In the two weeks time I was working on my midterm paper of Sociology of Religion. It is interesting to me when I read scholars debated on what roles religion holds in maintaining a religious community as well as how religion maintains itself in the modern time. In the blog post, I will try to discuss the phenomena of the transformation of religions into a digital form (in Taiwan) and that how digital media itself becomes religion-like.
Religion in a Digital Form
Out of curiosity, I searched online and found that there is an official website (and even a facebook page) of the local belief center in my neighborhood in my country, Wujia Longcheng Temple. (http://www.longcheng.org.tw/) It surprised me that all the stories I was told in my childhood, and even some rituals and doctrines I did not know are well recorded on this website. And not just Longcheng Temple, a lot of temples and shrines have their own websites in Taiwan as well. Internet users could even directly ‘practices’ some rituals online such as lighting Guang-Ming Lanterns and worship Taisui. The reason behind temples provide such services is that religion tries to include itself in a community, hoping believers stay religious and ‘recruiting’ people to convert. The idea of religion transforms itself into the digital form in an attempt to preserve itself is fascinating; however, I find myself hardly attach any piece of my childhood memories to this website at all. For me, the experiencing of religion in a digital form detours me instead of pulling me closer to my religion. And maybe it is not only religion. A lot of “old” things lost its aura in the process of transforming themselves in other forms so as not to lose its aura.
Digital Media as a Religion
In the essay Physiology and Faith: Addressing the “Universal” Gender Difference in Religious Commitment, Rodney Stark tries to explore the possible reasons behind a universal and cross-cultural phenomena – men are less religious than women is a generalization that holds around the world and across the centuries. He utilizes WVS (World Value Survey) and WHO study in 15 countries, collecting quantitative data of people by asking participants questions about their religiosity – the intensity and consistency of the practices of an individual belief. Interesting enough, same methodology could also work in the survey that tries to find out the level of addiction of using digital media among teenagers by simply asking them the frequency of participating using digital media. If we signify religiosity as the intensity and consistency of practicing or participating certain actions, it is obvious that using digital media fits in the exclusive definition of this signified religiosity.
Besides, we can find the evidence that digital media now has religion-like position in modern people’s mind in the tv series American Gods. In the series, the “New Gods” such as Technical Boy and Media respectively who represents the personification of the Internet as well as computer technologies and the other symbolizing mass media and pop culture appear in a mighty image. However, the Old Gods look comparatively weak and vulnerable because people no longer worship them. The New Gods even try to wipe out the Old Gods and make people “worship” them as the only belief. Religion used be thought to be a more conservative system, consisting of unchanging tradition and the preserved rituals and doctrines. However, religion is changing and transforming. It shifts to new spaces and transforms with digital media. In addition, the world of computer technology makes digital media itself the space for the realm of new focus of the sacred at the same time.