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Studying Religion And The Internet


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A workshop given at the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Philosophical, Theological and Religious Studies' postgraduate study day, "Exploring New Methods and Challenges in the Study of Religion," at Birkbeck, May 16 2009.

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Studying Religion And The Internet

  1. 1. Studying Religion and the Internet Challenges and Opportunities: Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Katharine Sarah Moody Lancaster University
  2. 2. Studying Religion and the Internet  The Internet Today: Web 2.0  Opportunities: Religions Online/Online Religions  The Internet as a Research Tool  The Internet as a Research Site  Challenges: Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Considerations
  3. 3. The Internet Today: Web 2.0 Written Blogging Text File Digital sharing Text Hypertext Open Source HTML sites Web 2.0 Social XML networking Michael Wesch, Kansas State University, “The Machine is Us/ing Us,”
  4. 4. Religions Online/Online Religions  Helland (2000): Different types of webpages  religion online: users receive information  online religion: users participate in religious practices  Young (2004): webpages = information and participation  Different manifestations of religion/spirituality on Internet  Religions Online:  the (informative and participatory) online presence of primarily offline religions  Online Religions:  those religions whose existence depends wholly on the Internet (at least as they initially emerged)
  5. 5. The Internet as Research Tool  Tool for researching; Internet-mediated research (IMR)  Used as a means to  access information  advertise research  identify and select possible participants  recruit and communicate with participants  Used as platform for  e-questionnaires or survey-pages  e-interviews or “focus chats”  IMR advantages: time, costs  IMR disadvantages: unrepresentative samples  The bottom line of Internet-mediated research: RELEVANCY
  6. 6. The Internet as Research Site  Site of research  e.g. blogs  open source sites (e.g. wikis)  social networking sites  file sharing sites  virtual spaces, etc.
  7. 7. Theoretical Considerations  Identity  Community  Text Peter Steiner, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” The New Yorker, 5 July 1993:61.
  8. 8. Practical Considerations (Blogs)  Ascribing authorship in the blogosphere  interactivity and authorship  authorship and authority (Moody 2008)  Circumscribing text in the blogosphere  the nature of online text  hyperlinks as conversational and textual glue (Efimova & deMoor 2005)  Measuring blog validity  content analysis > audience reception theory  comments section acts as ‘peer-review system’ (Mark Brady 2005:10)  Measuring blog influence  on other “produsers”  on other readers (1% users heavy contributors, 9% intermittent, 90% lurkers)  on research participants in multi-methodological research
  9. 9. Ethical Considerations  Is the Internet a public domain?  What do we think about covert research on the Internet, such as researchers lurking in chatrooms?  What might we need to consider in moving between on- and offline research relationships in multi- methodological research? Other Discussion Questions  Are you using the Internet as a research tool and/or as a research site in your current project?  Have you had to reflect theoretically or ethically, as well as methodologically, about how you are using the Internet?
  10. 10. Brady 2005 “Blogging: Personal Participation in Public Knowledge-Building on the Web” Dawson & Cowan 2004 Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet Efimova & De Moor 2005 “Beyond personal webpublishing: An exploratory study of conversational blogging practices” Gumbrecht 2004 “Blogs as ‘Protected Spaces’” Hadden & Cowan 2000 Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises Helland 2000 “Online Religion/Religion Online and Virtual Communitas,” in Hadden & Cowan 2000 Hewson et al 2003 Internet Research Methods: A Practical Guide Hine 2005 Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet Højsgaard & Warburg 2005 Religion and Cyberspace Lövheim & Linderman 2005 “Constructing Religious Identity on the Internet,” in Højsgaard & Warburg 2005 Moody 2008 “The Desire for Interactivity and the Emerging Texts of the Blogosphere,” in Llewellyn & Sawyer 2008 Reading Spiritualities Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet Young 2004 “Reading and Praying Online: The Continuity of Religion Online and Online Religion in Internet Christianity,” in Dawson & Cowan 2004