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Presentation of findings from 3 years of research into emerging church bloggers in Australia, for a PhD in Applied Communications at RMIT University

Presentation of findings from 3 years of research into emerging church bloggers in Australia, for a PhD in Applied Communications at RMIT University

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  • Public religionInformed by Breward and Thompson that Christianity has historically been happy with secularisationTurner: liberalisation and globalisation leads to dominance of heterodox, commercial over orthodox, professional religionCasanova: deprivatisation leads to “falling into left-right dichotomy” in a culture war with secularisationPostmodern spiritualityDavis, Gunkel, Wertheim, BrasherTechnology seen as a “way out”Patterns of sociabilityCastells, GiddensChallenges idea of community as dominant site of social interaction for identity formationChallenges previous studies of online religionSocial construction of the InternetRheingold, Turkle, Hine, Kennedy, van DijckOnline discursive practicesMarshall, Lövheim, TurnerCan’t assume that Internet is devoid of etiquette & social capitalReligious identity1. Spiritual cyborg: one who connects with technology to work out truth of the matter
  • Scollon and Wong Scollon (2004) note that social action occurs at the intersection of three factors: the interaction order, the discourses in place, and the historical bodies of the participants involved. The authors give the name “nexus analysis” to the study of discourses at this intersection.The interaction order describes the structure of relationships between participants in the environment in which the interaction takes place (21). In a classroom setting, for example, interaction is structured according to the relationship between a teach and the students in the class. Communication in a classroom is centred around the teacher, who presents teaching material to the body of students and receives questions and comments from individual students. While there is communication between students in a classroom, through conversations in whispers and notes passed between desks, these conversations are deprivileged in contrast to the \"official\" communication of the teacher.The discourses in place include not just communications between people in the interaction order, but other forms of text that exist in the environment (135). Continuing the example of the classroom setting, these texts may range from posters in walls through the clothing of students to the arrangement of furniture and the use of communication technologies. These discourses inform the physical shape of the interaction order, and which communications are privileged over others. For example, in a classroom where all students are facing the same direction (toward the teacher), communications between students are deprivileged below communications between teacher and student. Likewise, text written behind the teacher (on a chalkboard or projected on a screen, is considered more \"official\" than text on posters on other walls or written on student desks.The historical body describes the set of assumptions, skills, values, beliefs and motivations that each participant brings to the setting of the social interaction (25). An example of this would be the desire for retention or promotion within the institution that drives the teacher to deliver a quality performance in the lecture theatre, while some students’ attention is dependent on their as yet unfulfilled desire to choose an appropriate major in the degree course. The term “body” as used here may be problematic, as it connotes something physical, and in the physical world we bring our physical bodies into all our interactions. It may be helpful to consider the “historical body” as something like “the body of experience” that comprise part of the context in which interactions occur.Scollon and Wong Scollon argue that just as each of these factors impinge of the nature and design of the discourses at their intersection, they are likewise not constant. Thus there is a cycle of change as each factor interacts, which the writers name semiotic cycles. Nexus analysis, then, is the study of how each of these cycles inform and change other cycles to aggregate change in the relationships of people in a setting of interaction, and nature of communication therein. The following is a consideration of how each semiotic cycle is shaped in the blogosphere.
  • Identity is an emergent product out of semiotic practices.Adequation – we are similar in our needs, desires, opinions about things to be considered “like” each other.Authentication – this is what we agree onAuthorisation – the sources that we claim to (structural/institutional)
  • It means there’s one blogger who may be perceived as anti-emerging.
  • - 2 underwent change of name
  • Scripture 132Theology 376Structure 226[Stephen Said:{}:Rants:20060726]The thing that is ringing my bell at the moment though Tim is something that Wright wrote (pardon the pun) in \"Paul: Fresh Perspectives\" (I have just finished scanning the thing). We reckon that Paul is primarily (in his letters) contending with Judaism. The primary target of his polemic however is not conservative or radical Jews, it is the imperial cult. It is the empire that he is setting his sights on. So when we see words and phrases like \"son of man\", \"salvation\", \"good news\", \"lord\" and \"saviour\", they are not religious terms. They are phrases lifted straight from the imperial lexicon as it were. He contextualises these phrases and put's Jesus and *his* kingdom at the centre, effectivley hip and shouldering the promise of good news that the lord and saviour, Ceasar, offers.So I'm thinking, who is our empire, what are the promises and what is our idolatry?So I quote Tim Costello (he and I addressed a meeting in Brisbane last weekend)...Micah 6:8do justlylove mercywalk humbly with God.Modern Translationdo prosperity and personal wealthlove worship musicpuff your chest out and claim the promises you kings kid![linzc:[hold :: this space]:random thoughts:20070316]I had downloaded the article but hadn’t gotten around to reading it till reading this post. I think it’s a great article and very thought-provoking. But it seems to me that the sub-text actually undermines the thesis of the piece (perhaps deliberately). Because each of the biblical encounters you mention *are* about resurrection - just not a physical resurrection of the body of Jesus.It seems to me that the story of the resurrection in the tradition is absolutely vital, because it speaks of God’s guarantee of the possibility of resurrection for the kinds of people you refer to - those oppressed by civic and religious power, those isolated and shunned by society, those in need of an encounter with grace.Whether that absolutely vital story of resurrection within the tradition tells us anything at all about the physical location of Jesus’ bones is another matter entirely. But then again perhaps that was precisely what you were saying to us in your article.[Chris:A Churchless Faith:Theology:20060705]As a postmodern Xn I see myself as a traveler and others as travelers I may know more than someone else or they may know more than me. By the time I get to the end of my travels I may have completely changed what I believe or I may have just tweaked my faith a little bit. No matter which it is I'm always open to the idea that my ideas may need a serious overhaul and that I at any given moment I am limited by what I know and what I have experienced. Because of this I cannot approach someone with a six point track and tell them \"This is the truth about God life the universe and everything, you might have thought it would be more complicated than this but hey presto here it is in six simple boxes.\"I guess I'm on of the postmodern Xns that Tom Lyberg speaks about when he says... \"Slowly some postmodern Xns are rediscovering the Jesus who yelled at God for abandoning him on the cross. They're connecting with the frightened unbelieving disciples who ran from the first sign of trouble. They understand the words of the ancient spiritual giants who questioned God's very existence and affirmed it at the same time\"The best travelers are the one's who know that they are in a unknown territory and that they don't know everything and that they want to learn as much as you can from everyone else. In turn these are the sort of people that other travelers will come asking questions of. So if you doubt that you know everything relax, celebrate even and keep traveling.[Matt Stone:EclecticItchings:Movements and Traditions:20060708]Yes, you read it right, the last was drawing on witchcraft as an influence. Now, I am not entirely opposed to this if it's done in a critically contextual fashion, I don't think squares are inherantly more holy than circles, but for the astute the markers of syncretism are clearly evident as you work your way through these two sites.Now, these are only two examples, I've seen more, but hopefully they are sufficient for fellow Emerging Church bloggers to start asking themselves some questions. Principally amongst which is the wisdom of not articulating a statement of faith as some seem so reluctant to do. Now, I in no way wish to disparage the search of any of my esoteric Christian or Unitarian Universalist readers in saying all this, you're entitled to make your own faith decisions. But to my trinitarian Christian readers I say this: if we fail to clearly articulate that trinitarianism is an essential aspect of the Emerging Church, one day we'll wake up and it really won't be.[][blockquote margins]“American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted…. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.
  • Mission 408Faith practices 230Social commentary 345Important to note that most blogs will tend to favour a certain topic: faith practices, mission and evangelism, social commentary
  • [Matt Stone:EclecticItchings:Movements and Traditions:20060810][picture inserted:]As John Kyneton seems determined to seed spamgelism about cult leader Da Free John across the blogosphere I thought I'd be indulgent and create a legitimate space for discussion of Ja Free John and his teachings here.This blog is after all about how Christian engage with other paths, so hopefully we can all learn from this. I do warn however John, that leaving links on other posts will not be considered legitimate from hereon in unless they are on topic. I am not a fan of monologues or propoganda and I ask you to respect that.So firstly, John, I'd like to hear your story. What attracted you to Da Free John and his teachings? What do you find most appealing about his pathway? How do you see him in relation to Jesus? And how would you like to respond to Philip's challenges here about his cult tendancies and problems in his teachings?[ musings:20070319]Using big words is not evidence that you are smart. Being smart is evidence that you are smart. This is harder than it sounds. When in doubt, shut up.Accept that disagreeing with someone’s theological position might also be disagreeing with someone’s faith. Recognise that people might be personally offended. This is not necessarily a theoretical discussion. If people say you are being aggressive, offensive or rude, you should listen to them. Just a suggestion.If you have to take one thing from St Francis (and I would love it if you took more), how about “seek first to understand”. It was good advice then. It is even better advice in the online environment where so many other communication cues (eg body language etc) are not availableIf all else fails, keep a sense of humour. At worst the people you disagree with are godless infidels, surely they deserve a laugh before they go to hell.
  • Point 2: though Australian emerging church created in order to distinguish it from American version
  • Point 3: so blogosphere is a community of writers
  • Transcript

    • 1. EMERGING CHURCH BLOGGERS IN AUSTRALIA: Prophets, priests and rulers in God’s virtual world Paul Emerson Teusner RMIT :: School of Applied Communication Completion Seminar :: 4 June 2009
    • 2. Presentation  Questions  Conceptual framework & current debates  Methodology  Data  Reflections
    • 3. Why ask?  YouTube disgrace of Melbourne priest  Web 2.0 promises:  Parliament on religious symbols, practices and structures  Reconstruction of religious community and participation  Shift in the boundary between public and private  Reshaping patterns of production, distribution and consumption of religious text (information, cultural goods, shared knowledge
    • 4. Ask what? How do those involved in the emerging church conversation use blogging technology to construct individual and communal online religious identities?  How do religious attitudes towards blogging and the Internet contribute to the way people interact online?  What contributions and constraints do blogging software, and people’s use of it, offer the construction of online identity?  How are bloggers working together to construct an emerging church theology, ecclesiology and missiology?  How is authority distributed among emerging church bloggers, in relation to other systems of authority both online and offline?  What can be said about the place of the emerging church blogosphere in the current tensions of 21st century Australian religious sociology?
    • 5. Conceptual framework • Secularisation • Deprivatisation Public religion • Death of denominationalism • Religious marketplace • Post-structuralism • Postmodernism Postmodern spirituality • Role of technology • Search for meaning • Me-centred networks Patterns of sociability • Discursive constructions of community and participation • Identity play Social construction of the • Democratisation • Public/private Internet • UGC • Netiquette Online discursive patterns • Patterns of authority distribution • Writing and media • Emerging church Religious identity • Christian cyborg
    • 6. Researching online religion • What does online religion look like? • What can people do online and why would they do it? First wave • What kind of people for online for religion and why? • Quantitative, and based on preconceptions Second and • Focus on ethnographic study • Establishing trust, asserting authorities, ritual practices third waves • Online practice as distinct, and going online • Going online no longer a discrete step • I am cyborg because the world looks at the Internet and sees me New wave • What is religious about the Internet being created • Internet as a place to consider place of religion in all parts of contemporary life
    • 7. Contributions  What can this investigation say about:  the continuity or fragmentation of online and offline identities?  shape and meaning of online networks and the discursive construction of an emerging church blogosphere?  rhetoric and realities of Web 2.0?  what constraints and relations of power exist, how are they uncovered, who uncovers them, how bloggers negotiate them?
    • 8. Method  Informed by  Scollon and Wong Scollon  Bucholtz & Hall
    • 9. Scollon & Wong Scollon
    • 10. Bucholtz & Hall Speaker Value Source Adequation Authentication Authorisation Distinction Denaturalisation Illegitimation
    • 11. Discourse analysis Blog posts Comment Cross-blog • Scripture discussion discussion • Theology • Use of text, emoticons • Hyperlinked • Church structure and and simple formatting references authority • Presentations of rules • Tagging • Mission and of interaction • Engagement in EC evangelism • Consequences of discourses • Social commentary misconduct • Promotion • Faith practices • Debate • Allocation of authority • Redundancies
    • 12. Network analysis and interviews  Comments  Blogging practices and  Links aims  Blogrolls  Choice of software  Perceptions of audience  Own connections  Opinions about emerging church
    • 13. Identifying the sample  Technorati  Small number of Australian blogs  Mostly men  Looked to blogrolls and comments  Two more bloggers added at beginning of research  Two more added half-way through
    • 14. Sample  33 blogs  2 blogs have 2 or 3 authors: 36 bloggers in total  5 are women  3 Americans in the sample, living in Australia at or close to the sample period  1 Australian living overseas  4 blogs empty during one sample period  1 blogger returned to USA before second sample period  2 blogs changed name
    • 15. Collecting data  Posts and comments collected during:  1 July – 31 October 2006  1 February – 31 May 2007  Front pages at end of each period  1500 posts  5900 comments from 740 readers, plus each other  3350 retained for study
    • 16. Religious data  Scripture  Historical and political reductionist interpretation  Draw on stories for present ministry models  Theology  Political evaluations of doctrine  Call for orthodoxy in pluralist environment  Embrace doubt  Church structure  Endeavours to build leadership models  Role of clergy  Critique business models of churches (Hill$ong)
    • 17. Religious data  Mission and evangelism  Political evaluations of evangelism practices  Just relationships with outsiders  Embrace pluralism  Faith practices  Embrace new technologies  Creation of sacred spaces  Critique of popular religious music  Social commentary  Australian politics  Environment
    • 18. Conversation data  Emoticons popularly used to add tone to words  Some blogs have comment policies, aimed to reflect how people would behave offline  Some bloggers encourage blogger behaviour  Open response to flaming and spamming
    • 19. Cross-blog discussion  Little conversations occur across blogs. Many bloggers encourage readers to join in discussions in original blog  Blogs contain “filter” posts, mostly by men who blog regularly  Bloggers promote the sites of friends and colleagues, also mostly by men who blog regularly  Yet some bloggers actively support less known bloggers in attempts to undermine Technorati’s authority algorithm  Concerns about being perceived as similar to American versions of emerging church, especially when these versions are critiqued
    • 20. Network data  5 bloggers have weak connections with majority of bloggers  More connections between bloggers of same denomination, except for CoC & Baptist  More connections between “Forge” members  More connections between topic-heavy bloggers  References tend to favour posts that are:  Male-authored  On public issues  Supported by references to published works
    • 21. Interview data  Reasons for blogging  Journal  Practice writing  Networking  Continue conversations  Alternative congregation  Audience  Known through face-to-face interaction  Known through emails  Bloggers unlikely to say they write for specific people
    • 22. Interview data  Connections  Interviewees more likely to read blogs of people they've met offline  These connections appear to be also topic-based  Opinions about emerging church  Interviewees reticent to label themselves “emerging church”  Some prefer “missional” or “alternative”
    • 23. Findings
    • 24. Discursive construction of identity Orthodoxy Emerging church blogger Writing Inclusion
    • 25. Semiotic cycles Historical • Blogger speaks to body • Network of autotelic audience hyperlinks • Add to wider • Commenters • Streams of conversation create connection authority • Seek authentic interaction Interaction Discourses order in place
    • 26. Social trust  Etiquette  Down-play  Irreverence  Hat-tip  Social capital  Commenting on others’ blogs  Referencing bloggers  Involvement in offline networks  Comment on public issues
    • 27. In context of wider debates  Bloggers seek continuity of offline identity, in their desire to create an authentic space, and a place to explore religion as a whole  Network that is more strongly connected to offline networks and communities of practice, than to idea of an emerging church blogosphere as a whole  “More of the same” when it comes to promises of Web 2.0  Bloggers are aware of constraints to equal voices, but are themselves constrained by the medium
    • 28. Conclusion  Blogosphere seen as a place of safety, risk and authenticity, but an incomplete connection  Blogosphere offers this through the development of online symbolic/discursive practices  While old authority structures are called into question, the medium favours writing. Therefore the technorati are the literati.  Emerging church bloggers represent:  Debates about the culture wars of secularisation and deprivatisation  The place of orthodoxy in pluralism  The “left-right” dichotomy of public religion