Academic Digital Event

Conference Abstract: Encouraging Faith Voices in Digital Spaces

The following conference paper has been accepted:
Conference: Media, Religion & Culture Conference 2012 (Turkey)
Stream:Social Media, Religion and CulturesWe live in a ‘digital age’, in a world that is increasingly defined and shaped by the digital. When we talk about ‘unplugging’, we are giving the impression that the effects of digital culture on our life are optional. This paper asserts that the digital is a ‘space’ or ‘culture’, and that there is no such thing as ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ worlds: only online and offline space/cultures. It uses the Christian context as an example of how cultural change is being encouraged through engagement in the digital spaces.

For many in the Christian church, the rise of the digital age, in particular social media, has been seen as something to be feared, if not ignored as an irrelevance. David Wilkinson (CODEC) emphasises that God is a communicating God, a God who is extravagant in communication, not a silent God who has to be tempted into communicating with people. Importantly, however, God looks to communicate in the right context, something that Christians often get wrong, and preach into the wrong context.

Sharon Watkins, head of a Christian order, said “God never told the world to go to church; but God did tell the church to go to the world.” Accommodation theory calls for us to accommodate to the world in which we live, to be part of the conversations, rather than trying to protect ourselves in the bubble of our own faith.Technology is not the problem, not the answer, but it is the reality for most in our world, and therefore those of faith need to engage with it.

The Centre for Christian Communication in a Digital Age (CODEC) undertook a Biblical Literacy Survey in 2009, which demonstrated that although 75% of people have access to a Bible, only 18% read their Bible daily. The Big Bible Project emerged through a desire to get people reading the Bible, making use of the widest range of social media tools, already used by millions every day. What questions do people have, and how do we make our faith, and our religious texts, more accessible through online tools?

Religions need to stop blaming the media for poor representations of their faith, and get involved. We all have something to contribute to the digital space: a digitally enabled laity is powerful. In a world where hierarchies are collapsing, we can draw on a range of voices, rather than adding this to the ‘to-do list’ for the leadership team. Elizabeth Dresher identified three characteristics, creative improvisation, participation & distributed authority that have made broadcast media unsuitable for many mainstream Christian churches, that are assets in a social media world, offering space for questioning.

The Big Bible Project has engaged over sixty ‘digital disciples’, those who seek to live out their Christian faith in the digital spaces, in conversation. We would like to open some of the topics of debate that they have raised with conference delegates, including questions of authenticity, appropriate behaviours, mobile device etiquette, the power of images and words, and whether these are similar concerns across other faiths. What does it mean for faith voices in the digital space?

Dr Bex Lewis, Blended Learning Project Manager, The Big Bible Project, CODEC, University of Durham.