Academic journal article Western Folklore

Vernacular Media, Vernacular Belief: Locating Christian Fundamentalism in the Vernacular Web1

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Vernacular Media, Vernacular Belief: Locating Christian Fundamentalism in the Vernacular Web1

Article excerpt


New communication technologies allow individuals to express and consume a greater diversity of religious ideas. With the rise of vernacularizing media, religious expression is becoming more vernacular. In this situation, the unique perspective and methods of Folklore Studies help document a vernacular ideology that emerges in a network of websites when individuals express a specific set of conservative evangelical beliefs.

KEYWORDS: Internet, Christianity, fundamentalism, End Times, apocalyptic belief

Over the last decade, more and more user-friendly computer technologies have made it possible for individuals to express themselves to broader and broader publics. Ranging from email "forwardables," to social networking sites, to "blogs" on every topic imaginable, online public expression has become integrated into the other everyday routines of many individuals in North America today (Kibby 2005; Howard 2005c, 2008a). With the inroads networked computers have made into every facet of human life, it is no surprise that religious expression has also migrated online. In this migration, institutional religious expression is is moving out from the static documents of organizations into the dynamic realm of network media. Church services are leaving their local communities to be practiced in cyber-rituals at network locations. Personal religious expression is emerging side-by-side with the everyday in the vast public web of vernacular discourse made possible by computer networks.

One location in this vernacular web is the personal website of Dean and Laura VanDruff: Among photos of their family and friends, Dean and Laura have a link to their Acts 17:11 Bible Studies website.

On, the personal and individual publicly settle in comfortably next to the religious and the spiritual. As the religious integrates into the VanDruffs online communication, it is not held separate from the everyday. Instead, they express their own theology as they construct their own doctrine. In this daily process, they are no longer beholden to the power of any religious institutions.

In addition to giving individuals the power to express their own vernacular Üieologies, die online availability of those expressions has made it possible for individuals to connect with each other without recourse to local church communities. As a result, individual believers can cross huge chasms of space, cultural experience, and expressive style. With diese new opportunities for diverse connections, jarring linkages sometimes emerge. One such linkage is that tihat made to by another Christian couple, David and Brenda Flynn.

Far from the family friendly and fellowship-oriented Bible studies of Acts 17:11, the Watcher Website focuses on die belief that demons built a civilization on the planet Mars after tìiey were cast out of Heaven.

In an age of vernacular media, individuals are not only free to mix UFO beliefs with Christianity, they are also free to publicly link those beliefs to the expressions of otìiers. In case of the Flynns and the VanDruffs, networked computers undo a vast separation of geographic space. Maybe more significantìy, they overcome a divergence of topic and style that render this linkage surprising to the untrained eye. The Flynns are a couple in Montana focused on UFOs. The VanDruffs are a well-to-do family in San Jose, California, most interested in living the daily lives of compassionate Christians. The connection between these two vasdy different couples comes as a result of a common interest in "The End Times," and the discourse associated with this phrase is the distinguishing marker of an emergent vernacular Christian ideology. Through a vernacular web, this ideology links diese two very different couples.

While the VanDruffs may not consider a belief in demon-built monuments on the planet Mars reasonable, they do share a belief in the literal meaning of the Bible. …

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