Introduction: The rise of the study of digital religion
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This volume revolves around a seemingly simple question: What is digital religion? In the last several decades we have seen signicant changes take place in the ways communication technology is inuencing how people practice religion. Take for example the birth and evolution of cyberchurches, from broadcast-style web forums to virtual interactive worship environments. Early cyberchurch entities were often websites set up by independent groups seeking to replicate or mirror some feature of church life online through their design or the resources they oered, such as a scriptorium page of religious texts or a place to leave prayer requests (for example the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua, www.dogchurch.org). Then cyberchurches emerged which tried to emulate aspects of oine church services online by using technologies such as IRC, podcasts or RealAudio players to oer sermons, singing, and limited engagement between congregants (for example, First Church in Cyberspace). With the rise of the virtual world many groups are embracing technologies such as Second Life to create an online worship experience that oers an interactive worship via avatars (for example the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life, or the Church of Fools). Now we see the Internet becoming a tool to extend a churchs oine ministry into online spaces. For instance, we see the rise of Internet campuses within many multisite churches, and webcasting of services via iPhone and Facebook apps (for example LifeChurch.tv) becoming common. Thus, rather then being an alternative social space for a few, digital technology becomes an important platform extending and altering religious practice for many. Yet, while there have been radical changes in communication technology, the terms or frames used to describe these changes and how religion is conceived of within digital culture have not always kept up. The term digital religion is used and dened here in order to ll this void, by giving us a new frame for articulating the evolution of religious practice online, as seen in the most recent manifestations of cyberchurches, which are linked to online and oine contexts simultaneously. Digital religion does not simply refer to religion as it is performed and articulated online, but points to how digital media and spaces are shaping and being shaped by religious practice. As a concept it allows us to talk about the current state of religion in relation to digital artifacts and the culture in which it is situated. The chapters in this volume address in dierent ways the context and performance of digital religion in the twenty-rst century, so that we can take stock of how religious practice has been described, approached, and changed in the last few decades.