Digital Culture and Religion in Asia

By Chetty, Denzil | Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Digital Culture and Religion in Asia


Chetty, Denzil, Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR


Digital Culture and Religion in Asia By Sam Han and Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir London and New York: Routledge 2016, 129 pages. ISBN: 978-0-415-52185-7

Introduction

The rapid advancements of technology (more especially Information and Communication Technologies) and the proliferation of connectivity over the past two decades, have altered the way we see communication in the current era. These advancements have impacted not just the economic sector but also the social and political spaces, which both states and ordinary citizens occupy. With these advancements, the religious scholar finds him/herself immersed in a new research context, which beckons a response to the question of how does digital culture interface with religion and also bring religion to the fore. Much of the research in response to this question has been dominated by studies emanating from the West. Hence, the major contribution of this book by Sam Han and Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir is that it offers an alternative view on the reconstitution of religion through its interactions with digital culture by drawing examples from Asia.

In their introduction entitled 'Understanding Digital Culture and Religion in/of Asia', Han and Nasir set the context of the book by articulating two important positions. First, Han and Nasir (2016: 2-3) argue that it is a misconception to think of 'new media technologies as somehow still new in the role they play in the discourse and institutional mechanisms of modernity'. They argue that some of the ideals, which we consider to be an 'Internet utopia' can be traced back to discourses emanating in 1990s. They further contend that technology no longer occupies a marginal position among people, it is now part of their everyday lived-experiences. Secondly, for Han and Nasir (2016: 3-5) it is a misnomer to think that religious groups and their institutions treat technology with suspicion and resist new forms of media technology. To illustrate this, Han and Nasir (2016: 6-7) draw examples from the online presence of Islamic State (IS) in social media sites, which serves as a strong recruitment tool; and the use of social media spaces by Muslim women to negotiate gender-power representations, and resist religious patriarchy. To further illustrate this point, Han and Nasir (2016: 11) draw examples of online pujas, in which Hindu adherents in Diaspora communities use technology to mediate a ritual experience in India. Hence, for Han and Nasir (2016: 8) 'religion is not simply then, a set of ideas that have a singular origin and a linear trajectory', it must rather be seen as 'a collection of practices and ideas that are adjusting in concert with other systems, including technological ones'. It is against this background that Han and Nasir set out to analyze the functions and interconnectedness between religion and digital culture.

Structure of the Book and Content

The book is divided into five main sections, which can be theoretically framed as case studies, with the sixth section focusing on the future of religion and spirituality in Asia. The first case study focuses on digital Christianity in Korea. The case study begins by providing the reader with a brief introduction on the history of Christianity in Korea and the ideals of a digital Korea. By drawing on existing research on Yoido Full Gospel Church in Korea, Han and Nasir explore how technology is used to mediate the multi-site church model. While Han and Nasir (2016: 23) conclude that there are many similar traits with mega-churches in the United States, such as integration of social media sites and television broadcasting networks, it is the use of websites that reveals an important feature of Korean Christianity. Websites are designed to revolve around the charismatic figure embodied in the pastor. These websites are designed to capture the biography of the pastor, which traces every miniature aspect of his life, not just spiritual but also struggles experienced in his upbringing, such as family and financial challenges. …

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