Friday, October 30, 2009

The Growth and Implications of Online Religion and Spirituality

Sarah Levinn

The widespread influence of the Internet is a fairly recent phenomenon. Over the last few decades, swarms of information have been plastered on millions of web addresses about any subject imaginable. What used to be just an “information superhighway,” however, has recently become a hub for community building and self-identity development. Religion, which has traditionally supported localized communities of like-minded believers, is currently flourishing in the realm of the World Wide Web. Curious individuals are now able to search for websites about any religion they can imagine (or that someone else has imagined) and are instantly directed to pages filled with full religious texts, interactive experiences, and contact information. With the surge of religion proliferating online, the need for face-to-face religion that typically prevailed is thrown into question. Many religious activities that people are participating in online, including sending prayers, are the same as offline practices, just done differently, which implies consequences to the changing face of religion. Both positive and negative ends of the spectrum are already in existence, as seen through the examination of specific online religion examples, such as “The Church of Fools” and the Heaven’s Gate cult. As religion shifts from face-to-face to online, the triumphs and pitfalls are vital to determine due to virtual religion’s potential impact on the beliefs and actions of participants.
Defining the nature of cyberspace in relation to the physical world is vital to understanding religion’s place within both. An important distinction that emerged in the early online religion movement was the difference between “religion online” and “online religion.” The websites that offered information-based content such as religious transcripts of texts were classified as “religion online,” while “online religion” represented an interactive experience to participate in religious practices (Dawson 2004). This clear-cut distinction is diminishing, however, as religion on the Internet grows. Because technology is constantly improving in cyberspace, most websites are beginning to combine both information and a space “where this information can be lived” (Helland 2005). An example of this is emailing a prayer request through the church, which has extended their physical community online (Helland 2005). This experience combines religiosity with interactivity and therefore blurs the boundary between face-to-face and online religious expression. This example, however, proves that there is usually an outside connection to religion that leads a believer to one of these faith sites. Disregarding creations such as “The Church of Spongebob” and other solely internet-based beliefs, religion in the real world is a necessary foundation for online content, which in turn leads to the majority of real world religion being reproduced online (Dawson 2004; Lovheim 2004). The online religion movement therefore does not discourage usually offline actions, such as congregating in a space of worship, in the growth of the religion. Some websites even have implemented technology to created computer-generated virtual spaces with the intention of substituting conventional services (Dawson 2000). As the variety of online resources for religion grows, so grows the varying perceptions of each religion being represented virtually. These technologies are proving to reach deep into the human consciousness (Dawson 2001). Although online religion is still a fairly nascent study, the benefits and disadvantages of switching from face-to-face to online religion are emerging.
Including online religion interaction into the believer’s practicing regiment shows great promise for the development of not only the ideas of a religion but also the opportunities for very human communities to form, despite the guise of a username or avatar. As opposed to other forms of communications media, the Internet provides interactivity for the user and could in some ways rival the interactivity of offline relationships (Dawson 2005; Slevin 2000). Other forms of media, such as television programs or pamphlets, lack that extra dimension that could potentially immerse newcomers. The basic building blocks of religions became available online early on in the “religion online” movement, including commentaries and interpretation to help both the faithful and newcomer alike. By providing this information online, potential followers can dip their toes into religious material at their leisure and can lead to people making important decisions regarding their beliefs, which can ultimately be shared with others via the website (Horsfall 2000). The sharing of religious perspectives and interpretations is one of the most unique features of online religion. The communities that form via message boards are free of stereotyping (ethnic, class, gender) and can transcend time differences and space constraints, creating a free flow of opinions from around the world (Dawson 2004a). This anonymity serves a dual purpose for participants. It focuses the debate specifically on the topic and not on human differences. Because the Internet can protect individual identities, it allows for more unrestrained discussion and can therefore lead to valuable personal development for members of the online community (Lovheim 2004). It also provides a safe haven for those who feel deprived of real life social relationships and find solace in their interactions with the message board community (Laney 2005). Online religion therefore breaks down boundaries and insecurities as people are exposed to alternative perspectives on religion from people outside of their face-to-face community. With the development of technology past the message board, online religion has generated virtual spaces to perform religious rituals and experiment with several religions. This eliminates having prerequisite knowledge that would be necessary to complete rituals in a physical worship setting and therefore does not deter new entrants to the faith (Dawson 2001). By shifting religious activity to the Internet, a believer can partake in his faith with a much larger community than offered by his hometown institution while also providing the option to perform rituals and prayers from the comforts of his own home. All of these positive factors of online religion come together in the success of the computer programming experiment, “The Church of Fools.”
Creating an online church environment that mimics the activities at an actual service created an emotional attachment to the community by participants as well as widespread popularity and interest. One of the lead creators of “The Church of Fools,” Simon Jenkins, began the project with a simpler version of the program named “Ship of Fools,” which simulated a virtual Ark from the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, and he enlisted twelve real people to control an avatar of either a biblical saint or a sinner. What he observed was revealing; the participants claimed to experience an oddly deep immersion into the virtual environment and truly believed they formed strong relationships with the others as well as with their own online identity (Jenkins 2008). His team was then inspired to create the virtual church that became “The Church of Fools,” which was an experiment to see whether church could be translated seamlessly into the virtual realm based off of observations from the last program. A stamp of legitimacy was attached to the project when the project became support by the Methodist Church of Great Britan and also the Bishop of London proving that real churches had interest in expanding religion into cyberspace (Jenkins 2008). The virtual church could only display thirty visible avatars at a time, but numbers of visitors on average, floating around the room invisibly as “ghosts,” were recorded at 7,337, proving that the small internet church project was “drawing cathedral-sized congregations” (Jenkins 2008). Examples of the interactivity that occurred in the church includes the congregation typing in the Lord’s Prayer in sync, kneeling beside avatars to pray with them, and blessing other avatars. Despite some silliness, such as blessing the vending machine, Jenkins certainly saw his vision come to life. The online world created an educational experience for those who would never enter a real church and generated genuine experiences of spirituality through the community, despite not being in a physical church (Jenkins 2008). The success of “Church of Fools” proves that people are open to expressing their faith in unconventional ways and feel that it is a legitimate way to develop their relationship with God and other believers. For one person, it could be an augmentation to their faith, while for another it could be a fun introduction to the religion. The diversity of potential with virtual religious environments has been proven with the positive response to “Church of Fools.” An Internet community, however, also has its downfalls when disseminating religious information.
The shift away from face-to-face to online religion poses a threat to the very human interaction that religion developed out of and may eventually blur the true message of the faith due to misinformation or lack of attachment. One of the most basic limitations of online religion is its accessibility. Those who are fortunate enough to have computer access may not even have the skills or knowledge to appropriately utilize religious programs, while millions of people will never even use a computer in their lifetime, making the complete removal of face-to-face religion unlikely (Hadden 2000a; Lovheim 2005). Many experiences that are offered online simply do not transfer well through a computer screen. An example of this is the minimization of the full-body experience that occurs when visiting the Kali Temple, a sacred Hindu worshipping ground that yields many visitors. By shifting this experience into a virtual reality, it minimizes the complete immersion of the body that can only be observed via the physical interaction with the sacred (Brasher 2004). This example emphasizes the one-dimensionality of online religion. Although many newer programs allow for complex interactivity, the online version of the true place diminishes its potential value for the believer and leaves him complacent with his weakened version (Dawson 2001). While distance may make it impossible for a follower to make the pilgrimage to the temple, the online version provides a lackluster replacement. In addition to weakened ritual experiences, misinformation runs rampant throughout these websites. Because the online religion community is open for all, it is nearly impossible to sift through every comment and every interpretation for pertinent information, since many message board users “misrepresent religious materials for their own purposes” (Dawson 2001). This diminishes the legitimacy of the religion and also may deter newcomers from remaining interested. Therefore, the problem of religious authority and authenticity is created from online religion. Because the identity of the overall group is skewed due to varying perspectives, online religion also diminishes the community bonds that are so strong in real life circumstances. Substituting messages boards for a true congregation therefore may be interpreted as a form of modern alienation (Dawson 2004a). When individuals become united in their alienation, however, utilizing the Internet for religion can become traumatically violent, as witnessed in the Heaven’s Gate cult.
The community environment created by the distribution of information online by the Heaven’s Gate cult proves the dangerous potential for disillusionment and misguidance that can be propagated by anyone who publicizes a religion online. Formed by Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles in the early 1970s, the pair claimed to be Christ-like extraterrestrials that prophesized joining a spacecraft traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet that would transport them to the heavens (Robinson 1997). Although they began advertising for the cult with pamphlets, by the mid-90s, they created an Internet community that was inundated with graphic design and proficiency, such as audio and video clips, that assisted in the recruitment of followers. This form of communication was attractive to “the lonely, the shy, misfits, outcasts,” who took to the Heaven’s Gate message easily, and allowed members to converse with anonymity and in private (Zaleski 1997). On March 26, 1997, thirty-nine members of the cult all committed suicide together in hopes of bring transported to the spacecraft behind Hale-Bopp. This cult in particular displays the potential dangers that can arise from the integration of religion into the Internet. Because of the sense of identity and community that the authors of Heaven’s Gate were able to articulate to their socially inept users, the interface created by the Internet became an extension of themselves and were attracted to having a “computer-mediated consciousness” (Robinson 1997). The virtual world in which each member was immersed therefore blurred their sense of reality, which completely shifted the virtual world into their reality. Because of the freedom that the Internet provides and widespread coverage that information can travel, the likelihood of these events occurring more frequently is higher. While having the opportunity to express new beliefs and form communities is positive, the Heaven’s Gate cult created a sensationalist flurry of misinformation that cost the lives of blind followers of an internet “religion.”
The inevitability of religious practices becoming more predominant online is impossible to ignore. As technologies continue to improve, replicating religious ritual is becoming more realistic and meaningful. While virtual communities keep people physically segregated, they manage to link together believers, nonbelievers, agnostics, and more from around the world, creating a congregation with several different perspectives to share. On the downside, it is possible to misuse the connectivity of the Internet to spread personal mantras for the sake of gaining power and clout. The messages that muddle the clarity of the religion displayed may eventually diminish the true message in the original face-to-face version of the religion. Because online religion is a newer field of study, conclusive evidence about the benefits or disadvantages of virtual religion is uncertain. Its presence in society, however, is a modern indicator of how society receives its culture and demands interaction with information it desires. People are starting to challenge what they are taught, which arms believers with more knowledge when they enter a real house of worship. The chances of face-to-face religion disappearing are slim, but the integration of online religion with reality will continue to grow and make an impact on participants.


Brasher, B. (2004). Give Me That Online Religion. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Dawson, L. L. (2004a). Religion and the Quest for Virtual Community. In Religion Online: finding faith on the Internet . New York: Routledge. 75-89.

Dawson, L. L. (2000). Researching Religion in Cyberspace: Issues and Strategies . In Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises . Amsterdam: JAI.

Dawson, L. L. (2001). Doing Religion in Cyberspace: The Promise and the Perils. The Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin, 30(1), 3-9.

Dawson, L. L., & Cowan, D. E. (2004). Religion online : finding faith on the Internet. New York: Routledge.

Hadden, J., & Cowan, D. (2000a). The Promised Land of Internet Chaos? . In Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises . Amsterdam: JAI. 3-20

Hadden, J. K., & Cowan, D. E. (2000). Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises. New York: JAI.

Helland, C. (2005). Online Religion as Lived Religion; Methodological Issues in the Study of Religious Participation on the Internet. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet, 1(1).

Horsfall, S. (2000). How Religious Organizations Use the Internet: A preliminary Inquiry. In Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises. Amsterdam: JAI. 153-182.

Højsgaard, M. T., & Warburg, M. (2005). Religion and Cyberspace. New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, S. (2008). Rituals and Pixels. Experiments in Online Church. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet, 3(1), 95-115.

Laney, M. (2005). Christian Web Usage. In Religion and Cyberspace . London: Routledge. 166-179.

Lovheim, M. (2004). Young People, Religious Identity, and the Internet. In Religion Online: finding faith on the Internet . New York: Routledge. 59-73.

Robinson, W. G. (1997). Heaven’s Gate: The End? Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3(3).

Zaleski, J. (1997). The soul of cyberspace: How new technology is changing our spiritual lives. San Francisco, C.A.: HarperEdge.

First Reformed Church of Spongebob:

From Asia to the West

“East is East, West is West;
and never the twain shall meet.”
- Rudyard Kipling

On the contrary, the distinction between the East and the West has become increasingly blurred as globalisation continues to impact upon the modern world. In today’s global climate, culture is duplicated and traded at such a rate that there is an ever-present feeling of a solitary worldwide identity (Keane, 2007: 24). The media is a driving force in this process, particularly through the proliferation of stereotypes and cultural identities. The hegemonic ability of mass media institutions to influence the way people perceive certain ethnic groups has multifaceted consequences. A chief example is the way in which the media has portrayed Asian people in film, both historically and contemporarily which is said to reflect overriding Western media supremacy and spawns larger moral concerns. This essay explores the effects of Asian, media-spun film stereotypes and the changing relationship between Eastern and Western film industries upon global and local audiences, making reference to the arguments of scholars and practical examples.

Eastern themed films have become increasingly enmeshed within the fabric of popular culture while mass-consumed content has ensured a continued push towards a homogenous universal and Westernised culture (Kwok Wah Lau, 2003: 54). Within this process, film producers capitalise on the mores of even the most resilient societies. (Keane, 2007: 21). The beginnings of Eastern invasion cinema can be found in Hollywood from the early 20th century, where Shah (2003) deconstructs the representation of Asians at this time into four stereotypes. Firstly, Shah touches upon the correlation between identity and difference, remarking that “identities are forged through the marking of difference” (Shah, 2003: 1). This binary representation of “us and them” condenses complex distinctions between social groups and the media plays an integral role in distributing these identities (Shah, 2003: 2). The four Asian stereotypes adapted into Hollywood films are: yellow peril, the dragon lady, Charlie Chan, and the lotus blossom. The yellow peril and dragon lady stereotypes portray Asian men and women in a threatening and negative light (Shah, 2003: 3). While Charlie Chan and the Lotus Blossom lie at the other end of the spectrum, representing Asian men and women as submissive, docile, and non-threatening to White people. Furthermore, in many cases these roles were brought to life by Caucasian actors, which gave the advantage of “bring[ing] once forbidden pleasures to the mass movie audience [while] actual Asians [are] kept out” (Chin, 2003). The West, at this time, had become enamoured with the exotic orient as reflected in Eastern films of the early 20th century which were in their crudest form, “repositories of Western desire” (Kwok Wah Lau, 2003: 168).

Shah concludes that the four Hollywood Asian stereotypes laid foundations for all modern interpretations (Shah, 2003: 4). The menacing representations (yellow peril and dragon lady) are still used as a tool to justify racism and exclusion towards Asians who are portrayed as a threat to white people. While the meek stereotypes (Charlie Chan and lotus blossom) set the behavioural bar for Asian people wishing to “fit in” to Western society (Shah, 2003: 5). Tierney (2006) identifies a trend stemming from these early representations which reflect a propensity for Western cultural imperialism or the tailoring of Eastern culture to Western ideals. From the 1980s to the present day, Hollywood has churned out films which centre on Caucasian protagonists enmeshing themselves in Asian locations and mastering martial arts skills. These characters (such as Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) learn a martial art in a condensed amount of time before eventually surpassing the talent of Asians (often acting as mentors) who have been practising the skill for a lifetime. The metaphor derived from this is that Asians must surrender to white supremacy in order to avoid an inevitable defeat. Tierney refers to this alarming juxtaposition as a continued assertion of the “centrality of whiteness” despite situations that are logically farfetched. Furthermore the term “supraethnic” is used to explain the perceived “right” White people invoke when imitating and reinventing other cultures (Tierney, 2006). The aforementioned ideas of Shah and Tierney each tie into Edward Said’s famous 1978 publication regarding ‘Orientalism’ which describes how global cultural production leads to a continued and reflexive propensity for representing the orient as “subordinate” (Park, 2005).

Generally in film history, filmmakers have made little attempt to distinguish between different Asian countries, consequently meshing them altogether in one glossed-over “Asian” identity. A prime example of this is when Philip Ahn (a successful Korean actor of the 20th century) spoke Korean while playing a Japanese character (Ahn could not speak Japanese) which went unnoticed by producers and most audiences (Seung Chung, 2006). This amalgamated Asian identity is also deeply relevant to and embedded within Australian perceptions where people are distinguished by their “Asianess” and bundled together with no regard for the rudimentary differences between them (Ang, 2000: 29). Shah notes that there is some deviance from the stereotypical images of Asians distributed by Hollywood (Shah, 2003: 7). These films put forward “liberating images” which are intended to break the mould created by dominant Asian representations. However, these films have failed to make any significant impact in eradicating the persistence of Western-created stereotypes (Shah, 2003: 8).

Harindranath (2006) refers to the impacts of dominant media representations. Whether completely dominated by the West or incorporating the ideals of Eastern film markets, the filmic representations of Asian people (or any other cultural group) result in real life repercussions. The primary one being that common representations or stereotypes become so naturalised that they are seen as reflections of reality when, literally, they are not (Harindranath , 2006: 49). This is explained to be a manifestation of power, in that hegemony is affirmed through the creation of naturalised perceptions of “the way things are” (Harindranath , 2006: 52). Hegemony is most readily affirmed through the distribution of culture. Therefore the ‘subaltern’ or marginalised group (in our case, Asians) in the global cultural environment are seldom permitted to represent themselves, instead being spoken for by parties who are not qualified to do so truthfully (in our case ‘parties’ being Western media producers) (Harindranath, 2006: 53). Chin (2003) presents evidence to a similar effect, concluding that in the broadest sense, Hollywood today has remained unable to represent anything other than the “cardboard cut out” interpretation of what Asian culture is perceived to be or should be. The honest representations that are created by small studios and autonomous producers remain fundamentally unreachable for most people. Therefore Hollywood becomes a necessary evil in Asian film industries in order for filmmakers to make an impact at a global level. India represents the only self-sufficient Eastern market containing little Hollywood filmic presence and studio involvement. Bollywood produces huge revenues consisting of 1100 films annually, only four percent of which involve American companies (Lorenzen, 2009). Though this is not to say that Hollywood plays absolutely no role in the Bollywood film industry; Indian directors are increasingly remaking and re-adapting Hollywood blockbusters into extravagant Bollywood counterparts (Ostrowski, 2007: 2). Bollywood has a phenomenal share of local audiences however does not makes a global impact, as the Hollywood film industry does. Consequently, India has begun attempting to permeate into global markets following in the footsteps of successful Asian art-house filmmakers such as Ang Lee. Conversely, Hollywood, in colonialist fashion, has its eyes on India due to the regions’ ever-growing economy and vast population topping more than one billion people (Klein, 2004: 364).

Many scholars, though, are taking a less imperialistic view of the relationship between West and East or Hollywood and Asia. According to Wu (2007) the success of films created from an Asian perspective, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001), reflect a change in “global cultural flow” (Wu, 2007: 2). More specifically, there has been a shift in the production of content. Where the balance of power used to permit content to flow only from West to East, today the East readily filters content into the West. Influxes of movies created and filmed in Asia are finding a global audience. Wu attributes this to “glocalization”; the concept that filmmakers are finding a balance between local cultural integrity and global appeal in their productions (Wu, 2007: 3). This balance is evident throughout Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in multiple ways; for example the martial art scenes were slowed to become more aesthetically pleasing and eliminate the violent brutality that had alienated Western audiences in the past. Also, the story was led by a strong heroine, touching upon the Western affinity with feminism. However the film pertained to a traditional Chinese “wuxia” (the term encapsulating the concepts, mythology, and traditions of the genre) telling of the story (Wu, 2007: 15). Wang (2005) argues though that what is actually presented with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a simple watering down of Eastern cultural traditions to please Western audiences. This in itself is describes as a form of “deculturalization” in order to pertain to “universal aesthetics” or one compromised global identity (Ang, 2000: 120). Furthermore, this returns to the argument that tailoring Eastern films to Western ideals reinforces a continuing “phenomenon of imperialism and colonialism” (Lam, 2008: 124).

However, the research of Klein (2003) again underpins a positive change in the process of Eastern and Western cultural flow. Notably, in the past twenty years there is evidence tending towards an “Asianization of Hollywood and Hollywoodization of Asia”. This idea involves the activism of Asian actors and filmmakers (such as Ang Lee, John Woo, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat) in Hollywood, the relaxing of global trade laws, the Japanese purchase of a key Hollywood studio, and the increase in revenue from Asian film markets. Asia has become the most lucrative export audience with Hollywood films taking huge shares of ticket sales (96 percent in Taiwan, 65 percent in Japan, 78 percent in Thailand). Furthermore, exports today account for over half the profits of Hollywood studios (a figure which is expected to become as high as 80 percent), accounting for a primary focus on global appeal. Park (2005) agrees that there is fluidity in the construction of Eastern identities within the dominant media, which is beginning to question the continued rigid separation between East and West. There is a growing level of interconnectedness between Eastern and Western cultures which can be attributed to a number of reasons: the rise in Asians immigrating to America following the relaxing of laws in 1965, the economic and industrial advancement of countries such as China, India, Japan and Hong Kong, the presence of “multicultural media marketing” beginning in the 1990s, and the continued demand for Eastern films, animations, and technology.

From the evidence presented it can be said that academics are currently contesting two conflicting ideas in regard to the cultural relationship between West and East. One reflects an idea of homogeneity, or the belief that all cultures are being assimilated into forced unity, and the other argues for heterogeneity- the belief that the current global climate allows for diversified and complementary cultural constructions to prevail (Klein 2004: 362). The first ideal views the Hollywood machine as a merciless entity, absorbing and repackaging Asian/Eastern culture to ensure the continuance of white cultural supremacy, whereas the latter credits a relationship of negotiation between East and West with preserving cultural particularities. It seems impossible that each statement could be true to some extent. Yet Klein (2004: 379) deduces a complicated process involving elements of both ideas. Hollywood films, which have been distributed globally for nearly a century, are incorporating increasing amounts of Asian culture (including the contributions of actors, writers, directors, and labourers) while Asian film industries too are becoming less globally exclusive. Countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, and India now capitalise on and replicate Hollywood practices of production in order to win back local audiences and also market their films to a global audience. This complementary and necessitated filmic relationship between East and West is summed up with Klein’s succinct quotation: “Hollywoodization and Asianization—globalization and localization, homogenization and heterogenization—go hand in hand.” (Klein, 2004: 379). The arguments of Western imperialism versus global cultural production freedom, with the evidence presented, make it impossible to discern an inarguable position on either side of the coin. This impossible distinction may result from purely thinking in terms of geographical semantics, of divisions between East and West. These overlook the real media power structure at play; one that is controlled by powerful institutions all over the world. While most of these institutions do reside in the West, Eastern entities (such as those in Japan) cannot be ignored as powerful global media players (Park, 2005). It is through the complex relationships between these media conglomerates that dominant media stereotypes are distributed, that cultural “others” are formed, and that the lines between East and West are distorted.

Works Cited

Ang, Ien (ed). Alter/Asians, Australia: Pluto Press, 2000.

Chin, T. 2003, Sayonara Stereotypes: The depiction of Chinese/Japanese Americans in Hollywood Cinema, viewed 5 October 2009,

Harindranath, Ramaswami. Perspectives on Global Cultures, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Keane, Michael (ed.). New Television, Globalisation, and the East Asian Cultural Imagination, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007.

Klein, C. 2003, The Asia Factor in Global Hollywood, viewed 1 October 2009,

Klein, C. “Martial Arts and the Globalization of US and Asian Film Industries.” Comparative American Studies Vol 2 (2004): 360-384. Sage. Web. 21 Oct 2009.

Kwok Wah Lau, Jenny. Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003.

Lam, Adam. Identity, Tradition and Globalism, Germany: VDM Verlag, 2008.

Lorenzen, M. 2009, Go West: The Growth of Bollywood, viewed 5 October 2009,

Ostrowski, Ally. 2007, Found in Translation: From Hollywood Hits to Bollywood Blockbusters, viewed 21 October 2009,

Park, J. 2005, Re-orienting the Orientalist Gaze, viewed 2 October 2009,

Shah, Hemant. “Asian Culture and Asian American Identities in the Television and Film Industries of the United States.” Studies in Media and Education Literacy Education vol. 3 (2003): 1-10.

Seung Chang, Hye. Hollywood Asian, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.

Tierney, S. 2006, Themes of Whiteness in Bulletproof Monk, Kill Bill, and The Last Samurai, viewed 5 October 2009,

Wang, G. 2005, Globalization and Hybridization in Cultural Products: the cases of Mulan and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, viewed 5 October 2009,

Wu, Huaiting. “Globalizing Chinese martial arts cinema: the global-local alliance and the production of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” Media Culture Society 29 (2007): 195-217.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Religious Expression through Sport by: Penelope Kagan

The idea that sport itself can be a form of religion is one that has been argued by numerous sociologists and scholars. As Hoffman (1992, 7) asserts, “Sports events take on properties of rituals and like the rituals of religion, may reinforce the community’s commitment to society’s core values.” The similarities between American sports and Judeo-Christian religion, for instance, are vast and include sacred sites, songs, rituals, and divine, idolised figures (Watson & White 2007). However as Chandler (1992, 56) argues, despite such analogies, sport fails to “provide detailed explanations of the origin and purpose of the world, clear statements about questions of ultimate concern, and continuing attempts to explain and cope with the existence of pain,” which she argues, is the fundamental purpose of all religions. Chandler (1992, 58) acknowledges that sport as religion may be used metaphorically “to illuminate certain facets of the sporting experience,” yet should not be taken literally due to its inability to access to ultimate experience. Despite Chandler’s contention that sport is not a religion in and of itself, it is certainly able to function as a form of religious expression. As the literature suggests, the incorporation of the Shinto religion in Japanese sumo, in addition to Protestant evangelism in American sport, exemplify the means by which distinct religions integrate divine worship into physical sport.

Although sport is contemporarily seen as a secular activity in Western societies, Shinto religion is omnipresent in the sport of sumo that has come to epitomize Japanese culture. As an exclusively Japanese sport, sumo is unique in that it originated in the country and was not introduced by foreign nations (Pempel 1998). Throughout Japanese sports, equal emphasis is placed on physical fitness and aptitude as well as spiritual strength, known as ‘konjo’ (Maguire & Nakayama 2006). As further discussed by Maquire and Nakayama (2006), a strong sense of spirituality increases the mental concentration and the will to succeed, which are both essential for victory in Japanese sports such as martial arts, judo, and sumo. Correspondingly, it has been largely contested by the Japanese public and the Japan Sumo Association, that non-Japanese wrestlers, who are not thought to possess the necessary qualifications of ritual knowledge and spirit, threaten the sanctity of sumo (May 1989). Similarly, Masao (1998, 25) asserts that the success of sumo lies in “the demand that the rikishi adhere strictly to its rules and etiquette.” It is this adherence to the traditional Shinto rituals that surround the sport of sumo that has transformed sumo into the contemporary national sport that is reflective of Japan’s divine origins and culture.

Since the 6th century, sumo contests have been an integral part of Shinto ceremonies in Japanese villages, and were commonly performed at religious shrines during seasonal festivals in hopes of pleasing the gods and receiving a bountiful harvest (May 1989). Within contemporary sumo, numerous religious rituals are performed in order to purify the competing wrestlers, known as ‘rikishi’, and establish the arena as a sacred site that can invoke a deity (Maguire & Nakayama 2006). Gyoji, or sumo officials, initiate the competition by blessing the sacred ring through the initial ceremony known as dohyou-matsuri (Light & Kinnaird 2002). Dressed in colourful robes and black hats similar to those worn by Shinto priests during the Heian period between 794 and 1185 CE, the gyoji bury salt, kelp, dried squid, and chestnuts in the centre of the clay ring, or dohyo as a sacrifice to the Shinto gods (Light & Kinnaird 2002). Numerous other rituals are performed including the pouring of sake around the dohyo, the blessing of a sakaki tree, and prayer to the gods for the protection of the participating rikishi (Light & Kinnaird 2002). Following the dohyou-matsuri, the dohyou-iri ritual commences in which the rikishi are introduced to the audience by the gyoji. The introduction of the rikishi is thought to introduce a cosmic energy in the dohyo, and after clapping rituals are performed, divine figures, referred to as kami, are believed to be present within the ring (Masao 1998).

The extensive preparations and rituals for the bout largely aim to enact a divine presence within the sacred ring. The dohyo is marked with twisted straw rope, while straw sacks denote the surrounding rectangle. Both of these are considered to be traditional Shinto ritual items (Masao 1998). The rikishi faithfully perform the same purification rituals consisting of repeated physical movements around the arena, including bowing to his opponent, stamping his foot on clay dohyo, known as shiko, tossing salt in the ring, and slapping his belt (Light and Kinnaird 2002). Although the bout itself lasts only a matter of seconds, the ceremonial aspects and religious significance of the bout cause sumo to be a widely attended sporting event by the public. Combat between the two rikishi is “understood as a mythical battle fought between positive and negative elements of the cosmos” (Masao 1998, 20). The victor of the bout is considered to be the recipient of divine intervention, though both wrestlers are regarded as mystic or divine-like figures. Consequently, they are both touched by observers upon leaving the ring in hopes of gaining the rikishi’s physical power (Masao 1998). Sumo competitions can be transcendent experiences for both the competitors and the spectators, and thereby can result in religious and mystical enlightenment.

While sumo ritual is largely derived from ancient rituals performed in Shinto religion, the rituals were to some extent contrived in the late 18th and early 19th century in order to integrate sumo into Japanese culture after a decline in sumo’s reputation (Light & Kinnaird 2002). During this era, sumo had developed into a common form of street fighting among the Japanese working class, yet it was only once Shinto rituals and new traditions were incorporated into the sport that sumo became regarded as a dignified sport (Light & Kinnaird 2002). The incorporation of rituals derived from the indigenous religion of Japan, Shinto led to the adoption of sumo as the national sport, and the inclusion of sumo as a defining facet of Japanese culture (Light & Kinnaird 2002). The Shinto religion does not revolve around a set of strict doctrines that should be obeyed, unlike many Judeo-Christian Western religions, but emphasises purification of an individual’s body and soul through means of ritual performances (Light & Kinnaird 2002). The purification of competitors, as well as religious worship to Shinto kami is achieved through sumo participation due to its entrenched religious rituals.

Yet while the religious expression in sumo has historically advanced the sport in Japan, before Reformation, it was a widely held belief in the Christian faith that recreational activities and sport posed as a distraction to worship and eventual salvation. As a result, “the cultivation of the body must be subordinated to salvation of the spirit” (Eitzen & Sage 1993, 85). The rise of Protestantism in the 20th century, however, gave way to a new perspective regarding involvement in recreational activities, and provided greater support from the church for sport, largely as a means of attracting potential converts (Eitzen & Sage 1993). In contemporary American society, Protestant ethics now wholeheartedly encourage sports activism, and view athleticism as a God-given gift that should be utilised to its utmost potential. Protestants view those endowed with physical strength, speed, and agility to have an obligation to succeed in sport since it was seen as “the only way of living acceptably to God…through the fulfilment of obligations imposed upon the individual by…his calling” (Eitzen and Sage 1999, 98). As it was God’s will, an individual’s success in sport would lead to personal salvation for fulfilling their ‘occupational calling’ (Eitzen and Sage 1999, 99).

Through Protestant evangelism, the human body and athletic performance is used as a means to glorify and worship God. An example of this is seen through numerous declarations by renowned athletics, such as Pete Brock’s of the New England Patriots comment, “My responsibility is to play to 100% of my ability as a way of thanking Him for what He’s done for me” (Hoffman 1993, 111). As described by Brock, the quality of his athletic performance is based on the physical exertion and effort that serve as a spiritual offering to God. Although sports are predominantly viewed by Christians in American society to be an unsuitable forum for godly worship, evangelism alters this depiction by constructing athletic performances in unholy venues as a ceremonial act of worship. The effort and aggression executed during the athletic performance and pain that is endured is for instance thought to be proportional to gratitude and love for God. Therefore, the determination to win and succeed, stems from the desire to express one’s dedication to Him, and thereby, attain salvation. Because competition is used as a means of expressing devotion and worshipping God, and as a result, aims to rid the raucous behaviour that can be prevalent at sporting events, Protestant evangelism sees a much greater sanctity in sport (Hoffman 1993). Evangelism aims to legitimise sport as a means of religious worship, and through the sacrifice of one’s own body, as the way to attain the soul’s salvation.

Major contemporary sports are perceived by many Christian communities as corruptive and too consumed with “the spirit of self-promotion” and devoid of the Christian ethos of consideration towards others (Hoffman 1993, 114). Consequently, sports have come to be regarded by as many Christians as an unholy activity which promotes outward aggression, potential violence and hatred towards the competition (Watson and White 2007). As advised by John Paul II, athletic involvement requires caution since it ‘may be used for other purposes with the danger of corruption and decadence’ (Watson and White 2007, 62). The corruption and unchristian arrogance that can ensue from a ‘victory-at-all-costs mentality,’ which Protestant evangelicals would largely support, given that success in the sport’s arena is defined by winning sporting events (Watson and White 2007, 71). Protestant evangelicals are faced with a resulting predicament in which their own religious ethos of success, self-discipline, and hard work, conflicts with the overarching Christian doctrine of ‘love thy neighbour’ in the context of sport (Watson and White 2007). Doug Plank of the Chicago Bears attests to the conflicting position evangelical athletes face. He claims that, “As a Christian, I learn to love, but when the whistle blows I have to be tough. You’re always walking a tightrope” (Hoffman 1993, 116). Evangelicals believe that success in sport is God’s intention and desire, and failure to comply is a dishonour to Him. However, the success gained in athletic victory in the eyes of Protestant evangelism is not seen for the purpose of personal gratification, but instead a sacrifice of the human body and endurance of physical pain in order to become the victor (Watson 2007). In the sect’s opinion, the glorification of God through intensity on the field is worthy of the aggression and lack of sympathy for the competition.

The use of sport by Protestant evangelism and Shinto religions as a means to glorify God and achieve spiritual salvation or purification defies the preceding assumption that worship is limited to sites with known sacred associations, such as a shrine or church. The incorporation of religious worship in a secular activity like sport redefines the capacity for religious expression in non-traditional forums. Both Protestant evangelism and Shinto religions thus demonstrate not only a substantive relationship between religion and sport, but also suggest the possibility for the use of other unconventional aspects of contemporary society for religious expression.

Works Cited:

Chandler, J.M. 1985. Sport is Not a Religion. In Sport and Religion, ed. Shirl J. Hoffman, 55-61. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books.

Eitzen, S., and Sage, G,H. 1993. Sport and Religion. Chap. 4 in Religion and Sport: The Meeting of Sacred and Profane, ed. Charles S. Prebish. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Hoffman, S.J. 1985. Evangelicalism and the Revitalization of Religious Ritual in Sport. In Sport and Religion, ed. Shirl J. Hoffman, 111-125. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Books.

Hoffman, S.J., ed. 1992. Sport and Religion. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Books.

Light, R., and Kinnaird, L. 2002. Appeasing the gods: Shinto, sumo, and ‘true’ Japanese spirit. Chap. 8. in With God on Their Side: Sport in the Service of Religion, eds. Tara Magdalinski and Timothy J.L. Chandler. New York, NY: Routledge.

Maguire, J., and Nakayama, M., eds. 2006. Japan, Sport, and Society: Tradition and change in a globalizing world. New York, NY: Routledge.

Masao, Y. 1998. Sumo in the Popular Culture of Contemporary Japan. Chap. 1 in The World of Japanese Popular Culture, ed. D.P. Martinez. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

May, W.R. 1989. Sports. Chap. 7 in Handbook of Japanese Popular Culture, eds. Richard Gid Powers and Hidetoshi Kato. New York, NY: Greenwood Press.

Pempel, T.J. 1998. Contemporary Japanese Athletics. Chap. 7 in The Culture of Japan as Seen Through Its Leisure, eds. Sepp Linhart and Sabine Frunstuck. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Watson, N.J. 2007. Muscular Christianity in the Modern Age. In Sport and Spirituality: an introduction, comps. Jim Parry, Simon Robinson, Nick J. Watson, and Mark Nesti. 80-93. New York, NY: Routledge.

Watson, N.J., and White, J. 2007. ‘Winning at all costs’ in modern sport. In Sport and Spirituality: an introduction, comps. Jim Parry, Simon Robinson, Nick J. Watson, and Mark Nesti. 61-79. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Media and Christians: Bias

Phil Helliwell

With the exponential growth and influence of the media, some religious groups have found their representation in the media less than to their satisfaction. Christians, in particular, from Fundamentalists to Catholics (Castelli & Rogers, 1995), generally are critical toward the media for their alleged bias held against nearly all facets of Christian existence. Are the Christians here correct in perceiving the media as biased, or are they biased themselves?

A prevalent theoretical perspective of studies concerned with media bias is the Hostile Media Effect, “which argues for the tendency of partisans on a controversial issue to see a neutral news coverage of that issue as biased in favor of the other side” (Glascock, Livesay & Ruggiero, 2008); “partisanship”, in this case, concerning those individuals involved (professionally and personally) in the fields of science, the military and socially conservative organizations, among others (Glascock, etc, 2008). This perspective could explain the consistent opposition and mistrust by Christians leveled at the media. But perhaps the effect of Christian groups on the media itself could be partly to blame. Fundamentalist groups, especially in the US, have a strong predilection to keep religion in politics (Kerr, 2003) which may go against the general religious assumptions held by those in the media, who lean towards a liberal Christian view (Glascock, etc, 2008).

But is the media biased? Despite their obvious opposition to the media, Christians, from varied backgrounds, have provided valid points that suggest the media could be biased. They draw attention to the disproportionate amount of media coverage of religion compared to its role in society, the lack of dedicated religion reporters and widespread ignorance on the topic as a whole (Castelli & Rogers, 1995). Is the media biased, or can it simply not cover religion successfully?

Some Christians react against the media’s actions in particular ways which may create avenues for bias to be perpetuated in Christian circles; an example being that media personal are seldom religious, let alone Christian (Lowry, 1999). On the other hand, by their own record, the media seems largely incompetent when covering issues related to religion. Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe summed the situation when covering the controversial issue of abortion, “At base abortion isn’t about politics, and it isn’t about the law. It’s about philosophy and it’s about morality and it’s about your world view, and newspapers are ill-equipped to deal with those issues” (Surratt, 1993).


Castelli, Jim; Rogers, Christine, Why can't religion get good press?, U.S. Catholic
Jul 1995; 60, 7; Academic Research Library, p6

Glascock, Jack, Livesay, Curtis B. and Ruggiero, Thomas E. Religious Involvement, Audience Demographics, and Media Bias, Journal of Media and Religion
7:4, 2008, 256 - 270

Kerr, P. A. The framing of fundamentalist Christians: Network television
news, 1980–2000. Journal of Media and Religion
2, 2003, p203–235.

Richard Lowry, Truth, morality, and the media: The highest priests of journalism, Vital Speeches of the Day;
Sep 1, 1999; 65, 22; p694

Surratt, Marshall N, Can media 'get' religion?, Christianity Today
Jul 19, 1993; 37, 8 p15

Monday, October 19, 2009

From Asia to the West- Review Article

By Elise Cuthbertson

Eastern identities and cultures are being continually stereotyped and marginalised within Western representations. Western-produced television programs and films which feature Asian characters are almost always influenced by a set of stereotypes which were founded in Hollywood in the early 20th century. As a result of these stock-standard identities, the larger complexities and differences between Asian countries are glossed. The consequence of this kind of content being proliferated by the mass media is that the true identities of Asian people are never brought to light.

This Western propensity for stereotyping Asian people stems from the need to mark difference; Shah argues that identities are created as a result of this process. Meaning, he says, can only be established amongst societies when people categorise others using the mindset of “we are what they are not”. This philosophy has filtered into Western cinema, as evidenced by the four Asian stereotypes. Shah asserts that these stereotypes have influenced almost every Western-produced contemporary representation of Asians. The stereotypes are divided into male and female roles, and also into threatening and submissive characterisations. Yellow Peril and Dragon Lady are aggressive Asian stereotypes for men and women respectively whereas Charlie Chan and Lotus Blossom represent their submissive counterparts. The aggressive representations portray Asians as cruel and calculating people who use white people to their own advantage. Charlie Chan and Lotus Blossom are mobilised to paint a picture of Asian people as docile, obedient and most importantly, non-threatening to white people and white culture. These stereotypes explain how Westerners believe Asians should behave in order to fit into white society.

Collectively, Shah explains, the stereotypes equate to a social control mechanism in order to ensure white supremacy. The representations are still evident in Western media, over a hundred years since their creation, and will remain unless action is taken. Shah views the production and distribution of content which represents true Asian identities as the only way the world will ever be “liberated” from stereotypical images.

Shah, Hemant. 2003. “Asian Culture and Asian American Identities in the Television and Film Industries of the United States”

Filmic Representations of Indigeneity

by Christine Mulholland

Over the last 100 years, it is apparent that there has been avoidance of Aboriginal issues, resulting in a lack of a balanced representation of Indigenous Australia in the media (Krausz, 2003). However, as media, specifically broadcast television, has evolved and become more accessible over the years, so have the filmic representations of Aboriginal identity of what once was a completely one-sided narrative (Hartley, 2004).

The media has been used as a vehicle for defining culture and narrating nations, as John Hartley’s article ‘Television, Nation, and Indigenous Media’ discusses. It has opened the doors, giving individuals a taste and understanding of other people’s lives, such as that of the Indigenous Australia. However, many questions exist in terms of Aboriginal identity in terms of their national status and how to “narrate” their nation (Hartley, 2004). As Hartley mentions, rather than interacting with Indigenous people through “live, casual social contact at the supermarket checkout (2004:12),” non-Indigenous people have gained their representation through the media. The media has therefore been put under pressure in terms of content and organization in their narration in answering the questions and showing the spiritual connection of the Indigenous and the power of their story-telling, rather than false dichotomies (Hartley, 2004).

The Indigenous people became prolific media producers as a result of an obsession of Indigeneity. However, the Indigenous public sphere was mainly under the control of the non-Indigenous people, in which representations of Aboriginal identity were created through “figures of the imagination” of which would be accepted by non-Aboriginals, not necessarily Aboriginals themselves (Hartley, 2003; Rekhari, 2008). Rather than a story historically by the Indigenous people, Indigeneity was a story about them (Hartley, 2003).

However, as identified by Hartley and McKee, there are two domains in narrating Indigeneity—Indigeneity of law formation and Indigeneity of anomaly. Each domain needs the other to exist, telling the stories of the “we” community through anthropological and administrative work, as well as the stories of the “they” community of correction and protection. With only one domain, only one side of the narration is being told (Hartley, 2004).

In the 21st century, filmic representations of Aboriginal identity began to reinforce the continual process of change, as images of reconciliation pushed the boundaries of representing the relationship of Aboriginals and the white community (Krausz, 2003). The Indigenous ultimately reclaimed the screen to tell their stories through representations by their own peoples at the First Nations/First Features event in May 2005. Featuring films by Indigenous filmmakers around the world, audiences were able to see the cultural worlds of Indigenous nations through the filmmakers’ visions and dramatic storytelling (Dowell, 2006).

Yet, while the process of change continues, contemporary Indigeneity has yet to reach a level representation as the Aboriginal people of Australia remain to be a minority on the television screen (Rekhari, 2008). The question of an Indigenous nation remains to be unanswered. Therefore, in looking at mainstream media’s representation of Indigenous Australia, it must be acknowledged as to who is providing the representation. Is it that of a white man, retelling a story through a dramatic film, such as that of Rabbit Proof Fence? Is it a representation by the Indigenous peoples themselves, such as the film Atanarjuat which was written, produced, directed, and acted by the Inuit people? Or is it a film representing Indigeneity through a collaboration between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as in Ten Canoes? The representations of Indigeneity have changed, yet questions remain to exist in defining Australia as an Indigenous nation.

Works Consulted

Dowell, K, 2006. ‘Indigenous Media Gone Global: Strengthening Indigenous Identity On- and Offscreen at the First Nations\First Features Film Showcase’, American Anthropologist, 108, 2, 376-384.
Hartley J, 2004. ‘Television, Nation, and Indigenous Media’, Television & New Media, 5, 1, 7-25.
Krausz, P, 2003. ‘Screening Indigenous Australia – An Overview of Indigenous Australia on Film’, Australian Screen Education Online, 32, 90-95.
Rekhari, S, 2008. ‘The “Other” in Film: Exclusions of Aboriginal Identity from Australian Cinema’, Visual Anthropology, 21, 2, 125-135.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Asian Film, and Western Films about Asia.

By Sarah Fallon

Martial Arts is a popular genre in both Asian and other, particularly American, film industries. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are internationally recognised for their work in local and global films as martial artists. Huaiting Wu and Joseph Man Chan say that since the 1970’s there’s been an increasing influence of Eastern themes in Western films (2). However, not only are Asian themes becoming more popular overseas, Asian films are as well. In 2001 the Chinese film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) was extremely successful around the world (Wu & Chan, 3). In recent years many Korean films have also reached a global audience.

However, representations of Asian themes and people in Western films directed and Wester audiences can be problematic. The question of legitimacy and accuracy is raised, as the viewer must wonder at the extent of the filmmakers understanding and knowledge of that culture. Salman Rushdie says about 2008s Slumdog Millionaire (a film about India’s underbelly and directed by a white American) “that were its setting somewhere more familiar to western audiences, it would be recognised as the banal fluff it is.” And “people want, instead, enough grit and violence to convince themselves that what they are seeing is authentic;” I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions about the film, but the pint I am trying to make with Rushdie’s comments is that When a western audience is presented with ideas and events they are unfamiliar with, they are likely to take it as reality which may not be the case. This can happen when western audiences watch Asian films as well, as they may not understand the culture and therefore not recognize, satire, exaggeration, stereotyping or purposeful misrepresentation.

The recent globalization of Asian cinema or Asian culture represented in Western film is problematic but it is also very beneficial both to the Asian film industries and the audiences that can now explore a different form of cinema.

Works Consulted

Chan, Joseph Man & Huaiting Wu. “Globalizing Chinese martial arts cinema: the global-local alliance and the production of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Media, Culture & Society. 2007.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Dir. Ang Lee. Asia Union Film & Entertainment Ltd. 2000.

Rusdie, Salman. “Lost in Translation.” The Weekend Australian.,25197,25235702-16947,00.html. March 28-29, 2009.

Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Celador Films. 2008.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Religion and the Internet

By Jack Weingart

One of the most distinguishable differences between life in the twentieth century and the twenty-first century is the dependability and accessibility of the Internet, which is now a global tool, platform, and virtual realm where people of all walks of life coexist. Barack Obama turned to the Internet during his historical presidential campaign to gain and update political followers, celebrities and the average person alike take to Twitter to broadcast their every thought and move, and millions upon millions of dollars is spent each year over the web through online shopping, gambling, and trading. Theoretically, an individual does not even need to leave their house anymore to order groceries, buy clothes, and maintain relationships with family, friends, and their cyberspace cohorts. Interestingly enough, web users can even attend church and practice their religious convictions online.

Since the Internet has changed nearly every facet of life, it should be unsurprising that religion has not gone unscathed. While it can be argued how dramatically the Internet has influenced religion, it is indisputable that the web has made religion more accessible to people. As Campbell explains, “Increasingly diverse expressions of spirituality and religious practice can be found online, challenging traditional concepts of the religious community” (2004:81-82).

With online religious sites, such as, people can now make virtual confessions and be forgiven for their sins with a couple simple clicks of the mouse. Web users can also join religious communities and regularly attend mass online. Take the Church of Fools, for instance, a unique online 3D interactive church that ran as a multi-user environment from May to September 2004 and now as a single-user environment. Online churchgoers can pray at pews, sing their favourite hymns, or tour the humble 3D chapel (Jenkins 2008). And the Web has not only Internet-ized Christian religions. Nearly every religious body is represented and has a voice on the Internet. There are virtual mosques for those practicing Islam, for example. And Mormons looking for love can turn to LDS Singles Online (LDSSO), a social networking website geared towards helping Mormons find a partner. The site is similar to other online religious dating sites in that it helps the faithful find partners who share the same beliefs (Scott 2002).

It is interesting to note that while religion is just beginning to pick up online, both church attendance and the overall value people have about church involvement are steadily declining. This trend is what some refer to as “believing without belonging,” a new and interesting dynamic where people still hold to religious beliefs even though “they actively choose not to belong to the affiliated religious institutions with which these beliefs are connected” (Campbell 2004:85). The Internet is one medium that makes this phenomenon possible. As a supplemental tool rather than a substitute, the Internet offers users “opportunities for personal experiences of the sacred in a mediated environment” (Campbell 2004:89). The Internet, then, can be seen as maintaining religious principles during a time when religious followers feel a bit disillusioned and detached with organized religion. As organized religion may be dwindling in numbers, the Internet is ensuring that its messages, rituals, and influence are preserved.

Works Cited

Campbell H, 2004, ‘Challenges Created by Online Religious Networks’, Journal of Media and Religion, 3, 2, 81 – 99.

Jenkins S, 2008, ‘Rituals and Pixels. Experiments in Online Church,Online- Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet,

Scott DW, 2002, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me a Mate: A Cultural Examination of a Virtual Community of Single Mormons’, Journal of Media and Religion, 1, 4, 201 – 216.