At the international conference ”Digital religion” at the University of Colorado at Boulder about 100 researchers gathered to develop and discuss what is happening when religion goes online. I participated with a paper presentation on “Churches in Virtual Reality – The Paradoxical Relation Between Innovation and Tradition”, and Tim Hutchings (former postdoc here at HUMlab) presented on “CyberBibles: New Media and Sacred Text”. Empirical studies were intertwined with theoretical approaches. See link for full program and videos.
Digital religion is of cause nothing new – religious groups have been online since the 80s, even though religious online commitments have grown considerably in the web 2.0-era. There has however been a tendency to make a distinction between “religion online” (representatives within the religious sphere with a presence online) and “online religion” (religion performed and experienced online), but there is a shift going on within the field.
Today it seems more and more anachronistic to make such a distinction since internet is becoming increasingly integrated into our everyday life due to further developed hardware (for example mobile devices) and software (for example social media). Instead it is more relevant to talk about a “third space” in between the digital and the analogous, a transformation which calls for new theories and methods.
At the same time the need to put contemporary use of new media in a historical context was pointed out (which I am, as a historian, really happy about). This is not the first time new media changes the way people gather and communicate.
People at the conference also expressed a wish to have a more multi disciplinary approach to the study of digital religion. Right now it seems like research on digital religion is coming from communication studies and social science, but theologians, historians, philosophers (and other disciplines of cause) can together contribute to paint a broader picture of this growing and complex field.