One of the key factors of identity is religion, or, if one wishes, people’s worldview, system of values, customs, and ultimate concern. With increasing mobility, both physically and mentally, the globe has not really become less religious; rather, religiosity has lost its home address, its geographical defines, its boundedness by birth and belonging. Religion “is all over the place”, literally so: it is one of the most debated and represented topics on the internet; it is one of the main frames for ordering world politics, societies, and cultures; and it is one of the major sources of world orientation both as a package (the five so-called world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and in the form of bricolage.
In this course we take contemporary religious diversity, both offline and online, as our point of departure in order to come to deeper insights into cultural dynamics, including conflicts but also those phenomena which tend to remain below the radar of the press and public opinion. Our approach is explicitly not chronological or historiographical. Instead we take today’s multiplicity of real-time religious phenomena and their entanglement with regimes of representation in digital culture as the field from which we select gripping cases for further exploration.
This course follows a template applied to all case studies: after a multi-layered analysis we proceed to a deeper ‘reading’ of the case in the light of the particular religious group’s basic tenets. For a balanced understanding of religious issues as they manifest in the current global mosaic we need to confront online presentations with offline realities, and vice versa. Thus equipped we attempt to define how a particular group with a particular message uses the potential of a global audience: how are hegemonies played out, how are resulting tensions countered, and what representational-communicative strategies are employed? Through methodological shifts of perspective we find ourselves in the buzz, fluidity, messiness and creativity of a contemporary marketplace where local and global as well as offline and online dynamics have become irreversibly entangled.
Studying such cross-cultural encounters we come to a compelling grasp of the manifold ways in which cultures, religions and identities are constantly negotiated and shaped in ever-changing configurations.
This course puts particular emphasis on the acquisition of information skills, presentation skills and research skills. It also coaches students to acquire familiarity with potential jobs and future professional domains through a modest field research.
Format: combined lectures and seminars
Training and testing: For students all sessions have passive, active and interactive components. The passive part consists of session-specific reading assignments. The active part consists of the following: in preparation for each class the lecturer additionally gives an individual writing assignment involving news media, ethnographic observation, e-research or visual analysis. Each student is to critically search, read, watch or personally observe in ‘real life’ some class-related topic and report on this – critically-creatively – in a written assignment of 0,5 to 1,0 page. Post your assignment under the relevant header in the Blackboard Discussion Board minimally 24 hours before the related class starts. Subsequently, the lecturer will pick up a few of those submissions for interactive discussion in class. There will be ten such mini-assignments in total; they will count as half of your grade; the other half of your grade consists of the written exam at the conclusion of this course.
- The manual Encountering Religion, edited by Ian S. Markham and Tinu Ruparell (Blackwell 2001)
- additional material on the case studies
- Heidi Campbell (ed., 2013). Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds. Routledge.