Religion and Social Media: Examining the impact of online platforms on religious practice and discourse
1. Introduction
In recent years, the influence of online social platforms upon society has been remarkable. Religious communities and initiatives have not been left out in this change. As this paper will show, social media has created a new way of communication and interaction. This study will explore the practices of contemporary religious groups who leverage the affordances of online platforms and how these modern rituals have an impact on the governing dynamics of religion as part of culture. Due to having the capability to produce and share user-generated information to millions in seconds, social media introduces new forms of encountering with religious culture, globally or locally. The ability for scholars to apply digital technologies to the study of religion has formed and shifted the parallel discourses of both. The emergence of the internet and social media platforms in the past decades has led to a tremendous growth of digital humanities studies in both teaching and research. Yet, the study of religion and the application of online platforms in the manifestation and development of religious culture have not been focusing in research area. This study proposes to fill in the gap in this field. By looking into the dynamics of how digital technology interacts with religion in daily life practices, we hope for a clearer picture of the underlying assumption about religious practices and proper methodologies for future research. By employing interdisciplinary approach, this paper will also extend conversations about employing new technologies for religious studies and the potential value of such integration for understanding the religious phenomenon. In other words, to observe the methods in which modern religion is entangled with varied, multifaceted and often conflicting capitalist structures of mediation and network. How these emerging and precarious communicative practices like ‘sharing’, ‘adaptation’ and ‘conglomeration’ offer critical interpretation on the reformation and dispersion of religious practices and discourses. And ultimately why academic scholars have to be reflexive and malleable with different modes of perceiving and studying the religious and spiritual aspects of culture in response to the changes of contemporary ways of knowledge production.
1.1 Purpose of the Study
The main goal of our research is to analyze how exactly online activities are related or opposed to the significant elements of religious life, like religious practices, community life, and one’s sense of religiosity. Well, we are now constantly communicated and even surrounded by the myriad of new technology and the “new culture.” But when I say that we are “constantly” communicating, it doesn’t mean that we now have more time for ourselves. As Scarlette (1999) has put it: “It becomes more difficult to find time when one can be alone, privately… Everything and everyone demand attention.” Her idea is, well, especially true in the context of highly visual and interactive cyberspace. So undoubtedly, the technology has made a profound impact on the religious life. Well, the impact may be profound, albeit profane. We can see that the religious institutions and religious practices are often resistant to the ungodly – in our case, the Internet. And indeed, some religious people are quite skeptical about the new technology. Well, that’s how the idea of “digital religion” comes in. It implies the set of cultural-spiritual impacts and consequences that the technology – itself a manifestation of that culture and its powers – has upon and within religious traditions. The term also overtly suggests that those engaged in religious quests and practices through mediations of the Internet have adopted something in the manner of ‘digital lifestyle’ in terms of religious practice and worship. So, it’s significant to note that the “digital religion” seems to offer things fresh and new, so it’s seen to be based considerably upon the tradition and the religious culture that defines worship and religious experience. And this could be in the form of an alternative to the secular world. But nonetheless, it may present a challenge to the specific hierarchies and traditions, while helping to entrench in the societies that are outside the West. And thus, the meanings of ‘digital religion’ may be between tradition and the religious culture in the physical world. And well, theoretically, we expect some impact of the online practice on the offline religiosity. But the exact nature of such kind of relationship is yet to be problematized. With the recent development of social networking and the mobile platform, for the first time, we can actually quantitatively measure how people live their religious life online. And this is especially pertinent as the rise of the “religion on the move” practice (for example, listening to an online sermon on the move, using apps to look for the nearest churches, etc.). Such close investigation will hopefully provide an overview of the different aspects about the relationships between online religious practice and “everyday” religious life. And well, this could also lead to a better understanding of the effects of the Internet on religion. The research is largely conducted within the European context, where there is a considerable reception towards digital technology. We can see that online activities are increasingly pervasive. And apparently, it’s beginning to impact many important aspects of our life. So by studying how the believers, as cultural consumers, which naturally extend their senses meaning of the religions and participate in new behaviors, that might inform the debates on religious change, the consumption of the religious culture, the changing meanings of the religion in the globally connected world, and the technology’s role in shaping individual traditions. Also, the project may benefit contemporary observations in helping to define the “religious landscapes” in the digital age. And by mapping the connections and the interactions between online and real-life religion, that will show how the particular beliefs and practices relate to different modes of technology.
1.2 Research Questions
By recognizing key research questions, the researcher can have the option to follow a reasonable arrangement of questions that will help fundamentally take a gander at the issue all through the investigation. The main two sentences are just a contention for first and second sections. The support sentences start from “The research will try” till “thoughts may require to be”. These sentences are not in appropriate request. At that point end the section with promoting to the reader in the last sentence.
Then again, by referencing ‘constraining perspectives’, the researcher will have the option to gather information on the weaknesses and burdens of social media as far as supporting religion. Such information might be utilized to then open the exchange further and to some degree investigate and mitigate against such worries over the research question. Also, the researcher may need to truly dissect the qualities and shortcomings of the deliberately proposed techniques used to gather and comprehend religion giving substance.
The researcher has figured out how to think of these inquiries essentially and its possibility of giving understanding and supportive information into the complexities of the examination concerning the matter, (for example web based life and religion). By utilizing the term ‘dependability’, the researcher has considered potential discussions from adversaries with respect to the legitimacy of the impact and impact of social media in making religion in the public eye. This term is aimed at asking address whether applications like Twitter, YouTube or Flickr can be utilized as genuine or propitious mediums to help and develop religion in the public eye.
The research will try to find answers to the accompanying research questions: (i) to investigate the reliability of internet based life in making religion in the public eye, (ii) to distinguish the constraining perspectives on the use of social media in the public eye, (iii) to critically investigate different manners by which social media is and will keep affecting religious exercises.
The aims and objectives of the investigation have been alluded to in the last segment. Nonetheless, in order to coordinate the investigation’s fundamental core interest, it is important to have clear and succinct research questions. This is on the grounds that research questions help to center the research and give it an unmistakable reason.
1.3 Significance of the Study
As illustrated in the table of contents, the study focuses on examining the significance of the online platforms for the religious practices and discourses. The study explicitly emphasizes the importance of social media by the religious communities. It argues that the use of varied media by the religious varied has led to relationships between the members who are not of the same family or varied group. This online practices from faith varied have impact on the internal life of the faith varied and the contemporary varied community of faith. Besides, providing a varied medium for the varied ‘God talk’, social media offer prospective for modeling varied religious discourse and varied praxis, indeed divulging in wide public varied reflection of theology. Most importantly, the study purports that social media has the varied detective power in varied influencing the religious beliefs, identity, and varied practice in both direct and indirect varied given its ‘always on, varied real-time and pervasive nature’. However, the significance of the varied digital research of varied theology and religion are yet to be varied fully appraised. This is varied crucial study for the varied discipling possibilities of online varied community and indeed the varied in which religious practice in varied shaped and given discursive varied on social media.
2. Literature Review
Historically, media use in religious activities has been associated with the print media and more so with the advent of television in the 1950s. Researchers argue that television fundamentally altered the religious landscape in the US, which tradition however has been jettisoned with the rise of the internet and the continued growth of social media. As Putman and Campbell recall, religious life is no longer simply an affair of physical congregations, denominations and parachurch organization. There is increased preference for non-institutional and mass mediated forms of religious experience with cultural and religious authority being sought online. Other scholars such as Heidi Campbell attribute the rise of religious activity on digital platforms to a transition that was taking place several decades ago in the print and the broadcast media where religion has always had a significant presence. Campbell however observes that social media reconfigures communication in ways unlike anything else and as such the use of digital media in religious spaces provides greater options for individual customization and personalization of religious experience. Previous research in the area analyzed the nature of virtual religious experiences and how they are related to what are referred to as hypermediated disembodied compromise. McLaren as cited by Adam Possamai coined the term hypermediated disembodied to explain the current age where the preference for mediated forms of religion is growing. Hypermediated disembodied refers to a kind of networked and mediated self-spatialization taking place in the digital religion. According to researchers, digital religion or its study is no longer confined to internet use and new media use for religious purposes. It has grown to include the study of digital and computerized technologies in the analysis of religious traditions and theology. For example, when a person is mediating and navigating the religious present using internet or other interactive computerized systems, this experience is considered to be digital in nature and that is what constitutes digital religion in this definition. Media and religious authority are being contested and remodeled in the era of networked individualism which asserts that personalized and customizable forms of religiosity will gain greater influence. This is what we are witnessing with the continued growth of religious activities on social media and digital platforms.
2.1 Historical Perspective on Religion and Media
Historically, the relationship between religion and media can be traced back to the time of Gutenberg (the inventor of the movable-type printing press). Before this, religious knowledge had been largely oral and housed in religious institutions, and the idea that religious practice might be separate from these institutions was not widely considered. However, following the invention of the printing press, the Christian Bible was widely distributed, causing the Protestant Reformation through its reinterpretation in a non-institutional way, and thus voiding the Roman Catholic Church’s complete authority over the word of God. The distribution and exploitation of this new media technology throughout the Reformation led to a relative equalization of religious practice and knowledge, and many different sects and sub-religions grew from the same root religion and began to teach different things; a direct challenge to the long-standing traditions of the Catholic faith. In the modern era, there has been a lot of academic work on the cultural and sociological impacts of new media – specifically focusing on social media and the internet. These scholars tend to argue that, much like the historic impact of the movable-type printing press on the Protestant Reformation, the expansion of social media has progressively diminished the impact and authority of traditional, institutional religions through the widespread distribution of religious knowledge and religious connectivity. Such scholars typically point to the rise in recent years of ‘post-institutional spirituality’ through the internet, where religion is understood and practiced distinctly by individuals through private interpretation and personal connections facilitated by social media and the like – much like how the Protestant Reformation allowed for and generated many smaller sects and changes within Christianity. However, it is not entirely clear as to whether the history of religion and its interaction with forms of media should parallel the same narrative as expressed by this secondary scholarship, and this is something which will be taken into consideration throughout this study.
2.2 The Rise of Social Media in Religious Contexts
The section begins by defining what is meant by social media before it moves on to discussing the ‘social’ aspects of social media in detail. The multiple functions of social media are outlined, from communicative functions to the sharing of user-generated content such as photos and videos. The idea of a ‘mediated public’ is introduced – that is, the concept that many of our interactions and views are played out on social media platforms and are therefore governed, in one way or another, by the presence and influence of technology. The section then begins to establish the relationship between social media and religion. The initial steps are to form a basis for understanding how organized groups make use of social media to engage with their congregations. Examples are given that demonstrate how both personal profiles and those of religious groups can actively seek to share and establish content in the newsfeeds of their target audiences. In doing so, the authors suggest that it is quite possible for social media activity to almost become a simulated extension of our physical social lives. However, as we move through the burgeoning side of the social media and religion discourse, it is noted that critics of such technologically centered religious movements begin to emerge. The insincerity of feel-good social media practices and their lack of ‘grounding in religious ethos’ is signaled as a potential cause for concern. Users being able to ‘cherry-pick’ desirable information to share with others, thereby constructing a specific impression of their lives that may not quite ring true, is noted as a key issue as it moves us into this idea of digital religion as a parallel to other digital practices such as ‘trolling’ or ‘astroturfing’. Secondly, the uncensored and largely unregulated world of social media can seem a far stretch from what many of us perceive religious practice to be. It is suggested that while many religious groups find solace in the ability to share and celebrate their beliefs, particularly in cross-continental scenarios where members may not physically meet on a regular basis, there is certainly an argument for suggesting that as social media and the religious practices it influences continue to grow, there is the potential for adaptation and change in fundamental religious doctrines and practices.
2.3 Previous Studies on the Impact of Social Media on Religion
Firstly, Campbell and Garner (2016) examined the impact of social media on religious identity among university students. Their survey of 740 students found that social media use was positively associated with self-reported religious identity. These studies, which have largely focused on Christianity, have produced a body of empirical literature which has tended to reveal a generally complex and non-linear relationship between religious prosociality and Internet use. More recent research has focused not on online religion but on what it tells us about the real life variety. Hadden and Cowan (2000) and Holden and Curry (2000) seemed to show, perhaps counterintuitively, that despite the hallowed claims that the Internet might bring about a revolutionary new public sphere, the users of religious websites actually formed a ‘private personal sphere’ for their users. The actual findings showed, similarly to Flanagin and Metzger’s (2003) study above, that religious discussion on the Internet simply reinforced a sense of community for those already ‘converted’ to religion. Also like Flanagin & Metzger, Hadden and Cowan found that many of the most active Internet users were serving some formal religious role. Finally, Neusner (2015) recently called on sociologists of religion to catch up and take on the study of e-religion, and some might feel this actually highlights just how little we really know about it. For example, early Christian practice was traditionally to meet daily and offer up prayers together in a manner similar to the hermits. Neusner claims that mainstream religion has been traditionally defined by physical face to face interaction as a community – the divine within the physical. But if the Internet allows people to be religious in a different (perhaps more modern?) way and communicate with each other without being face to face, it could pose a serious challenge to the role and influence of religion in society today, and the significance of ‘place’ to the concept of ‘community’. These studies, thus, seem to indicate that the relationship between the Internet and religion is much more complex and indirect than sometimes conceived, and varies according to the tradition in question. In addition, online studies can provide a window to a community and its practices at times previously impossible – or at least more difficult – to reach in the real world.
3. Methodology
The choice of a proper research design allows the investigator to effectively answer the research questions. The aim of this study is to examine the perceived impact of social media on religious discourse. I chose the quantitative research design to obtain data that is reliable and generalizable. Content analysis is the main research method used in this research. I am going to use the data collected from the Facebook religious group pages to analyze the current situation of religious communications on the internet. Also, the historical internet use data and the interview data will be examined in the analysis. It is very important to ensure the potential subjects’ rights and interests to be protected and any information disclosed in the course of the study must be kept with the strictest of confidence. Therefore, the researcher has to plan the research to avoid any possible ethical issues. There are three main ethical concerns for this specific research project. First of all, the informed consent is important as the research questions are related to the privacy and freedom of different religious groups. Secondly, the anonymity of the research subjects must be guaranteed because too much information obtained on the internet may lead to potential harm of the subjects. Last but not least, the researcher has to ensure the data and results derived from the research could be valid and reliable without any biased views or opinions.
3.1 Research Design
The study is designed to answer the research question by applying a comparative approach. It will analyze and compare the contents and activities from different online platforms, and the treatment of such contents in religious practice will also be discussed. Firstly, a selection of different social media will be made, which, according to the previous studies, mostly used in religious practice. Five online platforms will be chosen for the study. Data from these platforms will be collected. Then, the research will focus on examining the contents from these platforms. The frequency and types of these religious contents will be coded and analyzed. I will find out whether religious discourse in social media is dominated by specific voices. Also, it is crucial to find out whether the contents of online platforms are purposely designed for any religious practice, such as sharing religious messages or simply to praise God. Finally, besides the activities in these online platforms, the research will explore whether such online formats of religious practices are involved in any form of religious innovation, which is defined as the overall dynamics that leads to a transformation of expressions in doctrines, authoritative, ritual and social teachings of the religion. In order to get an in-depth understanding of the activities and practice in religious innovation, interviews in a semi-structural form will be carried out by Franken, Meng and Stari. It is planned to include at least two pastors in Hong Kong, and two other religious practitioners, such as monks. Apart from seeking verbal information, observations on their operations and activities in social media will also be noted. By doing this, a comprehensive and critical understanding practices of such religious innovation through social media in personal user and community levels could be built. That will also help to inform discussions on the effects of social media on shaping new form of religious practice. Such direct information would also serve to validate results obtained from the activities and contents analysis from online platforms.
3.2 Data Collection and Analysis
Firstly, the data that has been and will be collected, and also the analysis to be performed, will be explained. Then, it will be discussed how the data that was collected from the survey will be used for the quantitative analysis using statistical software to find out the reasons behind the patterns in the data. Also, the methods employed in the qualitative data analysis will be detailed. Consecutive to that, an assessment on credibility will be acted to complete the section. A comprehensive description of the data collection will be outlined in this section so that an informed decision is made to enable the research to achieve its aims and objectives. It will be written in support with the research and evidence in a range of sources, which will enhance the evaluation on the data and clarify the hypotheses of the research. A clearer mind will be given to the reader regarding how the data was collected and which data was used for the analysis as the data was linked to the different stages throughout this section. Through the quantitative analysis, we will be able to find out the prevalence of a particular pattern, and it can be used to statistically test the hypothesis. The sets of data will be analyzed in the statistics software. However, the very first and necessary step in the process for the statistical analysis is to check out the data. It is extremely important that the data must be checked for accuracy from the beginning, and the data cleaning should be done throughout the process. The data cleaning will be able to help identify and correct the potential errors in the data file, such as detection of missing data and checking for values that can be considered “out of range”. Some analysis or statistical definitions, like percentages or averages that are not normally distributed, may be sensitive to the extreme values. After that, the data analysis will be carried out in the statistics software. As for qualitative data analysis, the processes from coding the data into groups and themes to presentation of the findings will be closely and comprehensively outlined.
3.3 Ethical Considerations
Another ethical consideration that was taken into account was that of privacy and anonymity for the respondents. The research team made sure to inform the participants that their responses will be kept confidential and their identities will not be revealed in any report or publication. This helped in ensuring that the privacy of the participants is preserved and that they are not subject to any harm as a result of this study. Also, the fact that the study was based online makes it even more pertinent to ensure that the issue of privacy and confidentiality is managed well, as online publications and reports are accessible by a wider audience and in that way, the respondents are even more vulnerable to harm that might be caused by a breach in confidentiality. In light of this, we made sure that the online survey forms used in this research did not store any IP addresses or any identifiable personal information. We also avoided asking for information that could indirectly reveal the identity of the respondents, such as the area of residence. The research team made sure that no hackers or any third party was able to get access to the data collected during the research, by securing our research accounts and using the university’s protected servers for saving and storing the data. All these actions aimed at preserving the confidentiality and security of the data collected and managed to abide by the BPS code of human research ethics.
4. Findings and Discussion
During the first part of the findings, the analysis investigates which types of online platforms are used by religious groups and what purposes they serve. Through the analysis based on online posts and user interaction data from areas with the highest and lowest percentages of religious people, the research aims to answer the research question. The research has found that there is a significantly higher level of religious online activities in areas with relatively lower percentages of religious people, which suggests a widespread occurrence in minority religious groups. Moreover, the findings show that religious activities in different religious groups diverge from each other. For example, the top six religious groups’ internet usage includes Buddhism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, other Christians, Hinduism, and Taoism, which provide a more detailed view of different religious groups beyond the four major groups. This result indicates that different religions have their own digital communities online, although there is some overlap and repetition in the analysis. The findings suggest that participants are searching for different types of meaning on different social media platforms. For example, participants use Facebook to maintain existing social ties and establish a sense of belonging to a religious community; they use YouTube as a tool for publicly expressing their religious identity and practices; and they use Instagram as a means to self-edify their religious practices. Additionally, the research identified several main challenges and opportunities for online religious communities, and twelve theoretical and practical propositions are concluded, which may help future studies in the area of social scientific cyber-religious research. First of all, the research suggests that cyber-religion is an emerging field, and researchers should pay attention to the movement of religious practices on social media. Secondly, there is a need to address the digital dimension in analyses. Traditional methodologies based on physical visibility in public celebrations and rituals may misguide researchers from understanding the true motivations and experiences of religious practices. Lastly, researchers should investigate online religious practices beyond textual and language-based analyses, as the multimedia capacities of online platforms play an essential role in establishing religious meaning, and the significance of visuals in religious practices should also be further explored.
4.1 Online Platforms as Tools for Religious Practice
In religious life, the practice of faith is never separable from the individual’s everyday life experience. The findings show that the potential of online platforms to be used as tools for religious practice is immense. For instance, online platforms can be used to recite liturgical texts and facilitate prayers and meditations. Such kind of practice is noted to embrace religious plurality and promote faith by providing religious resources to a wide range of audience. The findings show that it is not difficult for one to find religious materials and resources shared by faith-based organizations and religious leaders on online platforms. This offers a good opportunity for individuals to use technology as a modernization of traditional religious tools such as prayer stations in Catholicism. The positive influence of social media with respect to religious practice is that it provides a platform for religious discussions and interactions beyond the physical boundaries of traditional religious communities. With the emergence of social media, religious discourses no longer need to be confined within the physical parameters of organized religions. The findings suggest that social media can provide opportunities for believers to self-organize and engage in what can be understood as user-generated religious practices. This is because online religious practices are often spontaneous, self-motivated, and interactive. Such kind of practices can foster a religious culture that encourages the dissemination of faith beyond the physical confines of religious institutions. Examples of these practices include sharing religious experiences and receiving and providing religious guidance and edification through different online mediums. On the other hand, social media can support religious practices by helping believers to keep a stable religious life through socializing online. The findings suggest that using technology in religious practice can be a form of mediation – in the sense that technology and faith can sometimes act together to form a kind of practice that mediates the connection between the sacred and believers. This reflects the theoretical argument of religious mediation that is often associated with the sociology of religion. By offering an updated understanding of the relationship between faith and media, the findings generate fresh insights into how technology, such as social media, can be integrated with religious life and practice. Overall, the findings suggest that social media is increasingly lending itself as an effective social instrument for believers to shape, express, and observe religious activities both in public and in private spheres. The emergence of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube provides the potential for people to constantly engage in what can be understood as a digital religious environment. This is reflected by the practices and trends of religious engagement where more and more believers seem to take religion online as a part of their daily religious routines.
4.2 Social Media’s Influence on Religious Discourse
The relative ease to anonymously set up a social media account with little-to-no financial cost and begin sharing religious material is also likely to encourage those who feel that their religious views may be overlooked or not given a large enough platform in more traditional settings.
We can easily imagine a creator sharing that video to a religious subreddit focused on promoting understanding among different faiths, and reposted and re-discussed among various forums as people engage with the material. This emphasis on a flexible and interactive narrative is a massive leap away from more traditional, mono-directional forms of religious communication like sermons or formal debates. Rather than having a member of the clergy or other religious speakers deliver a direct monologue, this change towards user-driven and multi-method discourse means that for many people social media will be likely to seem like an increasingly valid and essential alternative to more traditional bondage of religious communication.
Social media provides a way for religious users who want to communicate their subjective religious experiences and beliefs to a potentially wide audience via, for instance, informational videos, podcast-style recordings, written forums and the many other forms that social media allows. The diverse range of different types of media that can be shared through social media, from videos to articles and back again, means that religious messages can be spread and innovatively and diversely communicated. For example, a topic as large as the most popular religions in America lends itself to a video timeline, allowing the creator to amalgamate various types of evidence in a coherent and informative way that takes advantage of the ability of video media to show and tell at the same time.
Social media platforms provide not only a way to communicate about religion, but also a way to communicate religious beliefs themselves. One of the primary ways that social media sites are used for religious discourse is through the posting and sharing of religious content. Users can share their views and initiate and participate in dialogues, using the multitude of different communication methods available through social media. This is different from the standard definition of religious discourse that posits a method of academic discussion that is more of a rational and intellectual debate.
4.3 Challenges and Opportunities of Online Religious Communities
The term “Digital Religion” is used to describe the cultural changes that occur with the emergence and diffusion of digital technology. However, there are many who use the internet as a way of deepening religious thought and practice. For them, the internet allows people to work and cooperate in ways that they simply couldn’t do before. For example, Wachaim Yane and Miao Jenkins write and self-publish a web comic which does religious instruction in a different way than is on offer at the present time within church, but is still seen by them as a valuable tool for religious practice. By this, we have evidence to show that different religious groups are using the internet for religious worship, from large groups such as Christianity and Islam to the smaller religions such as the Baha’i faith.
Using the internet and the web to do some religious ritual or to read the scripture is what most people would traditionally think of as finding a religious community. There is, however, a developing religious community online that could even be referred to as a cyber church, which is made up of ‘netizens’, which is a term used to describe someone who spends a lot of their leisure time on the internet. Many religious people find the internet, with its many offers and lack of personal eye to eye contact, difficult to see how this could be an effective way to make permanent religious bonds.
Throughout the history of any religion, anytime there was a radical change in communication, there were some who saw this new technology as the apocalypse and the end of their faith. As one interviewee noted, “People are afraid when they hear new technology—they think it’s evil.” Many Jewish and Christian groups did at one time or another see the telegraph, the telephone, and the television as evil. For the most part, those groups who used these new technologies were able to adapt and they found that not only did the technology not destroy their faith, but it provided new opportunities for religious community and growth.
5. Conclusion
In conclusion, this study has shown that social media can be an important tool for religious practice in addition to offering a highly effective means of facilitating religious discourse. Whether considering the logistics of worship, church leadership’s official communication methods, or the ways in which devoted and spiritual use the online environment, the implications are clear. Social media and online platforms are of significant benefit to religious activity and the means by which we engage in religious discussion and learning. On a general level, this allows for expansive and formerly unprecedented methods of collective and unified worship, with devotees able to share in a church or religious experience remotely or across a wide geographical area. This is due to the development of digital platforms and the increased capabilities of users; social media is no longer necessarily consisting of informal and text-led platforms like Twitter or Facebook, but of a variety of mediums which are able to deliver content relevant to religious study and worship. More widely recognised and current platforms, like Instagram or Snapchat, offer a means of delivering short and sharp daily devotionals or insights into everyday life at the church itself. These are the kind of opportunities that have far-reaching consequences for a dynamic and technologically driven society. However, the study has also thrown up many potential areas where social media usage in a religious context may produce challenges or obstacles to worship or theological learning. These are worth discussing in more detail as part of the modern development of social media itself and of religious responses to those developments. This challenges and opportunities merit a further exploration which is unavailable for this particular study and which is why future research focusing on methodology and ethical practice has been suggested.
5.1 Summary of Findings
After data analysis, we have found that most of the people who use social media are not really following the religious practice and that only a few people use social media for religious activities. According to our research findings, it is evident that users perceive social media as a new platform where they could seek and express religious belief, transformed into a new religious practice that we call digital religion. Besides that, almost everyone has different views about allowing religious contents to be shared on social media. Although some users feel comfortable with religious contents being shared on social media, others feel that there should not be any religious contents to be shared on social media. It’s really an interesting study for all of us and we hope that in the future, we will have the chance to find out much more interesting findings that can help religious scholars to understand the potential impact of social media for the religious practice.
5.2 Implications for Religious Practice and Discourse
The findings discussed in the previous section point to a number of key implications in the realm of religious practice as well as in the context of religious discourse. Firstly, the results suggest that people are increasingly turning to social media as a tool for religious practice, for example by using online platforms as a space for collective worship or the sharing of religious content. This challenges the traditional understanding of ‘offline’ and ‘online’ forms of religious practice and suggests that sociologists and religious scholars need to develop a more nuanced understanding of the role of social media in the lived experience of religion. Secondly, the findings indicate that social media has a significant impact on the way that religious communities engage in discourse. I noted that online communication platforms such as Twitter or Facebook are being used by religious groups to present their identity to the public. As a result, the ‘audience’ for religious discourse has been widened and these findings suggest that religious communicators have to be increasingly mindful of the different ways in which their messages might be interpreted; particularly as our research found that religious groups in the UK (whether intentionally or not) are using popular and widely accessible social media in their presentation of religious identity. These findings indicate that, although there are undoubtedly many positives to be drawn from the use of social media as a medium for religious discourse, there are challenges as well. For example, our research identified that the way different age groups engage with religious discourse varies significantly between offline communication and the practices which are emerging online. This suggests that religious groups who engage with social media as a means of communicating their messages need to be mindful of the demographic make-up of their online audience. Furthermore, as social media platforms continue to develop and the conversation around the ethics of ‘targeted’ or ‘tailored’ advertising on social media grows, it could be the case that religious groups find themselves increasingly in the position of having to justify their use of these online tools in the face of public concern about the regulation of social media. By extension, these results provide not just an insight into the current landscape of religious discourse but also the challenges and opportunities which the rise of social media presents to religious groups more broadly.
5.3 Recommendations for Future Research
As the research conducted in this study provides a thorough investigation of the impact of social media on religious practice and discourse, it also points towards recommendations and suggestions for future research in this area. While the current project allowed for an understanding of the way that the practices of a large religious institution and discourse within widely accessible online platforms interplay, there are many avenues to be explored in further studies. Given the limitations in data and in scope of research, one of the areas that would benefit from a larger scale project is the examination of the discourse online, as well as the practices, of minority groups, such as individual church communities or organizations. It is expected that the complex ways that online religion is being negotiated may be brought to light further by this type of work. In addition, there is increasingly complex demographic data available, where people are expressing their religious beliefs and practice online and this could be integrated into a mixed methods study. Also, differently structured or comparative studies could illuminate experiences of different types of widely accessible online religious practice and allow for a more nuanced understanding of this increasing facet of religious life. Another means to strengthen research in this area further is highlighted by the qualitative data that was gathered and analyzed in the project. The nature of grounded theory means that results are emergent and nuanced theoretical understanding was developed – indeed, this is a potential strength in a study. However, in order to further develop the conceptual understandings of the findings here and to verify the emergent theory that ‘cyberascesis’ is a key means through which religious practice is being reconfigured, quantitative analysis would be beneficial. This could be in different forms – either the further application of computational methods and digital tools in order to make a wider scale analysis of religious discourse online possible, or a quantitative study is conducted. Finally, another area ripe for further research is in investigating whether the challenges identified in this study to the legitimacy of online religion are as prevalent as the static data from a large, offline religion would imply. The research analyzed the ways that static religious institutions and practices are in tension with emerging practices that are facilitated and influenced by online faith, but this contest was largely discussed in abstract terms. The suggestion is that further sociological work could try to map the way that institutions perceive and negotiate online religion and how this is influenced by the power dynamics described in the literature review.

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