When Heidi Campbell crossed the Atlantic to do graduate work at the University of Edinburgh in 1996, a new electronic tool called the “Internet” became a comfortable lifeline for staying in touch with friends and family. She was captivated by the new technology, ending up doing her Edinburgh doctorate on church and another new internet-enabled phenomenon, virtual communities. (For the uninitiated, virtual communities are groups of computer users who know and interact with each other electronically, not in person, at least much of the time.)
“Wait, you’re a Muslim? But you’re not even brown!”
When Emina, a member of Project Interfaith’s Youth Service activities in 2010, was faced with this challenge, rather than becoming defensive or shutting down, she took it seriously. With a video camera turned on, she explained her identity as a Muslim woman and addressed some of the misconceptions underlying that question. That got the staff at Project Interfaith thinking. We asked ourselves, What if more people had the chance to define and share their religious or spiritual identity in their own words and to confront the misconceptions and misunderstandings they face because of this? Thus RavelUnravel was born.
It is difficult to know where to turn to get accurate, interesting, creative, not to mention, meaty theological reflections exploring the social issues we face in the world today. The online forum State of Formation (SoF) offers such a place, and as the forum grows, the continuing legacy of writers, ideas, topics, and dialogue grows as well.
A Catholic, a Muslim, and a Jew were sitting together in a meeting. Sounds like the start to a religious joke, right? Or, perhaps, it would be an ordinary interfaith dialogue. Either would be a fair guess, but this time it is actually the start to an interesting development – the recent gathering of representatives from among the many different foundations interested in interreligious cooperation.
We’ve come a long way since 1958 when Tom Watson, then IBM chairman, infamously said: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” Indeed, computers and the World Wide Web have been so absorbed into our lives today that they’ve become like water is to fish. Ubiquitous, all around us, and quite taken for granted. They’ve changed the way we live, how we think and what we think about, how we’re entertained and how we plan for the future. Also, how we worship, what we believe, and how we practice spirituality and treat one another.
Sunday, September 21, 2014, the UN International Day of Peace. The sky was clear, the sun shining, and the air was vibrating with excitement. You could sense an unmistakable whiff of history-in-the-making. Soon mid-town Manhattan would become a rolling wave of humanity, a moving festival of people of every age, race, ethnicity, nationality, and belief. Most wore casual attire, some religious garb, and others chose colorful costumes and body paint. An impressive assortment of headgear showed up as well: hijabs, turbans, kippas, garlands, feathers, panama hats, and baseball caps.
Last month I was glad to be invited to two significant interfaith gatherings, one in South Korea and the other in Southern India.
California-born Greg Harder invests three to five hours every day in front of his computer screen as a “cultural detective specializing in interfaith,” a phrase he coined to describe his internet social-media activities.
Earlier this year an argument surfaced about the internet and religion. Is the internet taking people away from religion? Last April, Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service published “Is the Internet Bad for Religion?” She reviewed an academic paper by Allen Downey, a professor of computer science, whose research showed that “the share of Americans claiming no religious affiliation grew from 8 percent to 18 percent while the number of Americans connected to the Internet rose from almost nothing to 80 percent.”
“West’s war with Islam to last 100 years” was the banner headline of a recent Australian newspaper. Admittedly, the text referred to ‘extreme Islam,’ but the headline reinforces a very dangerous over-simplification sadly too often voiced both by Christians and Muslims on the social media.
In Virtually Sacred (2014), religious studies scholar Robert M. Geraci tackles the topic of religion in online games. While his approach and conclusions raise some questions, there is no question this book is long overdue.
We all know that banning books is wrong. So why is it so tempting?
Last month, for the 32nd year, The American Library Association observed Banned Books Week, a celebration of the “freedom to read” and a chance to bring “national attention to the harms of censorship.”
A recent study shows how digital and social media has allowed one of the largest international religious and benevolent organizations to keep in touch with its more than 10 million followers worldwide, and help them in their mission to provide humanitarian relief.
New communication and Internet technologies have created a dynamic new media landscape that has changed the face of religion in two decades. From the early days of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, the conversation on religion in cyberspace has been, and continues to be, highly prolific. Over time the Internet has established itself as the foremost marketplace of religious ideas, ultimately drawing even the most reluctant of the faithful into its spaces, including unconventional new religions.