Article Summary for 10.14.09

Diaspora on the Electronic Frontier:  Developing Virtual Connections with Sacred Homelands 

This article describes the beginnings of using the Internet for religious purposes.  The use of the Internet blossomed for religious reasons has ranged from interactive chats, to informational websites to virtual pilgrimages.  One specific use of the Internet has been to connect dispersed people with specific religious practices and environments from their original homeland. As technology has advanced, so has its uses for religious purposes, and it has become more sophisticated on the way. Estimates of the number of websites in 2006 with a religious content outnumbered the number of websites devoted to all aspects of science.  Clearly, this is a significant force that has great potential for those who wish to use it and for those who wish to channel it for specific purposes.

            This article describes the beginning use of the Internet for religious communication (rather than simply information) as occurring through the USENET network in the 1980’s.  Originally part of a larger general group, a number of people petitioned to have their own specialized newsgroup for religious purposes and were granted their own space. However, religious intolerance within different religious groups further led to a separate section for Judaism, and later one for Christianity.  The author views this as the first evidence of displaced people wanting their own religious identity in a place where they could gather from around the world.

             Shortly after this occurrence, a group of Asian students attending school in the U.S. developed an interactive Internet site for anything relating to Indian culture, which included the Hindu religion. Many of the posts regarded religious issues, especially those of people not in the area native to the Hindu religion. Another student group eventually developed two Internet sites specific to the Hindu religion, with the goal of bringing together people from all over the world on this one topic. This last group went beyond the traditional chat function and began posting religious text and scriptures that was requested.

The development of the World Wide Web created an even larger base of websites devoted to religion. Some, such as the Vatican website, were strictly informational and not interactive, though quite in-depth. Others served the purpose of allowing communication by and between many people, in an interactive and personal manner. These latter websites allowed people around the world to discuss religious beliefs and practices. Eventually such websites also began providing this service for people who were not allowed to openly discuss their religions form their homeland while they were in exile (Tibetan Monks) or in non-friendly cultures.

Eventually, the function of many religious websites moved into the area of personal religious practice, and allowed not only connections between people living away from their homeland and place of religious origin, but also allowed for new exchanges between people and new places. Online broadcasting or religious festivals was able to be live. Virtual pilgrimages were now available to a number of destinations.  Such religious sites worked hard to overcome the limitations of such online viewing of the disconnect involved when one cannot actively participate and experience the preparation and hardships involved in such an event. Real-time viewing became available, and virtual visitors were able to sign in and let the other participants know they were there. Some sites allowed Internet participants to leave a prayer petitions that would be used along with all the others in a special service.

In particular, Hindus have developed a particular website in order to connect themselves more obviously with their sacred homeland. People now have the ability to request specific rituals conducted specifically for them in sacred Indian temples. They are able to participate in rituals that were previously only available on specific days if one journeyed to a certain temple. And now, this website sends a CD of the videographed ritual to the online participant, along with other possible verifications of their participation, similar to what would occur if they were actually present in person. A new question though:  are people using the Internet to participate in temple rituals still participating in religious rituals in their new homelands? The article did not have an answer.

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