Friday, October 7, 2011

Digital Religion Symposium and Workshop: Pauline Cheong, Negotiating Religious Authority Online

Pauline Cheong touched on the subject of religious authority and how it has been framed in relation to digital media. Since media has been a major influence upon religious culture and values, authority figures have had to reevaluate how to enact with the growing online religious community.

When considering the timeline of religious authority, society has progressed from a static, traditional authority to a legal, rational charisma, and now authority figures have adapted to dynamic, mediated performances.

Cheong presented three merging logics connected to mediated religious authority:

1. Disjuncture and displacement

2. Continuity and complementary

3. Dialectics and paradox

The first logic between religious authority and the Internet is disjuncture and displacement. The Internet has created a sort of “utopian community” that disrupts the status quo, challenging authorities. The growing presence of online religion has opened up new spaces for opinion and persuasion. Non-professionals have easy access to online religion and are perceived as “information terrorists.”

Second, online media has brought about continuity as well as complementary ideas. There is a synergetic relationship between online and offline beliefs and practices. The Internet is a way to bridge and bond religious relationships and is not necessarily an inflammatory resource. Pastors have expanded roles via Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. This is a way to gain or regain trust and credibility.

The last logic is in relation to dialectics and paradox. It is a circular theme that involves strategic management, endemic tensions, circulation of meaning, and competing knowledge that can enhance epistemic authority.

Cheong concluded by advising further research such as expanding data repertoire, going beyond researching observational data, and a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Cheong’s research presented positive and negative aspects relating to religious authority and digital media. Her data brought about clarification of how to analyze authority figures and finding their method to engage in online religion. I appreciated her presentation as it helped me better understand the relationship of new media and religion.

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