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i Abstract This research explores the intersection between two key elements thathave accompanied human society since almost the dawn of history –technology and religion. Until the last decade of the twentieth century,religious communities were characterized by means of their belonging to amutual geographic space and execution of collective rituals in physical holycenters. Recently, with the growth and expansion of the web, we witness theformation of virtual religious communities in online space, and thetransformation of this space to a unique religious sphere. In the virtual age,religious believers use computer-mediated communication for variouspurposes that range from locating information about religious customs andbeliefs, creating discourse and social relationships with believers that holdsimilar or adverse world views, and even in order to perform virtual rituals(Campbell, 2005a; Kong, 2001). Most of the research literature in the field of spiritual-religiousexpressions on the internet examined the religious use of the internet bybelievers of institutionalized and monotheistic religions. Research findingsshow that believers belonging to these religious communities have a need tojustify their religious use of the internet through various narratives anddiscourses. Traditional Religious communities negotiate over the use of theinternet technology because technology is often perceived as modern,secular, and contradictory to religious creed. The Internet has opened new and unique opportunities for researchersfor the inquiry of religious expressions of un-institutionalized and "invisible"religions, as named by Thomas Luckmann (1967 in Krueger, 2004) due topaucity of empirical findings in regard to them. The current research studiesthe study of internet usage patterns among Israeli neo-pagan believers, andwishes to contribute to the forming body of research knowledge concerningreligious expressions on the internet. Neo-pagan believers hold a variety ofbeliefs, practices, and religions that belong to the modern paganismmovements. The mutual characteristics of the modern paganism movementsare: reference to nature as sacred and as object of worship, reliance on theancient pagan religions, focus on ritual and myth and a tendency towardspolytheism or pantheism rather than monotheism. Today, there are many
iisites dedicated to modern paganism on the web. Although there is anescalation in the belief in witchcraft and paganism in the modern age it stillisnt perceived as a legitimate religious belief by wide sectors worldwide. Theneed for secrecy makes it hard for neo-pagans to form a local-geographicalcommunity in which to acquire religious and ritualistic knowledge. Therefore,many neo-pagan believers turn to the web in order to find a spiritual-religiouscommunity that is otherwise difficult to find in their near environment and alsoto locate religious, ritualistic and spiritual information that helps mold theirreligious identity (Fernback, 2002; Klassen, 2002; McIntosh, 2004; Pearson,2002; Strmiska, 2005). Within the framework of the current research, we examined tworesearch questions aiming to determine the internet usage patterns of Israelineo-pagan believers: • What are the types of internet usage among Israeli neo-pagan believers? • What are the perceptions about internet usage among Israeli neo- pagan believers? These questions were examined in the context of a specific virtualpagan space: The "paganism in Israel" forum, which has exists since thebeginning of the new millennium. The research relied on the qualitativeparadigm and the ground theory method in order to perform a contentanalysis of the online discourse in the forum. Additionally, in-depthhalf-structured interviews were conducted with prominent neo-pagan believersselected from the forum’ participants. The content analysis process of the smessage sample from the "paganism in Israel" forum, as well as the analysisof the transcripts of the interviews content, was conducted according toShkedis four stages of content analysis (2003). The content analysis of theforum and interviews discourse was divided into two kinds: A thematicalanalysis illustrating types of internet usage among research participants, anda typological analysis based upon the five conceptual models offered byCampbell (2005a), illustrating the perceptions of the participants about thisusage.
iii Fifty-seven secondary thematical variables were established during thethematical analysis that represent the context of the online discourse in thePaganism in Israel forum. These variables were arranged in 8 primarythematical variables: religious definitions, information sharing, socialinteractions, authority, religious-spiritual practices, nature, the pagancommunity and society and culture commodities. The most commonlyappearing primary variable was that of religious definitions, which is inaccordance with the theological and philosophical character of the forum. Thetypological analysis reveals that the most common conceptual models amongthe research participants are "The internet as information space" and "Theinternet as a sacramental space". These results helped determine the maincategory that characterizes the discourse in the forum and interviews aboutinternet usage, which is the attempt to form the identity of the Israeli pagancommunity. The thematical analysis and the typological analysis have been provenas useful analytical tools for the examination of the types of uses andperceptions about internet usage of religious believers. Results of the currentresearch indicate that as opposed to believers from other religions, neo-paganbelievers have no substantial religious or ideological aversion to religioususage of internet technology. However, they hold certain perceptions thatdefine the internet as appropriate for use only as means of serving limited andconstricted purposes. This research offers a theory that attempts to explain the internetusage patterns among Israeli neo-pagan believers as reflected in the researchresults. The theory presents a few key characteristics of the neo-paganbelievers and the neo-pagan community that affect the way they use onlinespace. The theory is divided into three axises: 1. Individualism Vs. community cohesion. 2. Hidden knowledge Vs. explicit knowledge 3. Religious struggle Vs. cooperation. The first axis refers to needs of the individual in regard to the pagancommunity to which he belongs. The second axis refers to the information andknowledge needs of the pagan community members. The Third axis refers tothe needs of the pagan community as a whole, which are needed for its
ivpersistence, stability and development. In the discussion chapter, we describeeach of these axises in detail and their effect on the online Israeli-pagandiscourse. To conclude, we suggest a few research directions for future studyof the subjects presented in the current research.
This work was carried out under the supervision ofDr. Dan Bouhnik, Department of Information Science,Bar-Ilan University.
Bar-Ilan University Cyber-Paganism: Internet usage patterns among Israeli Neo-Pagan believers Korbet Rinat Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Masters Degree in the Department of Information Science, Bar-Ilan UniversityRamat Gan, Israel 2008