Considering Trends Towards Networked Religion in Online and Offline Cultures

We had the opportunity to listen to Assoc Prof Heidi Campell (Texas A&M University). Her lecture was based on a article named: Identifying trends of how religion is practiced online highlights shifts in how people live religion offline.

She was talking about “Networked Religion”.

In old days people went to the parish closest to them, geographically. Later on people went to a church where they felt at home. Now people tend to moving around to different churches because everything is built on relations.

Heidi pointed out 5 characteristics for Networked Religion and se was also pointed out tensions and challenges to these characteristics.

1.    Convergent Practice
Today we can se that there is a mix of religious symbols on different kind of websites. People also use a mix of metaphors and creates there own stories.

The tension is how to guide people that get there spiritual guidance from different sources and traditions. The challenge is to make people to stay, and not moving forward to other churches or religions.

2.    Multi-site Reality
Religious spaces on Internet reflects peoples offline values. Some parishes are now building “Network congregations”. These networks can be located in an actual place but they can also be virtual. One church can have approximately 5 000 people attending a service in the church and at the same time 18 000 attending on Internet.

The tension is that offline contexts is no longer the primary source for spiritual knowledge and spiritual communities. The challenge is Integration and Convergence.

3.    Networked Community
People can attend a church, but they also have relations on the Internet. Spiritual networks are today much bigger than a church.
For example in “Second Life” some people have started a church, and they wanted to be a part of the Anglican community.

The tension is that our ordinary parishes are challenged. People might want to be in an “Internet parish” and not in an ordinary one. The challenge is creating & mobilizing Networks; digital Tribalism.

4.    Story Identity
Identity are constructed online. To blog has been an important tool to show your spiritually. But it’s also an important tool to get in contact with other people that share your views. Often these blogs is focusing on narrow questions and that means that when you reading them you get a narrow view of Christian faith.

The tension is that religious identity is flexible and outmost personal. This means that we get a wider explanation of what Christian faith is. The challenge is the remix and mashup meaning making.

5.    Shifting Authority
Contributing to shifting conceptions and practice of authority. An example of this is the “confession app”. New ways of being church is emerging.

The tension is that traditional leaders and sources to religious influence might compete against new ones. The challenge is to build trust online and offline.

We need to reflect on trends towards “network individualism”. Society, parish or church is no longer authorities.

I’m living my life you are living yours, is a common way to think today. We need to reflect how this affects the church.

We also need to connect the offline and online in church. Otherwise we risk to be more marginalized.

I found this lecture very interested and I’m looking forward to read the book that Heidi is writing on this very important issue. If the church shall survive in the future, we must recognize these trends and embrace them.

Dan Bernspång, Vicar Backa parish, Church of Sweden.