas with church history in order to describe and analyse how the role of religion has changed in Northern Europe over the last five decades (i.e. from the Reformation until today). And, in short, if we want to understand the role of religion in contemporary society the digital transformation of society needs to be accounted for.
The “digital turn” raises many questions concerning religious faith and practices of today. For example: What does it mean for traditional religious structures and ritual practices that faith moves from physical buildings and the physical congregation to cyberspace? What happens with traditional clerical hierarchies in cyberspace? How does religion online differ (if so) from religion off line? Is it possible to keep faith in an absolute truth when the pluralistic nature of the Net tends to promote pluralism and relativism (the flipside is an increasing fundamentalism)?
There are many more questions and a lot of research to be done. However, the seminar concluded that if people live their religious life on Internet, and if churches and various religious representatives are online, theologians have to go online as well.