Friday, October 28, 2011

Religious Identity in Twitter

This week I will be examining the question: does digital media strengthen or weaken individual's ability to construct or perform their religious identity? For reasons I will explain and also from examining the social media site of, it seems that digital media does play a role in strengthening religious identity.
            Twitter is a social media site based on user-produced and consumed media content, usually focused on social commentary (“About”). Twitter allows its users to follow the posts of any users they so choose; many people occupy Twitter (“About”). From celebrities, real and fake, to religious leaders such as the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and Christian pastors from various denominations, Twitter is loaded with opinions on life from every direction (Meadows, 2011). Due to this whirlwind of opines constantly being posted, it seems that it could be easy for users to be influenced by those that they follow (Meadows, 2011).
            Users of Twitter are able to have their religious identities shaped by choosing to follow other users for whatever reasons, which, over time, can change the beliefs of the user (Lövheim & Linderman, 2005). In example, for a Baptist of the Southern Baptist Convention, following reformed pastors such as John Piper or Tim Keller can result in subtle changes to their beliefs if they take the tweets seriously. If the same person were to jokingly follow users such as @weeCalvin, a user who tweets quotes from the Reformation era theologian John Calvin and answers other users’ questions about the beliefs of John Calvin, the user’s religious identity could still be strengthened, just not toward the Calvinistic agenda presented by the Twitter poster.
            In the end, we see that digital media does strengthen an individual’s ability to perform their religious identity since they can be influenced by other users of digital media.

About. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Lövheim, M. and Linderman, A. (2005) ‘Constructing Religious Identity on the Internet’, in Højsgaard, M. & Warburg, M. (eds.), Religion in Cyberspace, 121-137, London; Routledge

Meadows, C. (2011) Personal observations of Twitter. Retreived from http://!/CaseyTM

Friday, October 21, 2011


            The Internet is a vast playground for billions around the world wanting to do almost anything they can think of, from researching how to grow squash in a personal garden, to watching full seasons of SpongeBob Squarepants, to analyzing every picture ever posted by a mutual friend of theirs on Facebook. Since the Internet has such diversity, many different churches have made attempts to reach out to the world and make themselves more accessible to all who may ("Internet church -," ) or may not be interested in what they believe (Acorn, 2010). From these websites, blogs, forums, email groups and etc., churches have made efforts to form communities online. This week, I will be reflecting upon how online community is fostered through online connections such as those found at
            St Pixels is self-described as “a space to discover, to share, to worship, to make new friendships and to have fun,” while encouraging members to join them in Biblical discussions and studies, worship, and online chats about the Christian faith ("Internet church -," ). Some people see this as a place to supplement their offline faith (Campbell, 2005), while others view it as the defining place of their faith, having had bad experiences with local or physical churches (Hutchings, 2011).
            St. Pixels offers many different options for Christians and curious non-Christians alike to connect with other Christians on their website, via chat boards, peer to peer discipleship groups, more commonly referred to as a “P2PD,” and worship online during set worship times ("Internet church -," ). St Pixels is designed in a way to draw in those interested; leaving users as the main authors of information and the consumers of information able to register and post as they want as well.
St Pixels operates in cyberspace much similar to how community operates in physical reality when users can be both producers and consumers of information. St. Pixels also limits conversations in threads to appropriate topics, much like how churches naturally limit their discussion topics to only what is appropriate at the present time, but still open up the possibility to converse on important topics to users in more private settings.
On the surface level, St Pixels is an online church that looks similar to most offline churches in that it holds worship services and events that all are welcome to take part in, allows for members to meet other members while encouraging interaction outside of worship, and even allows for one-on-one learning experiences ("Internet church -," ). The only thing missing are sacraments that would be found in most physical churches, which are limited to baptism and Eucharist. Overall it seems that religious community can be fostered, even if it is limited, online.

Acorn. (2010, May 03). Trolls. Retrieved from

Campbell, H. (2005). Exploring religious community online: we are one in the network. New York: Peter Lang publishing Inc.

Hutchings, T. (pending). Considering religious community through online churches. Retreived from

Internet church - sacred space online. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Online Worship Rituals: For Real or For Fun?

        When I found my professor's PDF "Religion and the Internet" as one of my top results on Google at the beginning of researching for this post, I once again realized that this class is legitimately taught by a professional.
        After I got past that, I realized that I've stumbled across the concept that online worship is accepted, (in most cases of Christian practices anyway,) while online rituals are usually disregarded as not real or legitimate. As Christopher Helland proposes his Ritual Transfer theory, that when transferring from reality to online, or vice-versa, certain aspects of rituals must be changed, added, or given up in order to be performed, which causes most people to view the changed rituals as artificial replacements of the original.
        In other cases, however, people have made good use of the Internet to give members of a religious community the ability to worship and perform rituals via their websites or online services. CullensAbcs is a YouTube user who creates short videos for teachers to use in worship or teaching settings with small children, usually covering an arts and crafts of some sort, while also teaching a lesson from the Bible, a say-along prayer and providing a song for viewers to learn and sing along with her. One example would be here, where CullensAbcs talks about creation.
        In the emergent church, it is not unusual for different congregations to converge via broadband or satellite connections, or even to just broadcast their own services via broadband internet streams for online observers to take part in in the comfort of their own homes. Although this seems to present itself as a very outreach intended action with hopes of getting online participants in the doors of the physical church, it seems that often times those whom participate online have little interest in making the effort to attend the physical church, thus their online participation is not a result of their curiosity, but instead of laziness and social disinterest.
        In the case of rituals performed via programs such as Minecraft or websites such as SecondLife, the person at the computer is merely making their own self the puppeteer of an avatar to worship their desired deity, while they themselves simply look on as spectators. The digital recreation of a person is not the same as a physical, animate person, and cannot be regarded as a legitimate worship ritual in any sense either.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dr. Christopher Helland: Religious Ritual and the Internet

Today was filled with mystery as I got dressed to attend my first religious symposium as a RELS minor. I was able to listen to Dr. Christopher Helland, Associate Professor on Sociology of Religion at Dalhousie University. He spoke on sacred rituals and what they looked like both in real life as well as in the virtual world found on the Internet.

I felt he made very good points on how people still don't take the virtual world seriously, citing the online worship community "Church of Fools" which was started in England by Christian Methodists. Although it was extremely popular for its time in the 1990s, it wasn't long before the leaders had to get wardens to boot virtual attendees for improper and offensive actions during services.

In reference to what Helland calls the "Ritual transfer theory," which is where certain aspects must be left out in order to be enacted online, as well as certain aspects being introduced to a ritual in order to be performed in the virtual world, Helland made convincing points of how most people refuse to acknowledge online rituals as legitimate, due to the physical limitations and lack of a real body. I agreed with him on most points, and thought he made a convincing argument that until people begin to view the virtual world as a real world equivalent and can honor sacred events both physically and virtually, we cannot consider online rituals supplementary for real-life rituals.