Open-source religion

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Open-source religions employ open-source methods for the sharing, construction, and adaptation of religious belief systems, content, and practice.[1] In comparison to religions utilizing proprietary, authoritarian, hierarchical, and change-resistant structures, open-source religions emphasize sharing in a cultural Commons, participation, self-determination, decentralization, and evolution. They apply similar principles used in organizing communities developing open-source software for organizing group efforts in creating and innovating in human culture. New open-source religions may develop their systems of beliefs through a continuous process of refinement and dialogue among participating practitioners. Organizers and participants often see themselves as part of a more generalized open-source and free-culture movement.[2]

Open-source in Established Religious Traditions[edit]

For established traditions whose canonical works, records of discourse, and inspired artworks reside in the Public Domain, keeping these works open and available in the face of proprietary interests has inspired several open-source initiatives. Open access to resources and adaptive reuse of shared materials under Open Content licensing provide a structure by which communities can innovate new religious systems collaboratively under the aegis of copyright law. For some religious movements, however, public access and literacy, and the potential of adaptive reuse also provide an opportunity for innovation and reform within established traditions. In an interview by A. J. Jacobs in the Atlantic Magazine on open-source religion, Aharon Varady (founding director of the Open Siddur Project) explained that "cultures breathe creativity like we breathe oxygen" arguing that open-source provides one possible strategy for keeping a tradition vibrant while also preserving historical works as non-proprietary during a period of transition from analog to digital media.[3]

Open-Source Judaism[edit]

Early open-source efforts in Judaism can be traced back to 1988 with the free software code written for calculating the Hebrew calendar included in Emacs. After the popularization of the term "open-source" in 1998, essays and manifestos linking open-source and Judaism began appearing in 2002 among Jewish thinkers familiar with trends in new media and open-source software. In August 2002, Aharon Varady proposed the formation of an "Open Siddur," an open-source licensed user-generated content project for digitizing liturgical materials and writing the code needed for the web-to-print publishing of Siddurim (Jewish prayer books).[4] Meanwhile, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff began articulating his understanding of open-source in Judaism. "The object of the game, for me," Rushkoff explained, "was to recontextualize Judaism as an entirely Open Source proposition."[5]

The term "Open Source Judaism" first appeared in Douglas Rushkoff's book Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism (2003). Rushkoff employed the term "Open Source" to describe a democratic organizational model for collaborating in a commonly held source: the Hebrew Bible and other essential works of Rabbinic Judaism. Rushkoff conceived of Judaism as essentially an open-source religion which he understood as, "the contention that religion is not a pre-existing truth but an ongoing project. It may be divinely inspired, but it is a creation of human beings working together. A collaboration."[6] For Rushkoff, open-source offered the promise of enacting change through a new culture of collaboration and improved access to sources. "Anyone who wants to do Judaism should have access to Judaism. Judaism is not just something that you do, it's something you enact. You've got to learn the code in order to alter it."[7] The 2003 publication of Rushkoff's book Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism[8] and an online forum dedicated to "Open Source Judaism" inspired several online projects in creating web applications for generating custom made haggadot for Passover, however neither content nor code for these were shared under free-culture compatible Open Content terms.

Beginning with the Open Siddur Project in 2009, open-source projects in Judaism began to publicly share their software code with open-source licenses and their content with free-culture compatible Open Content licenses. The explicit objectives of these projects also began to differ from Rushkoff's "Open Source Judaism." Rather than seek reforms in religious practices or doctrines, these projects used Open Content licenses to empower users to access and create their own resources from a common store of canonical texts and associated translations and metadata. By 2012, open-source projects in Judaism were mainly active in facilitating collaboration in sharing resources for transcribing and translating existing works in the Public Domain, and for adaptation and dissemination of works being shared by copyright owners under Open Content licenses.[3]

Open Source Yoga[edit]

Following proprietary claims on Yoga movements by some Yoga instructors, Open Source Yoga Unity was formed in 2003 to assert that Yoga movements reside in the Public Domain. The organization provides a common voice, and the pooling of resources, to legally resist the application of a proprietary Copyright to any Yoga style thereby "ensuring its continued natural unfettered practice for all to enjoy and develop." The organization explains, that "while we appreciate the teachings of yoga teachers, we do not believe that they have the legal right to impose control over another's Yoga teaching or practice."[9] In Open Source Yoga Unity v. Bikram Choudhury (2005), the organization settled out of court, avoiding a federal court hearing to determine whether Bikram Choudhury’s copyrighted sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises could be legally protected.[10]

Open Source Wicca[edit]

Concerned with the lack of a source text containing documentation on Wicca in the tradition of Gerald Gardner, Dr. Leo Ruickbie self-published Open Source Wicca: The Gardnerian Tradition (2007) for "putting you back in control of spirituality." The work, a collection of "the original foundation documents of Wicca" authored between 1949 and 1961, was published digitally and in print under a Creative Commons Attribution license.[11]

Open-source in Establishing New Belief Systems[edit]

Several projects aiding individuals and communities in formulating their own belief systems cite inspiration from ideas common to the open-source movement and self-identify as open-source religions or religious initiatives.


According to its founder, Daniel Kriegman, Yoism (founded 1994) combines rational inquiry, empiricism, and science with Spinozan or Einsteinian pantheism.[12][13][14] Inspired by the Linux operating system, Kriegman describes his religion as "open-source" and explains that, similar to open-source software projects, participants in Yoism do not owe their allegiance to any leader and that their sense of authority emerges via group consensus decision-making.[1][15][16]

Belief Genome Project[edit]

The Belief Genome Project aims to use crowdsourcing to catalog all beliefs as a resource for those wishing to build and discover their own belief system.[17] The project is an initiative of the Open Source Religion Social Network, a website established in 2009 by Sidian M.S. Jones which he described as "a system for the mixing of religious and non-religious beliefs in an individual, even across multiple religions."[18]


  1. ^ a b Charles Piller (2006-07-23). "Divine Inspiration From the Masses". Los Angeles Times. 
  2. ^ Crumm, David. "Open Source Religion". Assignment Zero. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Jacobs, Alan. "The Potential and Promise of Open-Source Judaism". The Atlantic Magazine Online. The Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Varady, Aharon. "update 2002-08-08". Aharon's Omphalos. Aharon Varady. Retrieved 16 June 2014.  and Varady, Aharon. "The Open Siddur Project". Aharon Varady's Homepage. The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Rushkoff, Douglas. "Open-Source Religion". G4 TV - The Screen Savers. G4 TV. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Rushkoff, Douglas (2004). Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism. USA: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 1400051398. 
  7. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Rachel (2003-06-11). "Is Judaism Becoming Irrelevant?". AlterNet. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Douglas Rushkoff (2003). Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism. Three Rivers Press. 
  9. ^ "About Open Source Yoga Unity". Open Source Yoga Unity Facebook Page. Facebook. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Open Source Yoga Unity v. Bikram Choudhury (N.D. Cal., 4/1/05, No. C 03–3182 PJH)
  11. ^ Ruickbie, Leo. "Open Source Wicca". Leo Ruickbie. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  12. ^ Gary Craig (2011-04-11). "Civil commitment still evolving in N.Y.". Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. 
  13. ^ Kean, Sam (May–June 2009). "Open to Revisions". Search Magazine. Retrieved 2010-09-19. [Daniel Kriegman] based the [...] religion on a cocktail of rational inquiry, empiricism, and science. [...] To this rationalism [...] Kriegman mixed in a healthy dram of the pantheistic god of Spinzoa (above) and Einstein [...] 
  14. ^ Forni, Alberto (January 2010). "Yoism on Italian Radio". dISPENSER. Retrieved 2010-02-17. Yoism is a complex system that incorporates elements of philosophy and diverse religious backgrounds, ranging from the pantheism of Spinoza to Mahayana Buddhism, up to Taoism [...] 
  15. ^ Gunderson, Matt (January 11, 2004). "Taking 'yo' off the street and into church". Globe Newspaper Company. Retrieved 2006-08-06. 
  16. ^ Demare, Carol (December 9, 2009). "Religion called Yoism plays role in appeal". Albany Times Union, Hearst Communications Inc. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  17. ^ Jones, Sidian M.S. "Open Source Religion Basics". Sidian M.S. Jones. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  18. ^ Jones, Sidian M.S. "Open Source Religion". Sidian M.S. Jones. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 

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