AP NEWS

CU Boulder Leading Efforts to Understand How Social Media, Digital Age Shapes Religion

December 25, 2018
Longmont Times-Call

University of Colorado researchers are examining how the digital age influences the way people worship and explore their spirituality.

They are finding there is a shift from religion being something located only in houses of worship, and limited to institutions and authorities, to a broader market of media and public and popular culture, said Stewart Hoover, the director of CU’s Center for Media, Religion and Culture.

“The reason this is happening is that people want to take more responsibility for their own religious and spiritual faith and activities,” Hoover said. “The media and culture and entertainment, and a whole range of things like that, give them opportunities to do that but to shape it in their own way, and to seek out the things they’re most interested in.

″... It’s in their hands. It’s something they are in control of.”

One of the ongoing research projects the center is leading is called the Public Religion and Public Scholarship in the Digital Age Project, which brings together 12 researchers from around the world to study the intersection of religion and media, compile best practices so other academics can do the same, and explore how they can best share that information with and involve the public.

“The main goal is to help people in the academic world ... understand better how we, as experts in an era when we can no longer control the channels where our information gets out, how we live and how we exist and how we are successful at sharing information in the new age,” Hoover said.

Movies, television shows, social media sites and even podcasts have become avenues for people to talk not only about religion, but also about transcendental questions about salvation and ethics, said Nabil Echchaibi, associate director of the center and chair of CU’s media studies department.

People now have more reference points and places to have conversations and find new concepts, he said.

“The church or the mosque or the synagogue or the temple are not the only places where people are thinking about these things,” Echchaibi said. “That’s one thing that is very important for us to know: The media has become the other site of religious and spiritual imagination.”

Hoover said there are concerns, especially among religious authorities, that such explorations of religion run the risk of not being authentic and of challenging the sense of community that is meant to be at the center of many religious faiths. There is concern that people are seeking religion individually, rather than collectively, he said.

However, people find community online, too, he said. They might be building a community with people who live across the country or the world, but they’re still meeting with like-minded people online.

Echchaibi added that the best course of action, then, is to find the link between new sites of spiritual expression and the old sites. He doesn’t believe people are less religious now. Instead, he believes they are experiencing religion differently.

“Are people less religious or are they going somewhere else to find answers to these existential questions? I subscribe more to the latter than the former,” Echchaibi said. “People aren’t necessarily less religious or less spiritual; it’s just that they want to explore other avenues for them to seek those answers.”

As part of the ongoing research project, a website, hypermediations.net , was recently launched to provide more transparency in the project, host their work and experiment with new ways of sharing information and knowledge about religion.

“We’re very interested in how — in this age of religion — information and knowledge about religion gets out,” Hoover said.

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly