Religious Use of Mobile Phones

Religious Use of Mobile Phones

Kyong James Cho (Texas A&M University, USA) and Heidi A. Campbell (Texas A&M University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch027
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Abstract

Mobile phones have had a profound impact on many aspects of contemporary life, including the practice of religion. This chapter outlines the significance of the intersection of religion and mobile phone technology. The study of religion and mobile phones is closely connected to the broader field of “digital religion,” which for nearly two decades has explored how religious individuals and communities use and respond to digital media. Scholars of digital religion have argued that religious communities and culture are increasingly being influence and shaped by digital media in notable ways, especially in relation to issues of identity, community, and authority (Campbell, 2012). These issues are also important in understanding how religious groups engage with and are influenced by mobile technologies and digital culture. The chapter begins by defining the study of mobile media and outlines the history of digital religion as a field of study. Next, it highlights three key areas of research focus in relation to religion and mobile media: the use of mobile media by religious individuals and communities, how religion has been expressed through mobile applications, and reflection on broader cultural significance of the intersection of religion and mobile phones. This leads to a discussion of emerging issues within the study of religion and mobile phones.
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Introduction

Religious individuals and communities have historically approached and appropriated new media technologies with as wide a range of responses as secular users and communities, from enthusiastic embrace to skeptical resistance. While this may give the impression that the intersection of religion and technology mirrors mainstream patterns of response and adoption, scholars have noted that religious individuals and communities have very specific and deliberate belief systems, habits, and rituals, which translate to particular ways of going about using new media technologies (Campbell, 2010). This means that the fervor and hesitance they express towards a technology is based on a set of unique factors, which influence religious users’ reasons for use, rejection, or even modification of different forms of media. The wide diversity of world religionS means that careful study is required to understand why and how specific groups approach new technologies in specific ways. The rise and proliferation of the mobile phones and apps thus creates new opportunities and challenges for religious communities, and also suggest the need for careful study in order to consider how the nature mobile technologies may create new possibilities or require unique responses from religious users.

This chapter offers an overview of the study of mobile phones and religion. This can be understood as connected to the wider study of “digital religion,” which primarily concerns itself with the intersection of religion and the Internet, and questions of how religious groups and individuals negotiate with digital technologies and cultures. Religion has been present and has played an important role in the Internet and digital culture since the 1980s, and continues to thrive online (Campbell, 2013). This engagement has been well document - for example, a Pew study in 2004 found that 64% of 128 million American Internet users had searched out religious information and engaged the Internet for different spiritual matters (Hoover, Clark & Rainie, 2004). More recently a study surveying U.S. religious congregations found that a vast majority used email websites, and 40% even had a Facebook page (Thumma, 2011). As mobile phone use has increased across the globe, scholars have also begun to study how mobile phone may be used by religious groups and speculate on the impact this technology may have on religious culture and communities.

This chapter outlines the current study of the intersection of mobile phones and religion in order to point towards important areas for future research. It is separated into three main sections. The first section offers a description of how mobile phone and digital religion have been researched, to provide a context for their intersection. The second section then highlights three key themes in the study of religion and mobile technology: religious engagement with mobile phones, religious use and design of mobile apps, and religious meaning making in mobile culture. Finally, some emerging questions and future areas for investigation in regards to mobile phones and religion are noted, with mention of key scholars in the study of mobile phones and religion.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mobile Applications: Programs created for mobile phones which serve a variety of informational, educational, recreational, and religious purposes.

Digital Religion: The technological and cultural space created when the online and the offline spheres are integrated.

Affordances: Specific characteristics of a media technology which are conducive to specific social activities.

Religion-Online: Traditional religious group adoption of online environments.

Religious Social Shaping of Technology: A framework which proposes four interrelated factors in determining how communities encounter and respond to new media technologies: history and traditions, core beliefs and patterns, community negotiation, and community framing and discourse.

Online-Religion: When religion uniquely emerges from within online spaces.

Third Space: A blended space comprised of both online and offline activities.

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