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Digital Disruptor: The Internet's Impact on Religion and Spirituality

The podcast of the Sacred Inclusion Network

Release Date: 06/08/2020

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Digital culture is transforming religion in multiple ways, from how people draw from multiple sources to define where they fit spiritually, to how they relate to institutional authority. According to Texas A&M Professor of Communication Heidi A. Campbell, the internet allows people to create their own religious tribe, apart from the confines of whatever congregation they belong.

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Digital culture is transforming religious practice in multiple ways, says Texas A&M Professor of Communication Heidi A. Campbell.

"Scholars of religion are finding that people practice 'lived religion.' They may say, 'I'm Jewish' or 'I'm Christian," but they draw on multiple sources to define what they mean. Religion is more personalized in a digital age," Campbell says.

How people define religious authority is also changing. Although pastors, imams and rabbis hold authority in their traditions because of of their theological knowledge, a new type of  "algorithmic authority" has emerged, Campbell says.

"Involvement online builds this kind of authority... It's the number of 'likes' you have on your posts, it's the number of followers you have or how many people link to your content. All of this gives a sense of authority and validity...that's gained not from religious knowledge, but technological fluency," she says.

The internet, Campbell says, "allows people to create their own tribe." 

Although people may have roots in a traditional congregation, they can explore their particular interests in an online global community. "There can find online global connections that kind of feed their souls, whereas they couldn't do this before" in pre-internet days. 

A major contributor to the study of digital religion, Campbell is the author of Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture. She is the Founding Director of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies. She is currently studying the phenomena of internet memes and how these memes shape religions perceptions. 

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