01: In recent years, the number of books on the presence of religion online has increased, from general overviews to collections of essays on mainstream or new religious groups and their use of the Internet.
The new book by Anastasia Karaflogka, E-religion (Equinox Publishing, $27.95) proposes “a critical appraisal of religious discourse on the World Wide Web.” Obviously well-acquainted with the literature and strong on issues of methodology, Karaflogka remarks that, since access to the Internet is still far from being universal (even much more so outside the industrialized world), e-religion reflects the religious expressions and activities of an elite.
According to Karaflogka’s observations, the most common cyberpractices are cyberprayer, cybermemorials, grieving support, meditation, cyberpilgrimages and some pagan rituals. Traditional religions are also increasingly considering the Internet as a space for many opportunities.
But the Web also challenges traditional religious authority, since it allows protesters or dissenters to raise their voices. Not every religious group has a web presence. Contrary to what many Westerners would expect, for instance, in China, there are repressed groups on which there may be information circulated on the Internet, but which do not have websites themselves.
Cyberspace has the capacity to be perceived as sacred space, not only as a space of expression for religious groups and individuals, but also as a possible place for new types of spiritual utterances, although the emergence of entirely new religious discourses is still a question for discussion – one needs to see if such attempts will be lasting ones.
—By Jean-Francois Mayer