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Emily R. Stewart

Because the significance of a sacred text comes not only from its content but also its format and materiality, the rise of digital formats is especially a concern for the Jewish community, the ‘people of the book’ (Am ha-Sefer) whose identity is rooted in the Torah. Drawing together scholarship on the history of the book in its changing formats and an illuminative case study of the Jewish Torah in its digital iterations, the Jewish case presented here is instructive but certainly not unique. Despite dramatic changes in reading technology throughout history, readers have time and again used a new technology to perform the same functions as that of the old, only more quickly, with more efficiency, or in greater quantity. While taking advantage of the innovation and novelty which characterize digital formats, a concerted effort to retain much older operations and appearances continues to be made in this transition as well. The analysis in this article aims to further dispel the misguided notion of technological supersession, the idea that new reading technologies ‘kill’ older formats in a straightforward model of elimination.

Pauline Hope Cheong

Religious believers have historically adapted Scripture into brief texts for wider dissemination through relatively inexpensive publications. The emergence of Twitter and other microblogging tools today afford clerics a platform for real time information sharing with its interface for short written texts, which includes providing links to graphics and sound recordings that can be forwarded and responded to by others. This paper discusses emergent practices in tweet authorship which embed and are inspired by sacred Scripture, in order to deepen understanding of the changing nature of sacred texts and of the constitution of religious authority as pastors engage microblogging and social media networks. Drawing upon a Twitter feed by a prominent Christian megachurch leader with global influence, this paper identifies multiple ways in which tweets have been encoded to quote, remix and interpret Scripture, and to serve as choice aphorisms that reflect or are inspired by Scripture. Implications for the changing nature of sacred digital texts and the reconstruction of religious authority are also discussed.

Bob MacDonald

This article shows that automated analysis of Hebrew poetry can reveal structural aspects of the thought of an ancient poet which are clear in the aural nature of the text but are not obvious through regular reading techniques of the modern world especially in translation.

Deborah Justice

The use of social media presents new religious groups with opportunities to assert themselves in contrast to established religious institutions. Intersections of church and cinema form a central part of this phenomenon. On one hand, many churches embrace digital media, from Hollywood clips in sermons to sermons delivered entirely via video feed. Similarly and overlapping with this use of media, churches in cinemas have emerged around the world as a new form of Sunday morning worship.

This paper investigates intersections of church and cinema through case studies of two representative congregations. CityChurch, in Würzburg, Germany, is a free evangelical faith community that meets in a downtown Cineplex for Sunday worship. LCBC (Lives Changed by Christ) is one of the largest multi-sited megachurches on the American East Coast. While LCBC’s main campus offers live preaching, sermons are digitally streamed to the rest. Both CityChurch and LCBC exemplify growing numbers of faith communities that rely on popular musical and social media to 1) redefine local and global religious relationships and 2) claim identity as both culturally alternative and spiritually authentic.

By engaging with international flows of worship music, films, and viral internet sensations, new media-centered faith communities like CityChurch and LCBC reconfigure established sacred soundscapes. CityChurch’s use of music and media strategically differentiates the congregation from neighboring traditional forms of German Christianity while strengthening connections to the imagined global evangelical community. LCBC creates what cultural geographer Justin Wilford dubs a “postsuburban sacrality” that carves out meaning from the banality of strip-mall-studded suburban existence. Analyzing the dynamics of music and media in these new worship spaces assumes growing importance as transnational music and media choices play an increasingly a central role in locally differentiating emergent worship communities from historically hegemonic religious neighbors.

Alina Birzache

My article investigates the representation and significance of the suffering female body in three films by Danish male directors operating in a religious framework: Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1987) and von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996). In these films the visual level complements the narrative level in order to accentuate the heroines’ physical suffering, often in a manner which is particularly poignant. More specifically, my analysis will point out the ways in which the body is brought into the foreground in each film and valorised against the backdrop of a confrontation between the body as pathos and the word as logos.

Dreyer’s images and close-ups use the potentialities of the body to suggest the spiritual chasm between Joan of Arc and her judges. Moreover, the opposition between Joan and the theologians is also rendered in terms of the opposition between the oral and the written word, from which she is excluded. Hers is the embodied word and the passion; the subjective experience of embodied suffering becomes a test for her truth. With Babette’s Feast we move into a Lutheran pietistic background but the action is still played out in terms of Protestant – Catholic worldviews. Here the suffering of the body is toned down in a symbolic representation. Babette’s feast is actually an act of self-giving, her own body being offered to the others, symbolized by the cailles en sarcophages she prepares for the consumption of the community. Bess in Breaking the Waves challenges directly the theological foundations of the Calvinist faith of the community, opposing their veneration of the word as the letter of the Bible with an existential dedication to the embodied Word and the immediate consequences this has for human relationships. Like Joan, Bess lays bare the mechanics of power which becomes violently inscribed on her body.

Lisa Kienzl

Portrayals of mediumship in modern Western television narratives need to be seen as part of a broader phenomenon of the presence of religious elements in Western media, a phenomenon I argue expresses a longing for grand narratives in contemporary Western society. The portrayal and mediatization of religious elements in television narratives as well as their discussion in digital fan culture are part of what I would call a transformation process of knowledge and in particular knowledge of religious phenomena. More specifically, digital fan culture allows for an engagement with discursive transformation processes of knowledge and thus influences what is perceived as knowledge in society. Therefore, religious studies needs to pay closer attention to television narratives and the way fans interact with these narratives to create knowledge about religious practices. This article focuses on how the elements of “possession” and “mediumship” are being transformed by the US American TV series Supernatural and its fan culture. I argue that we can see at least two transformation processes here: the transformation and transplantation of religious concepts and practices (in the case of this article the idea of the human body as spirit medium) into a television context, and the transformation of these concepts and practices through digital fan culture. In its discussion of fan culture, the article looks at and analyzes fan based websites and how they present, discuss and imagine the body-medium.

Innocent Chiluwa

Since the advent of the Internet, religion has maintained a very strong online presence. This study examines how African Christianity is negotiated and practised on the Internet. The main objectives are to investigate to what extent online worshippers in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon constitute (online) communities and how interactive the social networks of the churches are. This study shows that some important criteria for community are met by African digital worshippers. However, interaction flow is more of one to many, thus members do not regularly interact with one another as they would in offline worship. Worshippers view the forums as a sacred space solely for spiritual matters and not for sharing social or individual feelings and problems. However, the introduction of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and interactive forums is an interesting and promising new development in religious worship in Africa.

Alessandro Porrovecchio

A new interest in various forms of spirituality and religiosity is emerging in some subcultures of contemporary society. This tendency can be seen as an indicator of an Orientalization process that affects everyday life and lifestyles, and it can be read as a symptom of a crisis in the paradigm of Western Modernity, which is changing the relationship between culture and nature, the central role played by the rational positivist paradigm, and ideas of body, space and time.

Oriental disciplines and martial arts are a significant case study for the purpose of analyzing the ongoing Orientalization process. These highly ritualized practices have become part of many people’s daily life and have affected their way of dressing, as well as the way they arrange furniture at home and the way they make decisions that involve their diet and body care. These practices may also affect people’s identities by changing their values, ethics and morality.

To explore the Orientalization process, I first introduce some features of the diffusion of the “mythical Orients” in the Western imaginary since the sixties. In particular, I focus on some media products (for example, mangas and wuxia movies) that played an important role in arousing interest in Other cultures. In this stage I will refer to some media theories, in particular to Gerbner's cultivation theory and to the medial socialization effect.

In a second step I focus on the imaginary embodied in some Oriental disciplines and martial arts. I refer to some results of a research that I am conducting in some martial arts gyms, starting from my experience as an instructor. In that context I performed an ethnographic study, gathering several in-depth interviews with masters, beginners, fighters, experts and therapists, and analysing the interactions within some online communities (virtual ethnography). This last method allowed me to come back to the first step, and to focus on how some features of the media imaginary are mediated through the interactions within the virtual communities.

Wendi Bellar, Heidi A. Campbell, Kyong James Cho, Andrea Terry, Ruth Tsuria, Aya Yadlin-Segal and Jordan Ziemer

This article provides a preliminary report of a study of religious-oriented internet memes and seeks to identify the common communication styles, interpretive practices and messages about religion communicated in this digital medium. These findings argue that memes provide an important sphere for investigating and understanding religious meaning-making online, which expresses key attributes of participatory culture and trends towards lived religion.