November 15, 2006
Convergence and Conversion: A Few Interesting Studies on Religion and New Media Technologies

One topic that we've only broached a few times here at C3 is the marriage between faith and convergence (and I'm not trying to get into a discussion of the gender of faith and convergence).

I've written about Fox Faith and the attempt to create a film division to more closely cater to a Christian fan base. For instance, last month, I wrote about a particular example of FoxFaith's product through its first theatrical release, Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy. And, back in June, I wrote a post about the book Religion and Cyberspace and particularly my interview with the pastor the small church I attended when younger back in Kentucky and about how religion adapts to multiple media forms.

Now, this month's Convergence Newsletter points to the University of South Carolina's recent Convergence and Society Conference, where a variety of speakers presented research about convergence and its affects on religion in various ways.

The newsletter features three intriguing studies in the newsletter this month. The first is a report from professors David Scott (University of South Carolina) and Daniel Stout (University of Nevada-Las Vegas) about the use of convergence and the integration of science and religion in the Discovery Center's exhibit on The Dead Sea Scrolls. Particularly, this study focuses on the museum space as a place of convergence and the conflicts between religion and science when discussing a religious text.

Even more to the point is an informative study from Jeff Wilkinson and Jack Keeler from Regent University, who look at how mobile media is used to enhance the faith of users. They look at "the creative uses of new media for pro-social purposes such as enhancing an individual's religious belief, practice, and lifestyle," focusing on "the role of new media in the lives of young people who profess to be Christians in outlook and lifestyle." They ultimately found that "a substantial percentage of young Christians are employing these services in positive ways that enhance their faith," including "sharing with others and learning more about what they believe," and stress the importance of blogs and other Internet tools in proselytizing and bolstering faith.

Finally, George Daniels with the University of Alabama writes about the possibility of "Streaming Faith," a case study of a Web site "with a vision of providing ministries with state of the art technology that empowers them to share their message with a worldwide audience." The site provides Internet audio and video feed to promote a growing and vibrant Internet ministry. The big dogs are involved--Trinity Broadcasting streams through the Web site as well as Daystar Television network and a variety of regional streams. Daniels concludes, "In the age of convergent media, faith-based programs and religious organizations often get left out of the discussion. By conducting this analysis of not only the philosophy behind, but the ministries and television networks it considers its clients, this study brings a new set of players to the cross-media, cross-platform discussions: a faith-based organizations" (sic).

Daniels' point and the three studies together are important. In our discussion of how these new tools of convergence are being used to reshape the media industry and to provide tools to everyone, we can't forget religion's role in the process and the way the Christian community in particular has always innovated in regard to grassroots distribution and marketing.

Actually, I just got an e-mail in the middle of the night last night from a woman from my hometown, urging me to listen to her son today, tomorrow, and Saturday, who is delivering a sermon at Voice of the Lord Internet radio. These tools are being used for myriad purposes, and religious groups have been very adept at them.

Of course, this also raises concerns in the religious community from time to time. Take, for instance, Daniel's inclusion about fear of the addictive aspects of the technology in his piece. Or my question last month about whether one can "steal" the word of God, particularly with the debate among religious groups as to whether piracy of Christian music is a sin or an instance of spreading the word (clearly a case where the very idea of a Christian business model starts to come apart at the seams). Or look at this piece in June from Church Relevance responding to one of our blog posts, in which they question the dangers and benefits of including new media to reach young people...Are they a distraction from the word or new tools for getting "The Word" out?

Finally, for a non-Christian discussion of some of these issues, see Parmesh Shahani's piece from last month about how new technologies have fundamentally adapted the experiences of a religious festival when he returned home to India.