Religion and the Internet
Religions are represented in the Internet in many ways. There are sites which attempt to cover all religions, traditions, and faiths, such as Patheos (which also provides a forum for atheism/humanism), Religious Tolerance, and Beliefnet, in addition to sites that are specific to a religious tradition. Many sites are discussion groups, others theological debates and some attempt to provide advice concerning religious doctrine. There are also sites that aim to provide a religious experience facilitating prayer, meditation, or virtual pilgrimages. People also leverage search engines to investigate aspects of religion.
There have been a number of attempts to create online Christian communities, usually supplementing, but occasionally attempting to replace, more traditional, brick and mortar Christian communities. It is common for even moderate sized Christian churches with only a few hundred members to have web sites to advertise themselves and communicate with their congregations. For example, Scott Thumma, a faculty associate at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that in the U.S. between 1998 and 2002, the ratio of churches with web sites went from 11 percent to 45 percent. Most sites concentrate on teaching and discussion. Some experiment with virtual meetings in cyberspace, and attempt to incorporate teaching, prayer, worship and even music into the experience. The i-church is the first Internet community to be fully recognised as an Anglican church.
After being reassigned to the sinecure diocese of Partenia (a major Algerian city, that was consumed by the Sahara in the 5th century) by Pope John Paul II in 1995 as punishment for his controversial views, Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Gaillot set up a website for the "diocese without borders."
There are various web sites that aim to cover all of the Hindu religious traditions, including for example the Hindu Universe, which is maintained by the Hindu Studies Council. The site includes Hindu scripture and commentaries of the Rig Veda, Upanishads, the Bhagvad Gita and the laws of Manu.
In addition, there are a large number of web sites devoted to specific aspects of the Hindu tradition. For example, the major epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, have web sites devoted to their study. There is a site devoted to the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, giving Internet users the opportunity to join the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who gather in Allahabad to bathe in the Ganges. Sites like Saranam.com allow worshippers to order a puja at the Hindu temple of their choosing and many pages have image of deities, which are thought to convey Darshan in the same manner as temple figures. The followers of Sri Vaishnava, Swaminarayan Sampraday and Dvaita Vedanta have web sites, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also known as the Hare Krishnas, have their own site, which includes a Hare Krishna Network. Temples now webcast darshan live on the internet. In fact, important events too are broadcast live on the internet. For example, the Swaminarayan Temple in Cardiff broadcast its 25th anniversary celebrations live on the internet in 2007.
Islamic sites fulfill a number of distinct roles, such as providing advice concerning religious doctrine, download daily prayers and for taking the shahadah over the Internet. For example, the Islam Page is a comprehensive Islamic web site, which links to a complete version of the Quran. Sites such as the Islam-Online site, according to Gary Bunt of the University of Wales, provide information about Islamic doctrine in addition to advice concerning individual problems including marriage, worship and Internet use. In order to answer online questions, an Imam or a team of religious scholars frequently provide a fatwa. These are stored in databases, which allow online users to search for their specific query. Gary Bunt has commented this has the advantage of facilitating resolution to issues that are considered dangerous or embarrassing to raise within the domestic framework.
Several websites and blogs cover Judaism and Jewish life on the web. Some websites argue a certain religious or political viewpoint, while some take a purely cultural or secular focus. Conservative, Modern Orthodox, post-denominational, Reform, secular, and Haredi Jews are involved in writing J-blogs. Some J-bloggers, although religious in practice, use their blogs to discuss theological views which are skeptical or nonconformist. J-blogs fall into radical, liberal and conservative camps with respect to all Jewish communities across the world. Several blogs, such as CampusJ and Jewschool, cover Jewish life on campus.
The Internet has "shipped" Vodou via cyberspace, increasing it's accessibility outside of a Haitian context as there is no central text to be shared. Alexandra Boutros explains that while Vodou was formerly secret, it is now public, widespread, and available for consumption by any through the cyber world. Her concern is that the shipping of Vodou has led Internet, much like popular culture, to be full of "voodoo that is not Vodou." "Voodoo" is a spelling used to denote tropes of Vodou, the Haitian tradition, which perpetuate misunderstandings, lies, and stereotypes. As such, Boutros explains that online Vodou, as well as cyberspirituality in general, are not representations of "real religions in real places," but instead are their own "dynamic entity," and this is an important distinction to make when studying Vodou or any other religion and its online presence.
New religious movements
Many new religious movements have websites. A website of the Church of Scientology, for example, allows visitors to take an online personality test (the Oxford Capacity Analysis); however, to review the full results of this test, one has to make an appointment to meet a church representative in person. There has also been a series of legal battles—sometimes referred to as Scientology versus the Internet—concerning the publishing of esoteric teachings such as the "space opera" and, more specifically, Xenu.
According to Stephen O'Leary of the University of Southern California, the Falun Gong's Internet awareness was an important factor in its ability to organize unauthorized demonstrations in the People's Republic of China. The group's leader, Li Hongzhi, was able to use the Internet to coordinate the movement, although he currently lives in New York.
There are various religious movements that have used the Internet extensively and this has been studied by academics, in the field of sociology of religion. Examples cited by Adam Possamai, of the University of Western Sydney, include Jediism and Matrixism. Possamai uses the term 'hyper-real religion' to describe these religions mixed with popular culture, arguing that they are part of the consumer logic of late capitalism and are enhanced by the growing use of the internet.
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