Joined by several of my graduate colleagues from FSU, I spent this past weekend in Indianapolis at the Third Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture. Hosted by the Center of the same name, the conference brought together a variety of scholars broadly interested in Religious Studies in an American context.
One of the most interesting panels was the Saturday session on “Religion and Social Media,” featuring Verity Jones, Kathryn Reklis, Scott Thuma and Jonathan Van Antwerpen. The panelists began by discussing how religious groups have made use of various forms of social media, but the conversation quickly shifted to how scholarly approaches to digital media are informed by our own theoretical frameworks. Reklis challenged attendees to conceive of the digital world as “cyberspace” rather than “virtual,” arguing that “virtual” suggests a degree of un-realness reflective of an old way of thinking about the Internet. Everything on the Internet, Reklis suggested, is very much real. Van Antwerpen employed the vocabulary of Pierre Bourdieu to suggest that social media may best be understood as improvised fields of discursive struggle. The attendees seemed to be split about the utility of social media for scholars of religion. Not surprisingly, that split seemed to be largely (but not entirely) generational. Continue reading