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.