Monday, September 21, 2009

Young People, Religious Identity and the Internet

Phil Helliwell

In Young People, Religious Identity and the Internet (Löveheim, 2004), Löveheim seeks to present ways in which online interaction may affect the emerging identities of teenagers, specifically with their development of a religious identity in mind. The article is concerned with presenting the results of the online interactions of a group of teenagers through a message board website (The Site) devoted to religious discussion and interaction.

The realisation of identity in teenagers is a crucial period of their development that includes the emergence of their distinct person, social identity and existential foundation. Teenagers particularly in the West are under great pressure from commercial media and tradition to adhere to established norms, and when online interaction is included into this development, this pressure becomes ever more apparent. Online interaction brings seemingly unlimited opportunities for interaction with people beyond the immediate geographical location, cultural disposition and religious persuasion.

As well as the development of identity as a result of online interaction, there is also a development of an online identity. Teenagers who interacted on The Site not only challenged popular religious notions but also developed a social community beyond the mere software that demanded constant reassessment of personal belief. As a result, those who engaged more fully in religious discussions became known as “insiders”. Insiders attained their online status by zealously contributing to the community discussions and by being seen by other users as ones with knowledge and expertise. Interestingly, The Site was more popular among males; females preferring instant messaging programs for religious discussions as a level of one-on-one intimacy can be upheld, rather than proclaiming to many.

Löveheim shows that when teenagers interact online they expose themselves to a myriad of ideas and cultures. These ideas combine with their surrounding culture to create a pressured, multi-faceted environment for which seeking identity is made ever more challenging. With online communities, teens find an exponential broadening of possibilities regarding their selves, yet despite this challenge they manage and can benefit greatly.


Löveheim M, 2004, ‘Young People, Religious Identity and the Internet’, In L Dawson and D Cowan, Eds., Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet, New York, Routledge, ch5, 59-73, Via library catalogue.

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