[SPEAKER] Engaging with #ExploringBelief for Religion in the Media Festival

I was originally invited to participate in the ‘digital religion’ panel for this event (a little confused about what happened – as you’ll see from my tweets I had a lot to say). However, got to meet up with some friends old and new at the end event, and was available for 1-2-1s with those who wanted them. Was some high profile interesting speakers – see more on this collection of tweets:

Academic Digital

[ACADEMIC] Publication in @SurvSoc_Journal : Social Media, Peer Surveillance, Spiritual Formation, and Mission: Practising Christian Faith in a Surveilled Public Space

In March 2017 I gave a paper at the AHRC Surveillance and Religion Workshop in Edinburgh. I decided to turn it into a paper and submit to a special edition of Surveillance and Society, a top quartile journal for Urban Studies (of particular interest as an Associate Member of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Met Uni). With a generous extension on the submission date, I managed to submit the paper the day before I started chemotherapy (1 Dec 2017), with a little help from a few friends (see below), and it was accepted (with revisions, of course). I completed the revisions between chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and have had a few copyedits to do in recent weeks, but the special issue on Surveillance and Religion is now out.

Abstract: Social media has become a part of everyday life, including the faith lives of many. It is a space that assumes an observing gaze. Engaging with Foucauldian notions of surveillance, self-regulation, and normalisation, this paper considers what it is about social and digital culture that shapes expectations of what users can or want to do in online spaces. Drawing upon a wide range of surveillance research, it reflects upon what “surveillance” looks like within social media, especially when users understand themselves to be observed in the space. Recognising moral panics around technological development, the paper considers the development of social norms and questions how self-regulation by users presents itself within a global population. Focusing upon the spiritual formation of Christian users (disciples) in an online environment as a case study of a community of practice, the paper draws particularly upon the author’s experiences online since 1997 and material from The Big Bible Project (CODEC 2010–2015). The research demonstrates how the lived experience of the individual establishes the interconnectedness of the online and offline environments. The surveillant affordances and context collapse are liberating for some users but restricting for others in both their faith formation and the subsequent imperative to mission.

Vol 16 No 4 (2018): Surveillance and ReligionDownload PDF

Published Dec 15, 2018


To Reference: Lewis, Bex. 2018. Social Media, Peer Surveillance, Spiritual Formation, and Mission: Practising Christian Faith in a Surveilled Public Space. Surveillance & Society 16(4): 517 – 532.


Thanks to delegates at the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Religions Consuming Surveillance Workshop, Edinburgh, March 2017, for feedback on initial ideas, many of which were drawn from work undertaken for CODEC at the University of Durham (especially The Big Bible Project); colleagues at Manchester Metropolitan University for conversations and space to write, especially Cathy Urquhart and Dominic Medway for feedback upon drafts ; and to the initial journal reviewers, who have made this a much stronger piece. I also thank those who gave me permission to quote conversations from social media and the Women in Academia Support Network on
Facebook for encouragement, especially Dr Nadia von Benzon for early editorial input and feedback. I also appreciate my medical team at Stepping Hill Hospital and The Christie for enabling me to continue this whilst undergoing cancer treatment.

Other articles on my blog about ‘Surveillance


#EmptyShelf17 #26: Becoming Reverand by @revmattwoodcock

Becoming Reverend: A diaryBecoming Reverend: A diary by Matt Woodcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met Matt whilst teaching MediaLit at Cranmer Hall a few years ago – he made a comment about how pimped up my laptop was (it was a chrome covered HP) … He’s certainly a larger than life character and starting the book with an unfortunate blocking of the toilet does set the tone – Matt is definitely a lads lad, but with a real concern to bring others into contact with Jesus by BEING HIMSELF (as God made him), and to see the church grow by pioneer ministry. I recognised a few ‘characters’, laughed at some of his particular insights, and enjoyed the way he has sought to challenge himself to sit/listen/experience things that he’s not comfortable with in the name of being part of something bigger than himself.

View all my reviews

Academic Digital

Day 1: Surveillance and Religion Conference (with @es61andrews)

Tweets from today’s workshop. The event continues for the next two days, but I need to get back to MMU and teach…


[QUESTION] What is Spiritual Formation (in a digital age)? #Surveillance

As I can never find Facebook posts again when I want them, I saved some of the thoughts that are helping trigger a presentation in Edinburgh shortly, on spiritual formation and any kind of awareness of surveillance online. I noted that the responses may be made public, if anonymised!

  1. What do you understand by spiritual formation?
  2. Would you say that social media has impacted on this at all?
  3. Does the fact that others are ‘observing what you are doing’ make any difference?
  • This online article was helpful reading: Towards a Biblical Definition of Spiritual Formation: Romans 12:1-2
  • The result of spiritual disciplines? Social media has, for me, made any self discipline (spiritual or otherwise) more of a struggle.
    And talking about it online (are you including blogs as social media? I’m not sure I would…) does allow a broader community of involvement.
  • When I was part of a Christian Church, we had a nice Minister/Vicar (can’t remember which brand he was) who gave a great talk to the youth about wearing masks, and growing to be like the mask. He, obviously, advocated for wearing the mask of a good Christian, “pretending” to be better than we were, and aiming to grow in to the role. It had the advantage of bearing better witness whilst also allowing you to grow.
    I am not sure that I see much of that on social media, to be honest, but maybe I notice the negatives – those who are behaving in a Christian way are much less likely to be noticed.
  • The bit I would comment on is the ‘people are watching’. As a curate it didn’t trouble me too much, but as a ‘responsible for parish’ Rector I am much more aware that what I say and do is under scrutiny. I’ve stopped blogging partly because of lack of time, and partly because the situations I might blog about are easily identified by those involved, their friends, relations and neighbours. We get enough local spats on social media without me inadvertently adding to them.

What do you understand by spiritual formation?
– maturing as a Christian
– it’s a journey which never ends
– it’s part of who we are rather than something we do
– includes prayer and bible study, questioning and exploring yourself and your beliefs, worshipping and listening, intentionally being with God in the every day of life

Would you say that social media has impacted on this at all?
– yes: social media has allowed the world to become smaller. This means I’ve been able to explore wider, ask further and question more than if I was limited to my church, family, friends and people I meet in every day life. Social media allowed my spiritual formation to take off.
– and no: God is the leader of my spiritual formation and He will always find a way which works.
– but yes: social media has made it so much easier than it would otherwise have been. Geography is a limiting factor to spiritual formation, especially in disability (and poverty) and social media has removed that limit.

Does the fact that others are ‘observing what you are doing’ make any difference?
– not for me though I’m sure it does for others
– God is observing me all the time and is the only one that really matters in my spiritual formation
– but….. I feel that part of my spiritual formation is to share what I believe and why and how; and I’m sure that God uses my blog and social media engagement to help others now and in the future (it lasts forever once online).

could also be do you self-observe, or using the theorist I’m using ‘self-regulate’ your behaviour?
– I am me and is become abundantly clear over the years that I can’t hide that online any more than I can in real life. I don’t pretend to be anything other than I am, warts and all, and I’ve seen that God uses it all for good.

Other responses included the definition as the ‘never-ending’ ‘journey that we are on to become mature in our faith’, which can include ‘earthquake like tremors that quickly and fundamentally shape our faith’, but also ‘the small incremental drip drip that intentionally or not changes who we are and how we express that’. It is ‘part of who we are rather than something we do’, and ‘includes prayer and bible study, questioning and exploring yourself and your beliefs, worshipping and listening, intentionally being with God in the every day of life’.


Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash