Friday, November 11, 2011

Authority Through Blogs

This week in class we discussed the issue of authority online. The article by Pauline Cheong highlights two assumptions that raise interesting points. She highlights that first, "authority is being eroded by online religious activities and this is highly problematic for religious communities," and second, "offline religious authority is being sustained and reframed by online practice, in ways that support traditional views."

One particular medium we looked at was authority through blogging.  Paul Teusner wrote an article, "Formation of a Religious Technorati: Negotiations of Authority among Australian Emerging Church Blogs" in which focused on this particular topic. Although I would not consider myself a blogger with religious authority, I agree that authority figures can be found online and as Cheong mentions, threaten offline religious authority figures. In regards to the Christian faith this is exemplified in uneducated bloggers, bloggers who challenge the Bible as an authoritative text, and bloggers who make up or add their own beliefs to traditional Christian doctrine. On the other hand, Cheong's second assumption highlights the positives online religious authority has in support of the Christian faith. For example, blogging expands the Christian community. This allows followers insight into other bloggers Christian walk, including how they deal with struggles in their life, or how God is using them. Bloggers who have authority online can inspire others in their faith daily, whereas offline churches are limited to Sunday mornings.

Authority online is constantly up for debate amongst scholars. I however, would agree with Cheong in her two assumptions in which authority online can both threaten religious authority offline as well as be used to positively support traditional views. This is portrayed amongst the Christian faith through the use of blogs. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Glance Into Paper 2: Christian Ritual of Baptism

The purpose of this literature review is to examine how Christian communities online perform rituals and what impact this has on the offline local church.  The analysis begins by exploring the definition of “ritual,” and continues by studying gathered literary sources that have focused on the relationship between the online and offline church. Through multiple sources involving experts in the field of religious studies, a critical review provides a foundation that will lead into a case study.  The case study will be exploring the baptismal ritual and how online churches have performed it over the Internet. Specifically, I will analyze the elements involved in this ritual and raise questions regarding its involvement with the "sacred" online. This study will aid my focus in developing opinions regarding the relational consequences of rituals held online verses rituals held in a traditional church setting. The purpose of the case study will not be to legitimize ritual online, but to highlight ritual elements that are to be negotiated and compensated for, between the two mediums (online church and offline church).  This study will not only require analyzing specific examples of online baptism, but will particularly require studying the impacts this has on local church bodies. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Considering Community: The London Internet Church

Tim Hutchings' article, Considering Religious Community Through Online Churches, talks about two online religious communities and their definition of "community." Hutchings explains that creators of these sites, "shape the emergence of the forms of 'community' they deem theologically and socially desirable." The London Internet Church is an online religious community. The church website provides a mission statement that sums up the purposes of this religious community. The statement explains their purposes of gathering are to share Christian content that will aid a follower in richer understandings of Jesus Christ. Such content includes education, dialogue, worship music, reaching others, and prayer requests. The church also offers a "ministry of encouragement by reporting news of God at work in individuals, churches, communities and nations."  The London Internet Church proves its function to be multi-purposeful for its community.

The site provides easy navigation to live out church online.  For example, by clicking on the sites "Worship" link, it offers videos that guide members in prayer. Prayer videos include daily morning and evening prayer readings one is encouraged to participate in. The site also can link one to a candle lighting ritual, in which members can "light a candle" as an offered prayer to God. The impacts of this church community offline include loss of face-to-face interaction. Since the site itself substitutes offline church for online church, members lack more meaningful interaction. However, one positive impact is portrayed through the links to Christian news coverage around the world as well as community forums and discussions, this allows members to access a broader community that offline church's can't reach. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Baptism Ritual

When asked the question, "do rituals online work?" many arguments play out in my mind. In regards to Christopher Helland's definition of ritual, "ritual is purposeful engagement with the sacred, whatever the sacred may be for those involved" there appears to be no right or wrong answer to this question. Helland's definition of ritual takes a subjective approach, leaving the individual to define what it is and determine if their ritual worked for them.  Rituals work online in a number of ways. In Christianity, many church websites offer sermon podcasts, e-prayers, and access to the bible and bible commentary.  Rituals such as these are not problematic because everything that is required of them to function can be facilitated through the computer (text, sound). Baptism however is a ritual that becomes more complex. Baptism is the profession of faith to the church body that the individual has accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. The one being baptized is dunked into a tub of water to represent a cleansing of the old self into a new creation.

 The Flamingo Road Church Internet Campus held their first online baptism in 2008. The youtube video features a split screen of the pastor, in Florida, and a woman, in Georgia, performing the ritual through the Internet. Although the pastor is shown talking to the member over speakerphone, it is important to note that the woman's profession of faith is taking place through the Internet, not in the church. This may raise concerns amongst the Christian faith in regards to the setting. As I watch the video however, both the pastor and the woman appear to be genuine in their actions. If things were different and baptism was being done through an avatar, I would have more concerns. This example of baptism held through the Internet meets Helland's definition of a ritual as being a, "purposeful engagement with the sacred." I do not question how the ritual is taking place but whether this way of ritual diminishes the seriousness or takes away from the authenticity it has offline. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Christopher Helland

I attended the Digital Religion Symposium and Workshop and listened to Christopher Helland. Helland used his time to talk about ritual and religion online. Helland defines a ritual as a purposeful engagement with the sacred. His argument went on to address the different types of rituals and their forms and functions. Specifically, Helland discussed ritual on the internet and what that looks like. Although some would disagree that rituals with the sacred is not possible online, others would suggest they are. Helland best said it with, "For the believer, rituals are a means by which supernatural beings and powers can be contacted and help humans accomplish what they are unable to without supernatural assistance."Here, the definition of ritual opens many opportunities for the believer and where one could perform such rituals while still being in a sacred setting. Helland went on to discuss such things as online churches and how people argue their legitimacy. The forum continued with what the future of online rituals will look like and challenges that are to come. It was interesting to hear Helland's expertise on this field of study. I now have a better understanding of the influence I have with blogging.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Methodist, Christianity

Currently I am exploring media use and negotiation within A&M United Methodist Church. The purpose of the case study is to understand how Christianity, in particular Methodism, feels about adapting to a society filled with digital media. So far the results I have found reflect a general thumbs up when it comes to using digital media. After interviewing the Pastor of the church he emphasized however that as long as media is being used to enhance the community rather than substitute it, it should not be problematic. The importance of community reveals a core value within the Methodist church and thus guides one in how digital media could be most beneficially used. Many forms of social media are used to enhance our community. Facebook for example is used to reach people around the world. The problem with this however is how easily face to face communication is becoming lost. Nonverbals for example are an important part in interaction with others and are nearly absent in the world of digital media. Digital media has its positives and negatives when it meets with religion. The issue in regards to furthering the use of media amongst religious organizations is one nearly all groups must face and negotiate in order to function in today's society.