Final Project: Religion in the 21st Century: Spirituality Meets Technology

Posted on December 5, 2012 by

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Introduction

Everyday the world is becoming more technologically advanced. Scientific and technological breakthroughs are a frequent occurrence in today’s society, and with all of this new technology, the world is becoming a more connected yet scattered 24-hour place. With all of the electronic hustle and bustle going on, some worry that people are becoming less spiritual and less religious. While this seems to be true to some extent, many religions have begun to embrace the technological advances to promote their teachings and connect religious people all around the world.

Most people have come across religious or spiritual things online by now. Many churches, mosques, and other places of worship now have websites about themselves. Podcasts of different types of worship ceremonies can sometimes be found on these websites, and YouTube is full of videos of worship and rituals of religions all over the world. In fact, there is even a website called GodTube specifically for inspirational and spiritual videos. Similarly, it is not at all uncommon to find people with Bible or Quran apps on their smartphones with daily verses to meditate on.

 Recently, three technology-religion mixes have been brought up in the news. The first is about Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is now on Twitter. Secondly, Hinduism has met Apple; one can now purchase the iPuja and its second version, the iPuja pro, to worship “on the go”. Lastly, a new social network has recently been launched specifically for Muslims, called Salamworld.

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 Is mixing religion with technology a good idea? Some think it is, some think it is not. While technology can help connect religious people from all ends of the globe and provide quick and easy access to daily meditations, some feel that immersing religion into our daily technology use is diminishing the spiritual side of religion. To further explore this question, here are some explanations and opinions on the three technology-religion examples stated above.

 The Dalai Lama on Twitter

This summer, the Dalai Lama started a Twitter account. Since August he has gained over 5,600,000 followers, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. While it is important to note that the Dalai Lama does not personally tweet himself but has a team managing the account for him, the bits of wisdom posted are carefully panned and discussed in order to maintain the Dalai Lama’s voice. The Twitter account seems to be a big success.

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The Dalai Lama and his team strive to promote religious harmony and human values, and to connect people around the world. The Dalai Lama believes that the wisdom he posts is for everyone, not just Buddhists, and the wisdom truly is applicable to everyone. This is one reason why this Twitter account is such a big hit. This point is clearly represented in a tweet he posted on November 26th that says, “I always try to share with others the idea that in order to become compassionate it is not necessary to become religious.” Aside from Twitter, the Dalai Lama can also be found on YouTube, Facebook, and Google+.

 Here is a link to the Twitter page of His Holiness: https://twitter.com/DalaiLama

 While there is little if any criticism on the Dalai Lama on Twitter, Melinda Liu has raised the question, “can you hashtag true enlightenment?” While Twitter is a great way to connect people and it allows the Dalai Lama to communicate with millions of others with the click of a button, can one truly expect spiritual enlightenment from a 140-or-less character count message that randomly pops up amidst hundreds or thousands of other tweets people find the need to keep up with?

 Although the Dalai Lama’s tweets are insightful and thought provoking, many agree that because they are embedded within so many other tweets it is hard to meditate and truly get the full value out of his sayings. It should also be noted that the Dalai Lama does not tweet as often as most people on twitter. His tweets tend to be days or even weeks apart, so following him is not a consistent source of meditative quips. Because of these things it is hard for people to feel spiritually enlightened simply by following His Holiness on Twitter. However, because of his astronomical amount of followers, clearly the Dalai Lama’s tweets are important to many. While the hustle and bustle of this 21st-century world can make it hard to keep up with our spirituality (not many people are going to stop whatever they are doing when His Holiness tweets something to meditate on it for ten minutes), the occasional inspirational quotation amidst it all can serve as a reminder of the importance of spirituality and religion. And sometimes the tweets can be just the thing somebody needs to here to make it through the day. Soren Gordhamer explains it like this: “Twitter is an empty box for sharing information. If you follow the Dalai’s tweets, you get small, easily digestible doses…but with a hundred other things fighting for your attention, how much contemplative thought can you absorb?”

 The iPuja and the iPuja Pro

Hindus often worship in one of three places: at a temple, in their homes, or at shrines often built off to the side of a road. But now Hinduism has met Apple to come out with the app iPuja and its second version, the iPuja Pro, to worship anywhere on the go.

 

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 The iPuja lets one meditate on their iPad or iPhone anytime, anywhere. The convenience of this app has attracted many Hindus. It is easy to use, but is it too easy? MAURABREM, an author on wordpress.com, believes that these apps make worshipping too easy and that they compromise the sacred nature of the Hindu culture. These apps have the potential to become other apps to mess around with on one’s phone when one gets bored like Words With Friends or Draw Something. With an app that almost does the worshiping itself, one does not need to think or even focus during his or her meditation. The convenience of this app detracts from what it was meant to do.

 Here is a link to a video that explains some of the features of the iPuja Pro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r3_Fx93eQo

 These apps are very thorough and informational for Hindus and non-Hindus alike. They have many different gods to worship, and they have pronunciations of mantras if one needs help with that. They allow one to choose how long he or she wants to meditate for and provides images and music as options to meditate with. The completeness of these apps makes handheld worship as thorough as one would ever need worship on the go to be.

 While this app may be a good alternative for worship if a Hindu finds his or herself too busy to get to a shrine he or she was planning on visiting that day, overall it seems like no replacement for the worship that can be done in places specifically designed for worship.

 Salamworld

One of the biggest and most recent examples of religion meeting technology is the new social network designed specifically for Muslims called Salamworld. Launched in November, this site aims to be “a mimbar for the modern Muslim society”, according to its brochure. (A mimbar is a platform or steps used by a preacher in a mosque.) With executives in 17 countries around the world, Salamworld aims to connect all Muslims without barriers, politics, or haram (something forbidden by Islamic law).

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 Why build a social network specifically for Muslims? The creators of Salamworld claim that Facebook is unappealing to Muslims because it promotes the sharing of personal information and has a very loose filter on what can and cannot be posted. Salamworld aims to emphasize community over the individual by allowing users to join different groups, and it has a five-tier filtration process that screens for inappropriate content.

 Salamworld has high hopes as far as number of users and popularity of the site. The financial plans guarantee an easy first few years of running the site, and the popularity of it so far seems to be a good sign that Salamworld is headed in the right direction. Many Muslims are excited about the new social network, however Salamworld has its critics as well.

 

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 A student in Istanbul explains, “I don’t believe in bringing an alternative site to Facebook. The way in which Facebook functions is what we Muslims need. There is no point in hiding ourselves from the non-Muslim, and [from Facebook’s] ‘harmful content’.” Charlie Gere, a professor from Lancaster University, agrees with this student’s opinion, explaining that humans are culturally complex and enjoy sharing and learning about others outside of their “groups” they would be put in on Salamworld. He also believes that Muslims will still use non-religious social networking sites, despite the occasional offensive content, to connect with non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

 Salamworld does still have a few more perks than Facebook does. For instance, there are translate buttons that allow you to communicate with people who do not speak the same language as you, having the potential to make Salamworld more global than Facebook. However, Facebook is working on making their site more easily translatable, so this may not be such a big difference anymore. Also, the filtering process Salamworld has does make the site safer than Facebook, which may influence more Muslims and younger Muslims to get one. Knowing that one does not need to worry about what one may find on the Internet makes Salamworld the safer of the two options. But Salamworld is not aiming to take down Facebook, rather just supply an alternative option for Muslims to connect with one another on a deeper level through social media. Salamworld is even on Facebook, and currently has over 2,200 likes.

 One last inclusion Salamworld has made to their website is a religious center. Not only is it a place for Muslims to post their daily activities, but they can grow in their faith here as well. Salamworld offers counseling from certified imams, e-books to read on Islam, and information on Islamic and halal places all around the world. A Muslim news network can also be accessed from Salamworld.

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 While Salamworld has much to offer for the Islamic community, it still faces criticism by Muslims. Dalia Mogahed explains, “Efforts that seek to provide a parallel Muslim platform often fizzle because the market is just not there. Muslims, like anyone else, tap into social media to connect to the world, to transcend boundaries. Making a social networking platform unique to one group undermines the power of the medium”. Mogahed not only believes that Salamworld is unneeded because so many Muslims are already and will continue to be on Facebook, but also believes that creating a social network solely for one group of people, no matter how large, defeats the true purpose of social networks themselves.

 But is Salamworld really unnecessary with Facebook already so popular among the Muslim community? Many Muslims believe it is, many believe it is not. Only time will tell.

 Conclusion

So is using technology to advance religion a good idea? While it makes religion more easily accessible and creates more quick and easy ways to meditate and worship, technology can overall take away the spiritual part of religion. The Dalai Lama believes that technology lowers brain capacity and our reliance on technology is not helpful for us when it comes to utilizing our minds. He believes it has the capability to take away our ability and potential. Soren Gordhamer has a similar view. While enjoying exploring how to connect mindfulness and technology, Gordhamer advocates turning off all gadgets every once in a while in favor of deeper thinking for personal enlightenment.  Muzaffar Iqbal has a stronger viewpoint. He believes technology causes “a total disintegration of the inner concentration of our personality”.

 Yet with all these more negative views on using technology with religion, millions of people use them together every day to fuel their own faiths and to stay connected with their religions. Because of its quick and easy accessibility, technology seems to promote more religious actions than it seems to hinder.

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 Personally, I have used technology to fuel my faith by reading daily Bible verses on my iPhone, watching my home church’s worship services over podcasts, and even by following the Dalai Lama on Twitter. These tools keep me connected with my faith and help me access things like the Bible more regularly than I would without my iPhone. However, watching my church’s podcast is clearly not the same as sitting in church itself. Watching it online detracts from the spiritual side of things for me. I find myself more easily distracted and I multitask while watching, which disconnects me in my faith. So while I believe these tools are important and helpful to accompany any religion, I think tools like these should not be relied upon for the only source of religious meditation.

 In conclusion, the world is becoming more technologically advanced, and religions are trying to keep up with it. Although it can be convenient to have spiritual sources at one’s fingertips, one cannot rely on these technologies to bring them the same kind of spiritual experiences as one can experience through more involved forms of worship and meditation. While connecting with one’s religion online or being able to meditate with one’s phone are easy and fun, they are not spiritual to the extent that going to a church, mosque, or temple, for example, seems to be. I believe religion in technology is a good supplement for one’s beliefs, but should not be the sole source of one’s religious meditation on a day-to-day basis.

Gabe Gazzola

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 Sources:

1. http://www.pbs.org/kcet/closertotruth/explore/show_14.html

2. https://worldreligionnews.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/ipuja-hindu-worship-made-easy-too-easy/

3. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/08/06/dalai-lama-twitter-rockstar-the-virtual-influence-of-his-holiness.html

4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1r3_Fx93eQo

5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANqbiwt4AkA

6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19440584

7. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-20/salamworld-the-social-network-for-core-muslim-values

8. http://www.salamworld.com/home.php?lang=en

9. http://www.salamworld.com/downloads/brochure.pdf

10. http://www.todayszaman.com/news-287938-islamic-facebook-salamworld-prepares-to-launch.html

11. https://twitter.com/DalaiLama

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