Saturday, November 12, 2011

Online Religious Authority: Donald Miller

Online Religious Authority --

As religion and internet become more closely related, the answer to the question of who has religious authority grows to be more complex. If someone has a religious blog with a lot of followers, are they considered to have authority in that specific religion? The blogger could have no formal education in religion, no seminary degree, and yet because of their catchy style of writing and interesting religious thoughts, do they become a leader in their religion?

To gain more knowledge on this rising new question in our religious environment, I decided to examine a Christian author, Donald Miller, and his success in the online and offline world. 

Donald Miller is a New York Time's best seller author and public speaker. He focuses on Christian spirituality as an "explanation for beauty, meaning, and the human struggle. (Miller, Donald (2003). Blue Like Jazz.) Many Christian readers would consider him an authority in their spiritual walk simply because of his popularity and wisdom he offers in an offline context. However, his popularity did not originate offline. Miller, at a young age, began building his spiritual credibility as the editor of an online Christian magazine  called Because of his success online, he was then able to publish well-known, award winning books. I think this is a clear example of how while it is common for religious authority to be established offline before online popularity, one can still launch themselves as a religious authority starting online. Miller also has a successful blog and on the top of blog Donald writes: "Before it becomes a book, it all gets tested here. Forgive the rough patches. Here is the writing process." ( This is an interesting view on the process of building credibility to become a relgious authority. Miller has taken the online world to strengthen his offline authority. 

Donald Miller is just one example of how online religious interaction can be considered a legitimate process to build religious authority. Yes, I believe that offline authority is still a primary space to build credibility, however as our world interacts with the internet more and more, the opportunity to become an online religious authority increases. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Online Community: Enhance or Replace?

This week I would like to focus a little more on the online Christian community and how it is lived out in every day life. Community in the Christian church has surpassed the relationships shared in the four walls of a sanctuary.  There have been multiple studies trying to discover the legitimacy of community in online churches. How do they work? Do people have actual relationships online? Will the idea of online community replace face-to-face community? After reading the research, the answers to those questions surprised me. Online church hasn't really replaced offline community. In fact "Religions Surfers see the Internet as "a useful supplemental tool that enhances their already-deep commitment to their beliefs and their churches, synagogues, or mosques" (Larsen 2001, Executive Summary). So, community has actually been increased due to the online communities.

With hopes of learning more of this online community, I chose to research a website of a Christian camp that I worked at in Colorado, Campers from all over the world attend this camp, so whenever the summer is over, and the camp gates are closed, staying in contact with each other is difficult to do. Camp Kivu has created a website that not only allows the campers to make their own "Kivu Network Profile", but they can also follow a Kivu blog as well as a blog updated by the camp director. You can register for camp on the website, as well as watch videos to keep up with what's going on at camp during the year. They define their community through chatting online, emailing each other, contacting their  previous counselors through the website, as well as communicating with the camp director about his religious blog updates on Christianity. The offline impact is huge. Because of this option to connect online, campers return every year with a stronger relationship with the other campers due to the network that they were able to maintain via the Internet. They also feel as if they have more of a personal relationship with the camp director through following his blog where he expresses his emotions and feelings about Christianity.

After exploring this website, Larsen's argument that the Internet enhances community is supported. Campers grow their relationships online while they are not together, which in turn strengthens their relationship when they are together.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Communion and Community Online?

"At the heart of any consideration of religious ritual practice online is the extent to which a ritual in its online manifestation has undergone an alteration from the corresponding ritual carried out in its traditional context"(Scheifinger, pg 1) This excerpt was taken from the case study, performed by Heinz Scheifinger, seeking to specifically study the the online ritual of Puja, a hindu religious ritual, and it's validity among traditionally performed rituals. His findings yielded that while the online ritual is highly scrutinized, it should be respected more as an actual, efficient religious ritual. His main reason being that ritual at hand is primarily performed in the heart and in the mind. So, the medium that the ritual is performed through should not matter. I agree with this belief, however my question of the online ritual pertains to that of limitations. While you are still able to perform the individual act of the ritual within your soul, what should be said of the rituals that take place between you and other fellow believers? Does performing social aspects of religious rituals limit what can be experienced with each other?

Considering my focus is on the Christian religion, I wanted to view a online ritual that takes place in the Christian practice. I researched popular online rituals, one being the taking of communion. Communion is a ritual performed by Christians that reenacts the Last Supper that Jesus spent with his disciples before He was put to death. It involves drinking of wine, or grape juice, and the eating of unleavened bread is to represent Jesus Christ's blood and body that was sacrificed for man's sins. It serves as remembrance of His sacrifice, and a cleansing act of the soul. Along with this ritual is the reading of scripture and taking the juice and the bread at the same time as everyone else in the congregation. Taking it with others represents the unity of the body of Christian believers. So, how is this performed online? is a popular website for attending an online Christian church. However, there is no video involved. All one has to do to attend the service is click certain links and read the hymns of worship and the sermon that is posted on the website. Then, I found myself on a website that directed me through the steps of taking communion. Not only does this assume that I am drinking the right juice and eating the right bread, but because it is so easy to scroll through the directions, there is a possibility that one would not even read what each act is supposed to represent. However, when you are in an actual service, the preacher walks you through the steps by reading the scripture aloud and announcing the time to take of the juice and bread. While it is not completely necessary to take communion with a group to remember Christ's death, it takes away the one aspect of doing it with the congregation at the same time. Also, having someone physically lead you through it ensures the validity and correctness of the ritual. EholyCom.Com is very casual and although it supposed to be a "step by step" process, it is very easy to just scroll through the entire service. 

I believe, like Scheifinger, that there can still be a spiritual interaction that can take place within one's mind during an online ritual, however when it comes to the social aspect of religious rituals and affirming the correctness of the ritual being performed, online rituals are limited. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Christopher Hellend: Religious Ritual and Internet

I had the pleasure of listening to Christopher Hellend's discussion over Religious Ritual and New Media. New Media and religion have found themselves intertwined, and a clear representation of this, Hellend mentions, is the fact that Religious Rituals are actually taking place online. He also talked about how many definitions there are of rituals, spanning from very specific to very vague meanings. Hellend's definition of ritual was very simple: Purposeful engagement with the sacred (whatever sacred may be to that individual). It has also been described as a way to connect with the supernatural in a social context.
As far as rituals online, Hellend says that observers argue whether they are successful. However, the ones who are actually involved in the rituals online claim that they actually do function well. One thing that I found very interesting was the distinction between rituals online and online rituals. Rituals online are defined as prescripts, ritual texts, and material about rituals that can be found online. Online rituals consists of rituals that are actually performed in virtual space. To my surprise, the statistic of people who interact in online rituals are still very low, but Hellend believes that it will increase in time. He spoke of the obstacles that these online rituals are facing by talking about the Church of Fools. This was an online church where people could actually create an avatar and take place in online rituals. However, people started entering the virtual church simply to cause problems and act out of line. They implemented wardens to boot those people offline in order to keep the church as what it is intended to be... A sacred place. There are many who debate on whether an online church can ever be considered "sacred",  and Hellend brought up an excellent point defending this matter. He compared online churches to regular, mortar and brick churches in saying that both are man made constructions that allow for interaction and fellowship, neither are inherently sacred. He argued that what makes a man-made church sacred is the ritual taking place, and that same idea should be applied to virtual churches online.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New Media and Christianity

I will be blogging about the effects that New Media has had on the Christian religion as a whole. I will take part in scholarly research as well as case studies to understand their interaction with New Media and how they have chosen to cooperate with it.