Thursday, November 10, 2011

GodTube and Authority Online

When discussing religious authority, Cheong expressed that it is a difficult idea to define. Authority itself is said to be an “ascribed asymmetry between speaker and audience” (Cheong, p.4). Meaning, the audience and speaker have an understood agreement that the audience believes what the speaker says to be true. Speakers have the power to influence the audience and, in return, the audience respects the superiority relationship. When it comes to religion, before the Internet offered a free and open space for religious discourse, individuals had to go through extensive theological education to gain authority. GodTube offers a medium where religious authority is brought into question. It is a website, much like YouTube, that allows anyone to post family-friendly videos in relation to their faith. At first glance, GodTube would appear to follow the assumption of the Logic of Complementarity seeing that it doesn’t threaten traditional religious authority. It features tradition pastors’ and priests’ sermons presented at offline churches and supplementary videos that don’t throw religion in your face to question authority but instead are simply absent of vulgarity and secular content. There are even videos that focus on authority coming from God and the church alone. This demonstrates how this particular medium, GodTube, is aware that the Internet has become one of the most popular tools for portraying religious information but the information can still be authentic and follow traditional beliefs. However, in Cheong’s article she also touches on Meyrowitz’s argument that “the authority of leaders [is diminished] when a medium allows different people to have open access and gain greater control over knowledge and social information” (Cheong, p.1). This is also evident in GodTube example. The multiple contributors to the site is problematic for religious communities; more in line with the Logic of Disjuncture. The people who post videos on GodTube can be seen as authoritative by the definition that authority means to have the power of influence; the number of "hits" videos receive indicate they are drawing an audience.

Check out other videos featured on GodTube!

Cheong, P. (n.d.). Authority . 1-33.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Supplement or replacement?

The i-Church is an online community founded in 2004 whose mission statement is to educate those who wish to know more about Christianity and to support people in their walks with God. This support comes from the opportunities to post prayer requests and interacting with others through blogging. However, the social support is completely constrained to the Internet. The website offers no suggestions for participating in offline interactions, mainly due to the fact that they do not have a local community to house gatherings or organize charity events- they are solely online. They do offer links to various twitter pages or cartoon churches.  The question asked is, how does online community support offline involvement? Or does online religion hinder offline activity?  From this, one would say that this particular case study of the i-Church, in fact, hinders offline involvement. However, there is a section of the i-Church known as the “core community.” You must be a member to be a part of their community, known as the “Beehive”, and the groups responsibilities are to promote community through pray requests and other electronic and social mediums. Other religious websites, such as Covenant Family’s that I looked at last week, have links that allow their guests to join a “LifeGroup” to then go meet with this group face-to-face and participate in various activities such as service projects or retreats together. This particular online church is helpful in answering the question of whether online religion is a supplement to offline activity by being an example of social relations that don’t encourage progress beyond the computer screen.

The Courtyard that allows you to pray together and partake in worship services!


Friday, October 28, 2011

Christianity and Identity

This week identity and religion was explored. Identity was defined as the process in which an individual develops the capacity to grasp meaning of situations in everyday life and their own position in relation to them. Social networks, such as Facebook, are one of the main outlets that teens and young adults express their identity. However, is their religious identity incorporated into their social networking sites? Does digital media strengthen or weaken individual’s ability to construct or perform their religious identity? Piotr S. Bobkowski in his article Self-disclosure of Religious Identity on Facebook said that while “religious faith and practice hold considerable importance for many young people in the United States” they seem to “lack the knowledge or vocabulary to cogently articulate their beliefs.” However, the article suggested an interesting statistic showing that in 2007 The Bible was the second most mentioned book on Facebook’s “Favorite Books” category, second to Harry Potter. Bobkowski performed a study in which he interviewed five undergraduate students who expressed that young people might not list themselves as “Christian” in their profiles but they “self-disclose their religious identities in the context of their offline activities and relationships.” These five students all attended a church service every Sunday and all were faithful members to a Christian organization on campus, yet none of them listed themselves as Christian in their profiles. Some students said they just didn’t see the box while others didn’t want viewers of their profile to get a negative image of them just by seeing their religious views. By this statement, it would seem that digital media weakens individual’s ability to construct or perform their religious identity. Facebook intimidates some users from expressing their religious identity with its ability for thousands of people to view your information and “judge” you based on the content of your profile. Today’s society uses Facebook to identify more about someone they may know little or nothing about. If you meet someone at a party, a lot of times you’ll go home and look them up on Facebook. If they were acting belligerent and drunk at the party, but their profile says they are a Christian and lists all the religious activities they are a part of, you may wonder why their online and offline behavior doesn’t match up. To avoid these judgments, people have chosen to leave their religious affiliation out of their profiles. Certain employers are also now using Facebook to research their interviewees. As sad as it may sound, some employers might base their decision to hire on a person’s religious affiliation or lack of affiliation. In today’s society, religion identity has become a sensitive subject that not everyone is ready to encounter.

Bobkowski, P. S. (2008). Self-disclosure of Religious Identity on Facebook. Journal of Communication, Culture and Technology, 9(1).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Community Online

Covenant Family Church in College Station, Texas uses their online website as a supplement, rather than a substitute to their local church ( The services are streamed live every Sunday which is evident by the countdown clock to Sunday mornings on the home screen. Right away, Pastor Danny- the senior pastor at Covenant Family’s local church, welcomes the guests to their community to make visitors to the site feel instantly connected. The website is very organized and informative. A newcomer to the site can easily click on the different links depending on what they are looking for- online giving, CFC News and special events, listen to the online services and most importantly learn about the Covenant Family community. They stress being a “come as you are” kind of church where “everyone is welcome.” The name of the church itself describes the community you can expect at CFC- “don’t just be a part of the crowd, join the family,” they say. There is a section where you can hear or read member’s stories and how the CFC community has impacted their life. Their mission statement includes their value of relationships which is “people connect with people” through Life Groups. Life Groups are about creating a intimate relationship with 8 to 12 other people in which you study the bible and enrich your relationships. They offer every type of group from cancer support groups to single mom groups and from the “gracefully aging boomers” to the “CFC Riders” which is a group for motorcycle riders. Their relational community resembles the community of St. Pixels we discussed in class. However, Hutchings described St. Pixels as being more privatized, a key aspect of understanding online community, and CFC doesn’t seem to be concerned with this. They seem to be upfront with everything involving their community and values and offer anyone to become a part of this community. They do, however, seem to buy into another aspect of understanding community online which is being a loose social network with varying levels of affiliation and commitment. They offer Life Groups, ministry and service opportunities but not persuade or force visitors or members to participate in all or even one of these. CFC lives out their online community by presenting it in a way that makes viewers want to attend the local church as well. They constantly reference visiting the information desk “this Sunday” at their physical location. They offer an opportunity for prayer requests, volunteer work, getting started classes and information on student ministry- all of which are present in offline community churches. I think the online community only supports the offline community. Being able to hear the same sermon when you’re unable to attend as your friends are hearing in person helps to keep everyone in the community on the same page. Actively involving in the online world may even stir a stronger desire to interact offline. This seems to be the aim and hope of Covenant Family Church.

Online Community

Local Community

Friday, October 14, 2011

Online churches offering a sense of community

This week I explored a Christian virtual church created by the Pastor of Harvest Church in England. I also referenced an analysis of this virtual church done by Stephen Jacobs, a professor at the University of Wolverhampton. The Pastor and creator of this Virtual Church stressed the importance of making the online church sacred, a key aspect of Scheifinger’s article on Hindu online worship, but also making it as identical to the physical church space as possible. He does this through the different “rooms” you can enter into on the website such as the “Main Hall,” “Prayer Room,” “Worship Room,” and even the “church office.” He further achieves this with the multiple means of allowing viewers to feel the “sense of fellowship of the Christian community.”  Jacobs along with Chris Helland, the author we read in class, both touch on Durkheim’s theory of rituals being a social tool; of bringing a community together. Jacobs quoted that Durkheim viewed rituals as practices that unite adherents “in a single moral community.”  Likewise, Helland quotes Durkheim by saying “ritual [is] a powerful tool for maintaining social cohesion.” These outlets for interaction are what I found different about this Virtual Church than the Hindu or other religions virtual rituals we’ve seen in class. One point I find crucial to determining whether online religious activities can be seen as authentic is whether or not the community views communal worship as necessary to their faith. We say in the Hindu case study that individual worship was acceptable but Christianity prefers communal worship and this virtual church does an excellent job of incorporating this practice, making it more authentic in my opinion. They facilitate this through the Prayer room by allowing viewers to post requests, prayers and testimonies. There is even a live chat where members or visitors can talk to one another instantly while visiting the virtual church, although the pastor did state that “online interaction could neither replace nor fully replicate the physical co-presence of fellow worshippers.” Two main Christian rituals Jacobs touches on are prayer and communion or “collective worship.” While this Virtual Church offers a great space for prayer, collective worship is an aspect of the Christian Faith that the virtual environment could never fulfill. Another interesting feature of this Virtual Church was that viewers are encouraged to “sign in” when arriving at the online service, an act the Pastor says gives them a “sense of belonging.”  Jacob also includes several responses from people who have visited this online church. One, whose names were kept anonymous said, “When I go into the Virtual Church, just as if I was going into a cathedral or a modern type of church building, I find a real sense of peace. There is a real sense of that. You can go there and it can be a sort of hiding place if you will.” This idea of a “hiding place” is a key feature of an online church that is absent in a physical offline church.

I recommend you visit the Virtual Church:

Jacobs, S. (2007). Virtually sacred: The performance of asynchronous cyber-rituals in online spaces. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(3), article 17.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Digital Media Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the introduction to the Digitial Religion Conference with Cheong, Helland and Echchaibi on Wednesday afternoon. All three speakers spoke about their experiences in field work related to digital media. Cheong told us, but all three agreed, that flexibility is the key to field work. Echchaibi told an interesting story explaining that sometimes in field work you get the chance to talk to people you didn't expect to talk to and whose different perspective will greatly benefit your research. Chris Helland sparked my interest by talking about a new digital innovation known as the "Virtual Pilgrimage." He didn't go into much detail but from what I understood it was a project led by the Catholic community. Since I wrote my first paper over Catholicism, I went home to research this in more detail and from what I could find people are able to create their own avatar and participate in religious activities without ever having to leave their home. There was also a "round table" portion where a few audience members were able to ask the speakers questions. One individual explained how he was from a small religious town but grew up agnostic. His concerns were how to remain unbiased while doing research. Echcaibi and Cheong both said there was a line between still respecting your own beliefs and respecting theirs as well; Cheong had a personal example of only bowing her head instead of fulling bowing so she would still feel comfortable while respecting their beliefs. The whole session was very informative and I looked forward to coming back on Thursday!

Monday, October 3, 2011


This blog will focus on the Mormon community and their use of media or how the media portrays their religion. It's becoming more common to see billboards or advertising sponsored by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I've always viewed this religion as reserved or one that typically would shy away from the use of media but after a little research I've found that this is not the case at all. A new campaign is even being launched called "I'm a Mormon" that encourages people to learn more about the Mormon faith through the use of an interactive website. I believe this community is positively trying to use media in order to clear up any misconceptions people seem to have about their practice.