Professor Heidi Campbell is an authority on religion and the web. Based in the Communications Department at Texas A&M University, her most recent book on the subject (of several) is When Religion Meets New Media (associated blog).
Here’s the blurb:
This book focuses on how different Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities engage with new media. Rather than simply reject or accept new media, religious communities negotiate complex relationships with these technologies in light of their history and beliefs. I suggest a method for studying these processes called the “religious-social shaping of technology” and students are asked to consider four key areas: religious tradition and history; contemporary community values and priorities; negotiation and innovating technology in light of the community; communal discourses applied to justify use. A variety of examples such as the Christian e-vangelism movement, Modern Islamic discourses about computers and the rise of the Jewish kosher cell phone, demonstrate the dominant strategies which emerge for religious media users, as well as the unique motivations that guide specific groups.
There are several papers available to the public on her website, including Who’s Got the Power? The Question of Religious Authority and the Internet (from 2007) and Spiritualising the Internet: Uncovering Discourse and Narrative of Religious Internet Usage (from 2005).
I spoke with Prof Campbell for 20 minutes via Skype about her work. Specifically, we talked about how religious institutions have adapted their practices to the web, whether the technology encourages radicalism and splinter groups, and how the faithful will practice in the future. We also discussed how social media - including networks like Facebook - promote a new kind of religious interaction, reflected by Barry Wellman's networked individualism (pdf) (and how this may not be the case in non-Western countries).
This is the whole, unedited conversation. Expect an adapted version on Tech Weekly next week.