The Intersection of Religion and Mobile Technology

The Intersection of Religion and Mobile Technology

Wendi R. Bellar (Texas A&M University, USA), Kyong James Cho (Texas A&M University, USA) and Heidi A. Campbell (Texas A&M University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch535
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This chapter explores the intersection of religion and mobile technology, which is closely connected to the field of digital religion. The chapter begins with a brief background of mobile media studies and digital religion. Next, three key research areas are highlighted. The chapter concludes with emerging trends and suggestions for future research. Because religion interacts with social, political, economic, technological, and global factors, research demands continued theoretical development and nuanced study to understand the relationship between religion and technology.
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Mobile media have been described as “unanchored communication” which takes place “during transition” (S. Campbell, 2013, p. 10). It is important, however, to distinguish between laptop devices and mobile devices. While laptops can move from place-to-place, the proper infrastructures, from physical space to wireless internet connections, are required for use. Mobile devices, however, can be used anytime, anywhere. Additionally, the diffusion of mobile devices throughout the developed world raises concerns and inquiries about their social and cultural impacts (Smith, 2013), such as the positive and negative impacts mobile technology can have on religious communities.

In the US and other developing countries, mobile phone penetration has almost reached saturation point and smartphone adoption is increasing rapidly (“2 billion consumers”, 2014). Recent surveys also provide a clearer picture of mobile app use. Neilson (2015) found apps account for 89% of mobile phone usage, while 11% can be attributed to the mobile web. In the US, the average smartphone user has approximately 28 apps downloaded on their devices and has used 11 of those apps within the last month (Google, 2015).

While religious mobile use is not reflected in these numbers, other studies point to religious engagement through mobile technology. For example, religious engagement online has been well documented since the 1980s (Campbell, 2010). Sixty-four percent of Americans reported searching for religious information or engaging in religious practice online (Hoover, Clark, & Rainie, 2004). The Barna Group reported that one in four Christians uses an e-reader or other mobile device for reading the Bible (2013). That same report showed that pastors’ use of mobile technology to read and study the Bible tripled in two years to 44% (Barna, 2013). While it is clear mobile technology is being used for religious purposes, the impact this mobile technology use is having on religious users and communities is underresearched.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Religion: The study of the evolution of religious beliefs and practices at the intersections of online, mobile, and offline contexts.

Commodification: Transferring religious information or practices into commodities to be bought and sold, and using religious narratives to sell secular goods and services.

Apps: Small computer programs designed for use on mobile devices.

User-Experience Design: A research approach that explores the interaction between design and use with the goal of increasing usability, accessibility, and pleasure.

Mobile Devices: Cell phones, smartphones, and tablets that provide the infrastructure to communicate and access content anytime, anywhere.

App Developers: Individuals, religious groups, and secular companies who design and produce mobile apps.

Religious Communities: A group of people who adhere to specific beliefs and practices that relate to the sacred.

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