The International Society for Media, Religion and Culture (ISMRC) conference held August 4-7, 2014, is the 9th in a series of events assembling an international group of interdisciplinary scholars to better understand relationships between media, society and religion and the significance of media for religion in public life. The event draws a diverse crowd of academics and students with interests ranging from media studies and religious studies to anthropology and digital humanities.
According to Lynn Schofield Clark, Professor at the University of Denver and Conference Program Planner, the series has proven to have a lasting impact. “The conference series has provided an important foundation for thinking about these areas of media, religion, and culture. This year’s event highlights new theoretical frameworks for understanding how societies encounter religion through media institutions and the ways religious life takes place through media-related practices.”
The conference is hosted by the University of Kent’s Professor Gordon Lynch. This year’s program is notable for drawing together scholars working on digital religion research. Several prominent themes include the portrayals of gender in religion digital media, how new media influences religious authority and the ways religion and religious identity is lived out through social networking and mobile media.
Samira Rajabi, from University of Colorado-Boulder, explores gender and digital media in her work on “Powerful Pinning: Gender, faith and meaning making on Pinterest”. Her research explores how female users carefully select religious symbols and images to present their personal religiosity in ways that imitate religious devotional acts.
Numerous papers investigate how religious authority is reshaped by digital media including that of Ruth Tsuria, from Texas A&M University, who considers how Orthodox Israeli Rabbis present their authority online in, “Rabbis Negotiating their Religious Authority Online: A case study of Israeli Jewish Responsa”. Tsuria notes her work shows, “How the study of digital religion is maturing, to consider the complexities of the interaction between offline-online relationships within religious communities, or in the case of my research, how religious authority negotiate the opportunities and challenges new media.”
In his research titled “American Cyber Sufis: Islamic Authority, Identity and Ritual Online”, Robert Rozenhal from Lehigh University shows that American Muslims use internet to affirm their faith while undermining traditional religious institutions. Additionally Anna Piela, from Leeds Trinity University-UK, investigates Muslim identity online through ways women represent the niqab (the all-enveloping Islamic dress) on photo sharing websites such as Flickr.
These and other presentations show the increased interest in the growing diversity of religious activity and engagement online, from the ways online temple ritual connect members of the Tibetan Diaspora to creative ways of spreading Christianity through mobile phones in Zimbabwe. This year’s event shows that digital religion has become a pervasive and dynamic global phenomenon.
Clark suggests the event offers an important opportunity to reflect on these trends. “TheInternational Society for Media, Religion and Culture conference series provide a unique opportunity for an interdisciplinary crowd from around the world to deepen collaborations, form new friendships, and discover new areas of interest and relevance that can influence their teaching and research agendas on many themes for years to come.”
This event is sponsored by The University of Kent, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture, and the Porticus Family Foundation. More information on ISMRC and the conference can be found at: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/thrs/events/event2014-08-06.html
This summary of research is provided by the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu), which seeks to show how digital religion shapes our everyday lives and world.
Gordon Lynch, University of Kent