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class reading and questions are attached below with the instruction
please provide proper citations and credit
- Do the ‘benefits’ of internet use seem to outweigh the ‘risks’ for particular religious communities?
- Why do some religious communities seem to have more concerns with internet usage than others?
- How does the lack of regulation on the internet potentially affect religious communities?
- Do NRMs seem to use internet differently than established religious traditions?
- How is the internet used as a tool of recruitment? Is it more/less/the same in terms of effectiveness in your opinion (using evidence from your readings)?
- Can virtual space replicate a physical sacred space?
class reading and questions are attached below with the instruction please provide proper citations and credit Question Do the ‘benefits’ of internet use seem to outweigh the ‘risks’ for particular
Module 2 Reading response Each reading reflection should be a minimum of 4 pages (double-spaced) and should include the following components: a brief recap of the main points of that particular module, personal critical reflections and analysis, and the use of at least two other scholarly sources (NOT from the class readings). The minimum length of 4 pages does NOT include a title page or bibliography (which should be separate pages). The recap may include a brief summary of the module as a whole OR it may focus on one specific topical unit (i.e. the specific lecture/reading on televangelism). Additionally, the summary should be relatively short and concise as the critical reflections are the most important component of this assignment. Students may wish to address the following questions: How do specific forms of media (articles, internet sites, TV shows, movies, or music) portray specific religion traditions? Are these portrayals accurate or do they reflect common stereotypes? How do religious traditions employ different forms of media? Is there a political component to these representations? Format: Please format your submission using the following parameters: 12-point new times roman, default margins, and double spaced. Please include a title page with the course number, your name, student number, and assignment title. Also be sure to use in-text citations (MLA, APA, or Chicago are all acceptable) and include a separate bibliography. In-text citations are required for both direct quotes and paraphrased sections where you have included content from a source. Instruction Step 1 – Select a topic! You can either focus your attention on a specific reading/issue we have examined in class (ie. Representations of Islam in Western news media) OR you can deal with religion in the media more generally (ie. Representations of religion in news media). Step 2 – Summarize some of the main conclusions about your topic that we have discussed in class (ie. Common stereotypes or inaccuracies that one can find in media depictions, general themes that one can locate in media presentations, other connections to political or economic issues, etc.). Step 3 – Locate two other scholarly sources on your issue using the UofM library webpage. You can do a general search or look specifically at journal articles (ie. using e-databases like JSTOR or EBSCO). Find a source that will contribute to your selected topic (ie. a scholarly article on representations of Islam in the media). Read through the source and explain the main conclusions. Consider the following questions: does your source agree or disagree with the general conclusions you made in step 2? Why or why not? Step 4 – Critical Analysis: you want to analyze the material and provide your own critique. Here you will want to use at least one or two specific media examples to support your discussion and analysis (ie. find some news stories that make reference to Islam and explain how they reflect your conclusions from steps 2 and 3). Here you could discuss specific stereotypes that you outlined in step 2 but expand on why they are problematic (ie. determine/influence viewer opinions) or how they can be inaccurate. *You are welcome to use the scholarly articles we have used in class but you must find at least TWOs additional scholarly articles or books for these assignments. *You give credit to any information needed. Question As we have discussed in lecture, the format for each reading response is essentially the same but your content and analysis will differ depending on the specific media focus. For example, for the second reading response, you want to focus on internet use within religious communities. We have addressed several key issues/questions in class but here are some things to consider in your response: Do the ‘benefits’ of internet use seem to outweigh the ‘risks’ for particular religious communities? Why do some religious communities seem to have more concerns with internet usage than others? How does the lack of regulation on the internet potentially affect religious communities? Do NRMs seem to use internet differently than established religious traditions? How is the internet used as a tool of recruitment? Is it more/less/the same in terms of effectiveness in your opinion (using evidence from your readings)? Can virtual space replicate a physical sacred space?
class reading and questions are attached below with the instruction please provide proper citations and credit Question Do the ‘benefits’ of internet use seem to outweigh the ‘risks’ for particular
http://jas.sagepub.com/ Journal of Asian and African Studies http://jas.sagepub.com/content/47/6/734 The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0021909611430935 2012 47: 734 originally published online 27 January 2012 Journal of Asian and African Studies Innocent Chiluwa Online Religion in Nigeria: The Internet Church and Cyber Miracles Published by: http://www.sagepublications.com can be found at: Journal of Asian and African Studies Additional services and information for http://jas.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts: http://jas.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions: http://jas.sagepub.com/content/47/6/734.refs.html Citations: What is This? – Jan 27, 2012 OnlineFirst Version of Record – Nov 22, 2012 Version of Record >> at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Journal of Asian and African Studies47(6) 734 –749 © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0021909611430935 jas.sagepub.com Online Religion in Nigeria: The Internet Church and Cyber Miracles Innocent ChiluwaCovenant University, Nigeria Abstract This study examines the use of the Internet and computer-mediated commun ication for Christian worship in Nigeria. The seven largest and fastest growing churches in Nigeria ar e selected for the study, highlighting the benefits and dangers associated with online worship. The utilization of the Internet to disseminate the Christian message and attract membership across the world, and the disse mination of religious tenets and fellowship online, have resulted in the emergence of the ‘Internet church’ for members who worship online in addition to belonging to a local church. Most interesting is the incr easing widespread claim of spiritual experience or ‘miracles’ through digital worship. However, there i s fear that online worship endangers the offline house fellowship system, which is viewed as the reproductive organ of the local offline church. Exclusive online worshippers are also said to be susceptible to deceptio n and divided loyalty. Keywords Church/churches, healing, Internet, membership, miracles, Nigeria, onlin e worship, Pentecostal/Charismatic Introduction Most of the world’s religions are currently practised on the Internet, thus making religio n and spiri- tuality in the context of computer-mediated communication (CMC) more flexible for worshipping God and reaching more people. By enabling virtual communities, the Inter net has the advantage of increasing access to new people, weakening geographical barriers, and pr oviding access to infor – mation, which otherwise would have been impossible (Garton and Wellman, 1995). This has enabled adherents of different religions around the world to sustain connections to distant home – land communities and traditions (Helland, 2007). In Nigeria, Pentecost al and Charismatic churches are taking advantage of the new media technologies to disseminate their message and attract and mobilize membership across the world. Nigerian Christians in Diaspora ar e also connected to their homeland churches through the Internet, while new forms of religious pra ctices and networks are increasingly prevalent. Not only does the Internet provide opportunity f or disseminating religious tenets and fellowship, there is the increasing prevalence of the ‘Int ernet church’ or ‘Internet Corresponding author: Innocent Chiluwa, Covenant University, KM. 10 Idiroko Road, Canaan Land, Ota, Nigeria. Email: [email protected] Article at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from J A A S Chiluwa 735 worshippers’ for members who worship online in addition to belonging to an offline local church. This new cyber culture has meant adopting the Internet and CMC with some notable degree of success never witnessed before in the history of Pentecostal religion in Nigeria. Most interesting is the increasing widespread claim of spiritual experience and ‘miracles ’ that have been recognized by the practitioners as proof that God has indeed gone online. Nigeria has been noted as a leading religious nation with about 91% of the population attending offline religious services and 95% praying regularly (British Broadcastin g Corporation [BBC], 2004; Chiluwa 2008; Emenyonu, 2007). Christianity, fairly predominant in the south, and Islam, in the north, are the main religions accounting for about 93% of the entire Nigerian population (Mandryk and Johnstone, 2001). Online churches as the extension of the physical offline ones now provide an alternative for worshippers who may decide to stay at home an d worship online. This study is a contribution to the growing research on the relationship between religion and new media communication and supports the view that society shapes techno logy and, in the con- text of CMC, that spirituality can also shape technology (Campbell, 200 5). This view opposes the secularization theory and argues that religious institutions and churches have indeed used informa- tion technology and the new media to initiate and enhance religious wors hips and practices. The study examines the online activities of the seven largest and fastest growing Pentecostal/Charismatic churches in Nigeria. These churches constitute about 65% of regular Christians (Mandryk and Johnstone, 2001). They are: 1. The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) 2. Deeper Life Bible Church (DLBC) 3. Living Faith Church Worldwide (LFC; aka Winners Chapel) 4. Christ Embassy (CEmb; aka Love World) 5. Mountain of Fire Ministries (MFM) 6. Sword of the Spirit Ministries Intl (SSM) 7. Church of God International (CGI) These interdenominational churches believe in being ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit and speaking in unknown tongues. They are often referred to as ‘Charismatic’ largely due to their belief in and claim of supernatural healings and miracles by praying in the name of Jesus Ch rist. One such ‘testimony’ obtained from the website of Deeper Life Bible Church, for example, is reproduced here: T. C. 30 years old man from BURUNDI had his right leg swollen because of an accident. But, while he was being rushed to the hospital he decided to attend the Great Transformation Crusade and when Pastor Kumuyi prayed the ‘balloon‘ leg became normal. (Deeper Christian Life Ministry, n.d.) These churches whose critics refer to as ‘modern’ or ‘I feel alright churches’ have been selected for this study for the following reasons: (1) they have membership and branches/parishes in all 36 states of Nigeria and in most African countries; (2) they have branches and worship centres across the world; (3) all seven churches have a large online membership in Africa, Europe, Asia and America, with evidences of members who worship primarily online as a res ult of non-access to a local assembly; (4) they have standard websites/WebTV where online publications and activities such as revivals, Bible studies, anointing services, healing school, fee t-washing etcetera are pro- moted; and (5) all seven churches have independent world-class satellite facilities and modern media centres where activities are transmitted via satellite to members across the world. This paper attempts to provide answers to the following questions: at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from 736 Journal of Asian and African Studies 47(6) 1. How have these churches used cyberspace and what have been the results? 2. What new forms of religious practices are performed by the churches’ virtual communities? 3. What promise or challenge does the spread of online churches and reported miracles pose to the church and the general public? 4. What is the future of the church in Nigeria with the application of new media technologies? Online Religion and Religion Online ‘Online religion’ and ‘religion online’ are used interchangeably in this study using Helland’s termi- nologies. On the one hand, the former, according to Christopher Helland (2007), developed as people and institutions began to take advantage of the interactive eleme nts of the Internet and cyberspace. Religion online, on the other hand, which he associates with the Roman Catholic Church, is non-interactive and, if at all, stops at the level of hierarchical interaction mode – a one-way website construction patterned after a one-to-many of the other broa dcast media. The Nigerian Pentecostals construct their websites within a structure that c ombines both elements of interactive forum and non-interactive presentation of church programmes and activities. The latter comprises normal church services, sermons and other leadership-based fun ctions like ‘anointing services’, ‘healing school’ or ‘communion services’. All of these make up what is known as ‘Internet spiritual worship’ in Nigeria. These activities are to ensure that virtual participation is not lacking in terms of meeting the spiritual needs of worshippers. Hence online worship easily supplements real life church atten- dance. Second, it re-enforces religious authority contrary to fears that virtual worship endangers religious authority and control (Campbell, 2007). By making online wor ship a one-to-many direction, pastors and overseers of these churches simply transmit church pro grammes which are received and performed incontestably by members and non-members alike. S ignificantly, interac- tive forums are not widespread, and where they exist, are provided only for members to return feedback in the form of prayer requests, counselling and testimonies. Si nce the churches’ websites are mainly text based, they do not yet provide online chats, or video su pported interactions. Hence discussion or debate forums where individuals may discuss personal feeli ngs and beliefs, ques- tions, complaints and religious-based ideologies are generally not avail able. This implies that the non-interactive mode attributed to the Catholic Church also applies to P rotestant churches. This is similar to Kenshin Fukamizu’s findings in his article ‘Internet Use among Religious Followers: Religious Postmodernism in Japanese Buddhism’ (2007). According to the study, only a few sites have the possibility of dialogic interaction which is why religious use of the Internet is very low in Japan compared to the United States (Fukamizu, 2007). Akira Kawabata and Takanori Tamura (2007) attribute this low use of the Internet for religion in Japan to demographic reasons rather than the interactive profiles of the websites. According to the study, Japanese believers are much more likely to be older than the American adherents of religion, thus may have a low attitude towards the Internet. These studies believe that online interactive religion is much more like ly to meet the needs of worshippers. Interestingly, Mitsuharu Watanabe’s (2007) study of ‘Conflict and Intolerance in a Web Community: Effects of a System Integrating Dialogues and Monologues’ argues that a mono- logue system might always exist and in fact be preferred. He compares th e users of the bulletin board system (interactive) and those of the weblog system (monologica l), and concludes that there is a sudden shift from the interactive and dialogical to the weblo g (or blog) because those that subscribe to the bulletin board system encounter serious difficulties while trying to engage at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Chiluwa 737 in religious dialogue online, because worshippers generally tend to be i ntolerant of other peo – ple’s views in matters of spirituality, religious tradition and institution. This also explains why the Nigerian churches under focus subscribe to the non-interactive syste m. There is the fear that a forum for debate on spirituality would engender a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and may result in conflict and confusion, especially as matters of divine worship are perc eived as beyond human reasoning. Theoretical Framework: Secularism versus Religion on the Internet The works of Karl Marx and Max Weber emphasized the relationship between religion and the economic or social structure of society. In contemporary times, debates on the roles of religion have continued and centred on issues such as secularization, and the rel evance of religion in the context of globalization and multiculturalism. The secularization thesis refers to the belief that as societies ‘progress’, particularly through modernization and ratio nalization, religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance (Berger, 1967, cited in O’Neil, 2004; Wikipedia, n.d.d, n.d.e, n.d.f, n.d.g, n.d.i, n.d.m, n.d.n). From the earlier works by Marx and Weber, religion is viewed as undermined by intellectual and scientific developments and one can infer from aspects of Marx’s and Weber’s thoughts on religion to posit that religion will eventually become socially irrelevant and culturally extinct as modernization and s ecular thinking become increasingly prevalent around the world (Armfield and Holbert, 2003; Mc Grath, 2004; Norris and Inglechart, 2004). Karl Marx had viewed religion as an expression of material realities and economic injustice. Thus religion has no independent relevance and is one social institution that depends solely on the material and economic conditions of a given society. Religious problems are, therefore, viewed as essentially social problems. And since religion itself depends on what social purpose it serves and not the content of its beliefs, religious doctrines become irrelevant an d used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to exploitation (Cline, 2001). Religion thus becomes an ‘opium of the people’. Marx’s opinion was that religion is an illusion that provides reasons and excuses to keep society functioning just as it is. Much as capitalism takes the produc- tive labour of the exploited worker and alienates him from its value, re ligion takes the worker’s highest ideals and aspirations and alienates him from them, projecting t hem onto an alien and unknowable being called God. In his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction (1844), Marx contends that religion is meant to create illusory fantasies for the poo r. Economic realities prevent them from finding true happiness in their present life, so religion assu res them of true happiness in the afterlife. People are in distress and religion does provide solace, just as people who are physi- cally injured receive relief from opiate-based drugs. Unfortunately, opiates do not provide healing for an injury, rather a temporary relief from the pain and suffering. Similarly, religion does not heal the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering; instead, it helps them forget why they are suffering and causes them to look forward to an imaginary future when the p ain will cease instead of working to change the present circumstances. To make matters worse, this opium is being administered by the oppressors who are responsible for the pain and suffering. Marx argued that opium and religion could actually be said to be contributing to human suffer – ing by removing the impetus to do whatever is necessary to overcome it w hich, for Marx, is to relinquish religion and turn to revolutionary politics (Udis-Kessler, 2001). The description of reli- gion as ‘the heart of a heartless world,’ thus becomes a critique not only of religion but also of the at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from 738 Journal of Asian and African Studies 47(6) world as it exists. What this shows is that Marx’s consideration of religion, politics, economics and society as a whole was not merely a philosophical exercise, but an activ e attempt to change the world, to help it find a new heart (Thompson, 2011). While Karl Marx provides an account in which religion is viewed as a mere social opiate and agent of social control, Max Weber offers a different argument, one in which religion is considered as an independent variable and can in some instances be a source of soci al change. In his work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1958), Weber argues that religion (specifically Calvinism) helps to define motivation and actually promoted the rise of modern capitalism. In The Protestant Ethic, Weber argued that capitalism arose in Europe in part because of how the belief in predestination was interpreted by the English ‘Puritans’. Puritan theology was based on the Calvinist notion that not everyone would be saved; there was only a spec ific number of the elect who would avoid damnation, and this was based on God’s predetermined will and not by any indi- vidual’s personal actions. Official doctrine maintained that one could not really know whether one was among the elect. Weber noted that this was psychologically problematic because people were anxious to know whether they would be eternally damned or not. Thus Puritan leaders began assuring members that, if they began doing well financially in their businesses, this would be one unofficial sign they had God’s approval and were among the saved (McKinnon, 2010). This along with the rationalism implied by monotheism led to the development of rational bookkeeping and the calculated pursuit of financial success beyond what one needed simply to live – and this is the ‘spirit of capitalism’ (McKinnon, 2010). Over time, the habits associated with the spirit of capitalism lost their religious significance, and rational pursuit of profit became its own aim. In sum, Weber’s sociology of reli- gion is notable for its claims that religion can be a source of social c hange, as opposed to Marx’s position that it is a reflection of material causes of change or a source of capitalist oppression (Wikpedia n.d.a, n.d.c, n.d.j, n.d.k, n.d.l, n.d.p). Emile Durkheim, another renowned sociologist, whose pioneering theory of religion was influ- enced by his view of society as ‘accumulated body of facts’ that operates on a set of laws, argued that religion was a mere expression of social cohesion. In his The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) he contended that the totems the aborigines (of indigenous Australia) worshipped were actually expressions of their own conceptions of society itself. He argued that this was true not only for the aborigines, but for all societies. Therefore religion is not ‘imaginary’, it is very real as an expression of society itself and, indeed, there is no society that does not have a religion. In Durkheim’s view, we perceive as individuals a force greater than ourselves, which is our social life, and give that perception a supernatural face. We then express ourselves religiously in groups, which for Durkheim makes the symbolic power greater. Thus religion becomes an expression of our collective consciousness, which is the fusion of all of our individu al consciousnesses, and then creates a reality of its own (Oakley, 2005). It follows, therefore, that less complex societies, such as the Australian aborigines, have less complex religious systems, involving totems associated with particular clans. The more complex the society, the more complex the religious system. As societies come in contact with other societ- ies, there is a tendency for religious systems to emphasize universalism to a greater and greater extent. Durkheim’s functional definition of religion identified a church comprising a uni fied sys- tem of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, beliefs and prac tices, which unite into one single ‘moral community’ called a church, comprising all those who adhere to them. This func- tional definition of religion explains what religion does in social life: essentially, it unites societies (Wikipedia n.d.b, n.d.h, n.d.o, n.d.q, n.d.r). at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Chiluwa 739 As already highlighted, the secularization ar gument actually developed from these earlier theories (discussed earlier) based on the belief that religion and modernism are incompatible because, as traditional people become more and more educated and convers ant with science and technology, more empirical explanations for existence would make religious belief unnecessary. Also, as other forms of social authority (e.g. education) begin to con front religion, they would eventually replace religious authority and religious leaders would lose their power to use reli- gious doctrines and practices to control the lives of people and the cou rse of events in society. Greg Armfield and Lance Holbert (2003), for instance, have argued that the more religious an individual is, the less he is likely to use the Internet and since the I nternet embodies the secular world view, religious persons are less likely to use it. In Nigeria, however, not only is religion flourishing, churches are using the modern technology of computers and I nternet to enhance religiosity and religious practices. There is extensive literature, some of which are discussed below, that have established that in fact the more religious a person is the more s/he uses the Internet. As a matter of fact, the new media technologies appear to have become a horse on which modern religions ride the nooks and crannies of the world. According to time.com (n.d.), topics about God and religion account fo r about 1,772,945 docu- ments, against sex with 683,645 – almost three times fewer than the f ormer. And according to Christopher Helland (2005, 2007), a Yahoo directory for ‘Religion and Spiritual Beliefs’ showed that the category containing Christian websites increased by 234 sites w ithin 24 hours in 2002, and more people used the Internet for religious purposes than they used it f or commercial or business purposes (Larsen, 2004). In what is termed ‘spiritualising of the Internet’ Heidi Campbell (2005) shows why and how common discourses and narratives employed by worshippers are suitable for religious purposes. The study argues that religion indeed shapes technology because social groups may employ a particular technology uniquely in order to maintain or rein force certain patterns of life. Contrary to the postulations of the secularization theory, Randolph Kluver and Pauline Cheong (2007) similarly argue that various religious communities in Singapore have embraced the In ternet as a functional strategy for growth, social mobilization and recruitment . Religious leaders in Singapore, according to the study, had enthusiastically supported information technology since they believed this would ‘exacerbate the stress points between religi ons’, since religious conflict was a key concern to the government. Helland (2007) shows that some Jewish, Hindu and Muslim worshippers ha ve successfully used the Internet to develop virtual pilgrimages, visit important temples and religious sites. Members also engage in dialogue with one another using chat rooms, hyperlinks, and mu ltimedia to advance Hindu Diaspora communities. Furthermore, Campbell (2005) stresses that individuals use the Internet for personal spiritual enhancement, the Internet being a sacred or spiritual space for a vari- ety of religious experiences on individuals’ own terms and in the privacy and comfort of their homes. Spiritual networks are formed which include forming social structures to support spiritual activities and creating or promoting a common belief and religious under standing. Thus using the Internet as a spiritual network interprets online activities or experien ces to be part of a person’s spiri- tual’s life whether these pursuits are individual, communal or informational (Campbell, 2005: 54). Heidi Campbell and Patricia Calderon (2007: 261) identify a steady gro wth of technologies and the practice of religion online, showing that in many aspects ‘Ch ristian groups and users have led the way in using the web for spiritual practices’. This ranges from church websites becoming ‘a common form of congregational advertising and communication to the rise of cyber churches and online prayer meetings’ (2007: 261). This takes the form of forums, newsgroups or weblogs to invite people to take active part in practising their religio n as well as perform online rituals (Miczek, 2008). at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from 740 Journal of Asian and African Studies 47(6) Methodology On the appropriate methodology for studying religion on the Internet, Ol iver Kruger (2005) recom- mends that a comprehensive study should provide answers to what is on the Internet, who put it there and for what purpose, how many people use it and how often the use of the online resources has influenced religious worship. In answering the questions of what, wh o, how, how often, etcet- era, the approach adopted in this study is discursive while applying some personal knowledge of these institutions. Consultations and interactions were held with some p ersonnel and members of the churches. A few interviews were also conducted when possible, while other informati on were obtained through email communication. In classifying computer-mediated communication (CMC), Susan Herring (2007) identifies two basic factors that shape CMD, name ly: (1) medium factors (an attempt to discover under what circumstances specific systems affect communication and in what ways); and (2) situation factors (information about participants, th eir relationships to one another, their purposes for communicating, what they are communicating about and the kind of language they use) are also examined. The present study examines some questions that reflect Herring’s ‘situation factors’, such as information about participants (e.g. worshippers) and their relationship to one another, topics of interaction (e.g. forms of online worship), and goals of i nteraction. Data comprises mainly online resources; that is, written texts showing featur es and uses of the websites under study as well as the activities of the churches. The special events and programmes of these churches, as shown in Table 1, are in the form of weekly radio/TV programmes (e.g. CEmb.) or as monthly activities (e.g. MFM and RCCG) or as Table 1. An o verview of the churches. A general overview that provides the age, location, numerical size affiliation and other information of the churches S/n Church Founded Location Approx. size @ church HQDoctrinal focus Special event Affiliation Overseer 1 RCCG 1952 Lagos 75,000 Salvation, healing, Faith, Holy GhostHoly Ghost ServiceApostolic Enoch Adeboye 2 DLBC 1973 Lagos 70,000 Salvation, holiness, EvangelismRetreat Wesleyan William Kumuyi 3 LFC 1982 Ota 100,000 Faith, Wisdom, prosperity, praise, healingShiloh Kenneth Hagin MinistriesDavid Oyedepo 4 CEmb 1993 Lagos 50,000 Healing, miracle, Holy GhostAtmos-phere for MiraclesApostolic Chris Oyakhilome 5 MFM 1989 Lagos 50,000 Prayer, Deliverance Signs and wonderPower must Change HandsApostolic Daniel Olukoya 6 SSM 1983 Ibadan 25,000 Salvation, Evangelism, healingOral RobertsWale Oke 7 CGI 1974 Benin 25,000 Salvation, EvangelismCongress Assemblies of GodMargaret Idahosa Ke y : RCCG: Redeemed Christian Church of God; DLBC: Deeper Life Bible Church; LFC: Living Faith Church; CEmb: Christ Embassy; MFM: Mountain of Fire and Miracles; SSM: Sword of the Spirit Ministries; CGI: Church of God International. at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Chiluwa 741 quarterly or yearly events (e.g. DLBC, LFC etc.). The quarterly programmes are held at the various church offline locations, which are usually different from the headquarters church. RCCG, DLBC and MFM, for instance, have their camp sites known as ‘Redeemed Camp’ , ‘Deeperlife Camp Ground’, and ‘Prayer City’ respectively at the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, on the outskirt of Lagos, whereas their headquarters are at Ebute-Metta, Gbagada and Onike-Yaba, all in Lagos. The ‘Faith Tabernacle’ (Headquarters) of the Winners Chapel at Ota was quoted by the Guinness Book of Records (2009) as the largest church building in the world. The size of each local church, as shown in Table 1, is conservatively put being numbers quoted inconsistently as at 2005 for some (e.g. DLBC) and 2011 for others (e.g. LFC). Some annual events of some of these churches have also attracted between 500,000 and three million participants. This not only indicates that Nigeria is a highly religious nation, but also s uggests that religion holds a special meaning for the Nigerian population. It also goes further to ind icate that religion may be expressing collective consciousness but, much more, it possesses great p otential to unite a people, going by Emile Durkheim’s postulation. In Nigeria, however, the situation appears a bit complex and ironical because, despite large crowds in churches and mosques, the country is still being torn apart by sectarian crises, some of which are religiously motivated. The recent and incessant Jos crisis that has claimed hundreds of lives is a good example. One wonders if indeed religion unites people as Durkheim postulated. Significantly, in the last seven years, five out of the seven fastest-growing and ric hest Nigerian churches have established universities in Nigeria. The universities are: (1) Covenant University, Ota and Landmark University, Omu-Aran (by LFC); (2) Benson Idahosa University, Benin city (by CGI); (3) Redeemers University, Mowe (by RCCG); (4) Mountain Top University, Mowe (by MFM); and (5) Anchor University (by DLBC), which is expected to open in 2011. Interestingly, the wealth and fervour of material investments by these modern churches tend to validate Weber’s concept of the ‘spirit of capitalism’ that champions especially the establishment of fee-paying uni- versities. While the spirit of capitalism may not have lost its religious significa nce to rational pur – suit of profit making in these churches, Weber’s claim that religion can foster social change (and development) is unmistakable. Not only do the Christian-based foundations and universities founded by these churches offer scholarships to some of their less-privileged members, their health centres also offer free medical services to some of their members. This development negates Marx’s argument that religion is a mere source of capitalist oppression. Rather, Weber’s observa- tion that religious Puritans equated material prosperity with salvation is almost true of some of these churches, especially the LFC, where the general assumption is that a Christian has no busi- ness being poor. One main proof of God’s approval of an individual is that he/she prospers materi- ally. Thus the pursuit of money and material wealth in these modern churches is almost more important than spirituality itself. Visits to the Church Sites Alexa.com (n.d.) documents the number of visits to the churches’ websites from all over the globe per day, per seven days and per three months. Because the figures are updated daily, it becomes difficult to give the exact number of visits and traffic rank trends. The statistics given in Table 2, compiled in January 2010, give a general convenient picture of the subscription to the websites. Some demographic information (given in Alexa.com), shows that the highest group of visitors (Nigerian and non-Nigerian) to these websites are men and women from b etween the ages of 35 and 44; the next highest group are youths aged 18–24. at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from 742 Journal of Asian and African Studies 47(6) Activities on the Websites The different programmes and activities of these churches are reflected in the design of the web- sites. While all the websites display menus like ‘home’, ‘about us’, ‘news/events’, ‘contact us’, etcetera, some include special page icons such as ‘join us’, ‘n eed help’, ‘come to Christ’, ‘blogs’, ‘pay your tithes’, etcetera (SSM). ‘Forum’, also known as ‘RCCG Internet Outreach’ of the Redeemed Church, for instance, is a site where members are said to be en couraged to ‘discuss relevant topics of major events’. Members are, however, warned to ensure that their contributions are ‘seasoned with salt’. That is, they are not to be highly critical of the church or its leaders hip or make derogatory comments about church members. This does not, however, explain whether opposing views or criticisms are tolerated at all. In contrast, the ‘ ask Pastor Chris’ forum of the Christ Embassy encourages members to ask questions or pass comments on a ny Bible topic that they need answers for. They may also share their experiences with the church. This approach appears more liberal than all the others. Interestingly the ‘criticis ms and persecutions’ link of the church (i.e. CEmb) lists comments and criticisms by the media and indi viduals about the miracles and healing practices of the church and the analyses of these criticisms . For instance in its ‘criti- cisms and persecution’ link, it was reported that ‘a Sowetan newspaper created and publishe d laughable fabrications claiming Pastor Chris paid people to pretend they were sick and receive healing at the healing school and ministry programmes’ (Christ Embassy International, n.d.). In the analysis that followed, the writer claimed that such comments were false and were in fact ‘persecu- tions’, which are part of the experiences of Christ and should be exp ected by all Christians. Significantly the RCCG and LFC operate online offerings. This is similar to Elena Larsen’s (2004) findings, showing that about 7% of American online worshippers contribute to relief chari- ties online. In the Nigerian context, however, electronic payment of tithes (one-tenth of gross income), is not common. Where they exist (e.g. LFC), it makes it easier for members to donate money to the headquarters church in Nigeria using credit cards. Material offerings to local churches are stressed as a very important and compulsory aspect of religious wors hip. In Weber’s views, Table 2. Visits to the w ebsites Main website Date first onlineLinking sitesDaily traffic rank Rank in Nig.Visitors from Nig. Visitors from UK and USA RCCG http://www.rccg.org. 9.8.9763 209,952479 75.2% 10.3% DLBC http://www.dclm.org. 18.7.01 18 664,8361,400 85.0% 6.7% LFC http://davidoyedepoministries. org. — 23 183,7771,000 45.5% 32.1% CEmb http://www.christembassy.org. 14.3.00 50 182,576806 53.3% 9.4% MFM http://www.mountainoffire.org. 27.5.03 12 277,5581,376 71.5% 17.5% SSM http://www.swordofthe spiritglobal.com. — — — — — — CGI http://www.cogm.org 24.6.02 417,555,197 — — — Source: Alexa.com Ke y: Date first online (date the website was first created); Linking sites (other sites linked to the main website); Daily traffic rank (shows the rank per number of visits to the website in a day, the higher the number in thousands the lower the number of visits. Table shows that CEmb with 182,576 in rank is the most visited website, while CGI is the least visited; Rank in Nigeria (rank in terms of spread and preference). at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Chiluwa 743 Table 3. Most fr equently advertised activities on the websites Church Activities RCCG Holy Ghost Service; Open Heavens, Upcoming events; Support Live coverage of the HQS. DLBC Monday Bible Study; Daily Manna (daily devotional); Sunday Service; Success Academy for youth (SAY). LFC Theme of the year (e.g. Breakthrough Unlimited 2011); Theme of the Month; Books of the Month; Sunday services; World of Faith Bible Institute (WOFBI); MFM Power must change hands; theme of the year; Fire in the word; Live events. CEmb Introducing a Media Blog on the Media Ministry of Pastor Chris; Rhapsody of Realities (daily devotional); the healing school; Statement of Faith. SSM Kingdom power conference; Monthly message (Miracles in the heart of the desert); Ministry tour. CGI Upcoming conference Information; Evangelism our supreme task. religion consists of morality, customs, values and traditions which enable a society to worship itself. Going by this argument, offering to a church would form part of the essence of society’s service to itself and is not ultimately a form of exploitation or oppres sion as Karl Marx would contend. In Nigeria, tithes and offerings are believed to be an essential commandment of God, and not a service to man or the local church. In the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition, many church activities are not fixed. Most of the activ- ities are said to emerge as the Holy Spirit leads, so different activities are advertised and subse- quently practised on the websites from time to time. However, certain fixed programmes are observed to occur frequently on the websites, especially those held on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. Some of the programmes are often modified and featured as new titles. Table 3 shows the most frequently advertised activities on the websites. Advertised information on the websites is simply meant to create public and global awareness of the teachings, orientation, and activities of the particular church. Church services and confer – ences often include activities such as ‘holy communion’, ‘heali ng and miracle services’, ‘feet- washing services’, ‘anointing services’, etcetera. An online worshipper only needs to provide the items needed for these services such as wine, oil, bread, and follow the instructions of the pastor as the activities progress. Anointing services also demand that an online worshipper have his oil wi th him as he watches the service on the screen. He follows the instructions of the officiating minister and anoints himself. In some cases handkerchiefs are anointed and kept a s ‘prophetic mantles’ which the worshipper can put on himself or send to the sick at home or hospital. There have been claims of healings as these mantles are dropped on sick people. The claims of miracles and super – natural healings totally discredit the scholarly theories of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim that view religion as a mere social phenomenon, either as a mere economic and clas s struggle or as a con- tributor to social change or a mere instrument of social cohesion. The claim of miracles presup- poses the existence of a sensitive and responsive supernatural being called God, contrary to the postulations of atheism. Significantly the Internet has greatly bridged the spatial gap which onc e restricted spiritual wor – ship in Nigeria to the urban areas. It is true that the rate of computer literacy among the youths and the working class is still quite low compared to western countries, but the cost of acquiring a used computer has made the Internet more accessible, and the average Nigerian is increasingly getting a fairly good education in computer and Internet operations. at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from 744 Journal of Asian and African Studies 47(6) Another important aspect of online worship, however, is that worshippers in a particular church are not restricted to just one system of worship provided by their churc hes alone. They now have a variety of worship opportunities on the Internet. While offline worship confines a worshipper to one type of ‘spiritual diet’, an online worshipper can participate in an ‘anointing service’, for example, at one church and also take part in a ‘healing service’ at another at the same time. As a matter of fact, online worship provides worshippers the option of changi ng churches or religions if they choose. Some Internet surfers actually go online to seek more a convenient or comfortable church or religion (Larsen, 2004), since the Internet provides the opp ortunity for those who wish to ‘be’ religious outside the control of an organized religion (Helland, 2004). It is also easy to download and store past messages or videos of church programmes; this sa ves worshippers the money they might have otherwise spent on tapes and CDs of these services . Also, the Internet now provides a forum for Nigerian preachers and pastors to collaborate and c ompare notes. Lastly, the Internet appears to have brought God nearer to home for online worshippe rs who do not have to travel long distances to get miracles and healings. Reports of Miracles from Websites The websites of the churches under study maintain ‘testimonies’ links where members report claims of supernatural experiences and testimonies of healing and miracl es. From the website of the CEmb in particular is a defence of miraculous occurrences due to the various criticisms the church had received about certain claims of miracles. The writer blamed the ‘unbelievers’ and those that supposed that the age of miracles was past: Testimonies and praise reports pour daily into our offices from different parts of the world, telling of the impact Pastor Chris’ ministry is having on people’s lives. We want to use this medium to thank those who call in and send their e-mails to share with us and the rest of world wh at God has done for them. (Christ Embassy Healing School.) Seven of the testimonies from the RCCG and CEmb that were said to result directly from online worship are reproduced here. Testimonies posted on SSM and DLBC’s websites were not directly from Internet worship and are therefore excluded. Interestingly, some of the testimonies repro- duced in this study are from both Nigerian and non-Nigerian worshippers living abroad (www. rccg.org; www.christembassy.org). Hi pastor, it is nice writing to you, I want to give glory to God for giving you the wisdom that you share with the world; one morning I was praying with you on the screen and the pile that had been worrying me for the past three years was healed. Pastor, I have spend a lot of money on this illness, the pile was protracted outside, the doctor told me that I cannot be cured except I go on operation, but thank God today I am healed. Glory to God. Jackline Mbah from Cameroon. All glory to God the Father for making me laugh, as a matter of fact my new aka is now laughter (lol). I attended this month Holy Ghost service online as I try to do by the grace of God and all my blessings came to me right where I was in Bucharest through the Internet. Daddy G. O. s aid some time during the week that if we call one, millions will answer and they are really answering me no w when I call. A world project of mine that was dead before has now come back to live as very soon, I will be shaking hands with leaders of the world in Jesus’ name – amen. Thank you Jesus. Amb. Adjarho David Obaroakpo – Bucharest, Romania. Well, it happened that I’ve someone very dear to me that normally atte nd the holy ghost services and she hasn’t seen her period for many months which is disturbing but one way or the other she couldn’t attend at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Chiluwa 745 June holy ghost but to the glory of God her case was mentioned and I sto od for her in front of my computer becos in London monitoring the holy ghost services every blessed month. So the following morning I made a phone call to her in Nigeria that daddy mentioned your case and I stood for u and believe you me that very week when I gave her a call again (Friday) she told me she has seen her period. Glory be to God in the highest who see all hidden problems and also answer our prayers a ccording to our faith. HIS THE ONLY INCOMPARABLE GOD (Majekodumi). Am Esther Adelani, am based in California, USA. I’m thanking God for his divine healing through ministration on net, Holy Ghost congress, I’m so blessed. Dear Pastor Chris, I thank you for the healing I have received during th e time we watched live the Cell Leader’s Conference. I was delivered from the oppressive powers which clouded m y life and I received my divine healing. This has led to my promotion and the manifestation of happiness. The power of God has been demonstrated by casting out and declaring that every knee shoul d bow to the word of God. Blessed be the Lord God Almighty, His Mercy Endures Forever! I thank the Lord for the divine healing I have received. Ms. Rosa N. P. Fihla. My name is Aidenoje Ehiguese, from Port Harcourt. I would like to testify to the gl ory of God. I was suffering from demonic oppression, I held to the word of God in Isaiah 10:27 ‘the yoke shall be destroyed by the anointing’ and I was also convinced in my spirit that I would receive a special mi racle from God during the May 8th Edition of Pastor Chris online. During the Programme as Pastor Chris was praying for us, I claimed my deliverance by faith and immediately the power of God c ame over me. I knew I had received my miracle. Right now I am totally free. Glory to God. . . ! Greeting you in the name of Jesus. I want to be thankful to God, because two weeks ago, I WAS expecting some money, and I did not get it. But did not give up soon. I was keep praying for that. And I watch Pastor Chris online, at the end of the session he prays for us. He release the financial blessings, and I receive it. And at the end of the week, I received what I was waiting for by the gra ce of God. Thank you Pastor Chris for the teaching. Kozy. As already pointed out, important positions of Marx, Weber and Durkheim denied the existence of a God who is capable of involvement in human affairs. But the above claims suggest that there could be a God who responds to human worship. Contrary to Durkheim’s argument that religion is at its best society worshipping itself, religion to the Nigerian worship pers transcends the social and can result in some kind of supernatural experience. Spiritual worship in the contexts of these Nigerian Charismatic Christians appears to involve a credible interactio n between man and a supernatural God. Interestingly, all the healings and miracles reported earlier were attributed to online worship and linked with either ‘praying . . . on the screen’, ‘attending. . . Holy Ghost service online’, ‘stood. . . in front of my computer’, or ‘through ministration on net’. These ‘testimonies’ simply reveal the new forms of christian practice and the manner in which Internet technol ogy and cyberspace are being spiritualized in Nigeria. According to Campbell (2005) the Internet becomes ‘a sacred space’ for a variety of religious experiences. Worries, Fears and Challenges of Online Worship As this new form of worship euphoria becomes increasingly widespread the re are, however, worries on the minds of some of the church leaders. First, while there i s no doubt that Internet worship has contributed to the growth of Nigerian Pentecostal Christiani ty in recent times, the at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from 746 Journal of Asian and African Studies 47(6) House Caring Fellowship (HCF), viewed as a reproductive organ of the local church, is endan- gered. The house or ‘cell’ fellowship is a home-based gathering where church members meet in smaller groups in members’ homes. The DLBC, for instance, began this system as far back as the early 1980s and the church’s subsequent astronomical membership growth was attributed to its vibrant HCF. Since the Nigerian churches are so large, it is often difficult to meet the needs of members on a personal level, hence, the cell fellowship enables the lead ership to respond appro- priately to membership needs. So, in most of the churches, membership of the cell fellowship is mandatory. In the LFC, for example, active participation in the HCF, also known as ‘Winners Satellite Fellowship’ (WSF), is a condition for welfare benefits. The regular welfare provisions (e.g. college scholarships, food, clothing, soft loans, etc.) made to members are administered at the WSF; members who do not participate in such fellowship are not eligible to benefit. Again, the fact that modern church leadership is sensitive to the material need s of its members, and has deliberately put certain mechanisms in place to meet these needs, proves that religion is not all about the capitalist interest of the church as an institution. Karl Marx had argued that religion always served the interest of those in control (the oppressors) and church leaders were accused of being hypocritical because the Christian church merged with the oppressive Roman state, tak- ing part in the enslavement of people for centuries. In the middle ages the Catholic Church preached heaven, but acquired as much property and power as possible (C line, 2001). Secondly, the online worship encourages the ‘secret discipleship’ phenomenon where active believers do not identify with a particular local church. This trend is viewed as endangering the services and contributions of such members. The ‘secret disciple’ also denies himself of the love of the leaders and members of the church. There is also the fear that some members might be deceived by ‘false prophets’ and ‘false teach- ings’ resulting from random online worship. Since the Internet church is mobi le, flexible, and constantly uncontrolled, new forms of religious practices are posted dai ly online and worshippers are said to be in danger of being deceived. It is also possible that som e ‘weak’ Christians might be converted to other religions via the Internet. Unfortunately, church leaders do not possess any read- ily available mechanisms to control this. Future of Nigerian Churches with the Internet/ CMC Technologies As noted, the advantages of online worship appear to outweigh its disadv antages, especially in that it attracts a global audience. Most of the testimonies reported here are from Nigerians and non- Nigerians alike, thereby alerting pastors to the possibilities of online worship. There is a general excitement about the reports of miracles resulting from direct online wo rship. And it is most likely that more than 70% of all churches in Nigeria have an online presence, many with the latest CMC technologies; a good example is the Christ Embassy. Interestingly, online worship is viewed as a fulfillment of a prophecy about the Internet being a tool for serving Go d and reaching more people in the last days. Therefore, rather than impede the tradition of modern Christian faith in Nigeria, the Internet and CMC technologies are likely to enhance its spread. As a matter of fact, this is already in progress. Though the rate of quality education and computer literacy is still quite low, many schools – especially in the urban areas – have introduced com puter education as part of their compulsory academic programmes, thus enabling Internet literacy for more children and youths. Although churches lack a direct mechanism to control online worship, the y have their methods of making the offline church more attractive to members, especially the house fellowship system. For example, many of the members are committed church workers in the loc al church, serving as at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from Chiluwa 747 deacons, ushers, choristers, Sunday school teachers etcetera. This makes it almost impossible for them to be physically absent in church on a Sunday morning. Most of thes e people also perform important functions at the cell fellowship. At the beginning, the Internet church was not intended to replace the usual offline worship. It was targeted particularly at those outside the immediate environment who lacked a local church to worship. Online worship was the refore meant to be used as a method of evangelism and not to replace the local church. With this understanding, the Internet and CMC technologies are likely to remain a functional tool to be used b y the Nigerian Pentecostal churches for growth and sustenance of church work. Conclusion We can conclude therefore that the church in Nigeria (represented by the seven churches under study) has successfully spiritualized the Internet and CMC technologies according to Helland’s (2007) and Campbell’s (2005) arguments. Rather than secularize religious activities, new forms of worship such as anointing services, feet worshipping, Holy Ghost service s, communion services and other practices are successfully practised online. With the claims of healings and miracles resulting directly from Internet worship, it is clear that certain churc h people have had their faith boosted and have become more committed to their churches. The claims of miracle and spiritual experiences in online worship negate the theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, who view religion merely from the point of view of its social functions or as a mere instrument of capitalist exploitation. 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Innocent Chiluwa is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Languages, Covenant Universit y, Ota, Nigeria where he teaches Discourse Analysis and Pragmatics. He was a post-doctoral research fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Freiburg, Germany. His research interest focuses on (Critical) Discourse Studies and Pragmatics, particularly the appli cation of CDA and Corpus Linguistics to the analysis of media texts/media representation of social and politi cal crises in Africa. He has also con- ducted research and published articles in Computer-Mediated Discourse (CMD), political and religious dis- courses. He has published scientific articles in Discourse & Society (Sage), Discourse Studies (Sage), Discourse & Communication (Sage), Journal of Multicultural Discourses (Routledge), Journal of Language and Politics (John Benjamins), Pragmatics and Society (John Benjamins) English Today (Cambridge), English World-Wide (John Benjamins), etc. He is the author of Labeling and Ideology in the Press: A Corpus- based Critical Discourse Study of the Niger Delta Crisis (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2011), and co-editor of Computer-Mediated Discourse in Africa (New York: Nova Publishers, 2012). at University of Manitoba Libraries on July 29, 2014 jas.sagepub.com Downloaded from
class reading and questions are attached below with the instruction please provide proper citations and credit Question Do the ‘benefits’ of internet use seem to outweigh the ‘risks’ for particular
This article was downloaded by: [University of Manitoba Libraries] On: 29 July 2014, At: 09:57 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Contemporary Religion Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjcr20 New religions and the internet: Recruiting in a new public space Lorne L. Dawson a & Jenna Hennebry a a Department of Sociology , University of Waterloo , Waterloo, N2L 3G1, Canada Published online: 25 Jun 2008. To cite this article: Lorne L. Dawson & Jenna Hennebry (1999) New religions and the internet: Recruiting in a new public space , Journal of Contemporary Religion, 14:1, 17-39, DOI: 10.1080/13537909908580850 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537909908580850 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/ terms-and-conditions Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1999 17 New Religions and the Internet: Recruiting in a New Public Space1 LORNE L. DAWSON & JENNA HENNEBRY ABSTRACT The mass suicide of 39 members of Heaven’s Gate in March of 1997 led to public fears about the presence of ‘spiritual predators’ on the world wide web. This paper describes and examines the nature of these fears, as reported in the media. It then sets these fears against what we know about the use of the Internet by new religions, about who joins new religious movements and why, and the social profile of Internet users. It is argued that the emergence of the Internet has yet to significantly change the nature of religious recruitment in contemporary society. The Internet as a medium of communi- cation, however, may be having other largely unanticipated effects on the form and functioning of religion, both old and new, in the future. Some of the potential perils of the Internet are discussed with reference to the impact of this new medium on questions of religious freedom, community, social pluralism, and social control. Concerns After Heaven’s Gate Twice in the last year (1998) the first author of this paper has been asked to speak to groups in our community about the presence of ‘cults’2 on the world wide web, and the threat they might pose. These talks were prompted, un- doubtedly, by the tragic death of the 39 members of Heaven’s Gate at Rancho Sante Fe, California, on March 26, 1997. To the surprise of many it seems, the media reports of this strange and ceremonious mass suicide revealed a group with its own elaborate web page (see Figure 1). What is more, this new religion designed sophisticated web pages for other organizations. In fact, it received much of its income from a company called Higher Source, operated by its members. Heaven’s Gate had been using the Internet to communicate with some of its followers and to spread its message for several years. This news generated a special measure of curiosity and fear from some elements of the public.3 This reaction stemmed, we suspect, from the coincidental confluence of the misunder- standing and consequent mistrust of both the new technology and of cults. Despite the ballyhoo recently accorded the launch of the ‘information super- highway’ (by the government, the computer industry, and the media), the Internet is still only used, with any regularity, by a relatively small percentage of the population.4 In the absence of personal experience, the web is popularly thought to be the creature of those believed to be its primary users: large corporations on the one hand (from Microsoft to Nike), and isolated ‘computer nerds’ on the other. Most certainly, religious organizations are not commonly associated in the public perception with such leading-edge technologies (despite the omni-presence of televangelists on the America airwaves). For most North Americans in fact, the topic of religion calls to mind churches, and the churches 1353-7903/99/010017-23 © 1999 Carfax Publishing LtdDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 18 L. L. Dazvson & }. Hennebry RED ALERT *** IMPORTANT To NOTICE*** j well >i!c ;:ml the entire Heavens G;id; video oiilccrion h:i heen encoded | and scored on :i CD-ROM These CDs are available from Kiv.hr 10 Knmv for a $2.00 donation. HALE-BOPP Brines Closure to: Figure 1. are associated with traditionalism, if not with an element of hostility to the cultural influence of developments in science and technology. New religious movements, in addition, are still rather crudely seen as havens for the socially marginal, and perhaps even personally deficient individuals—those least likely or capable of mastering the social and technical demands of a new world order. The image, then, of cultists exploiting the web seemed incongruous to many. Combined with the established suspicion of ‘cults’ (e.g. Pfeifer 1992; Bromley & Breschel, 1992) and the almost mystical power often attributed to the Internet itself, the example set by Heaven’s Gate seemed ominous. When compared with the familiar media used to distribute religious views, like books, videos, tapes, radio and television programs, Internet sites are easily accessible and in many respects more economical to produce and operate. With the appropriate knowledge and minimal computer hardware and software, anyone can sample a wide array of alternative religious views, and, if they so choose, just as easily hide their exposure or consumption of such views from the prying eyes of others (e.g. parents, partners, friends, or employers). In fact, theDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 19 net opens surprising new opportunities to even start one’s own religion (as will be discussed below). Have cults found in the Internet, then, a new and more effective means to recruit members? If so, has the world wide web changed the playing field, so to speak, allowing quite small and unusual groups unprecedented access to a new and impressionable audience of potential converts and supporters? Most scholars of new religious movements would be sceptical, we think, that the advent of the world wide web offered any reason for renewed concern about the presumed threat posed by ‘cults’ to mainstream society. Within days of the Heaven’s Gate deaths, however, several media stories appeared in prominent sources (e.g. The New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek, and CNN), each raising the prospect of “spiritual predators” on the net. In the words of George Johnson in The New York Times: In the public mind—moulded by news reports on the old media, which are still more powerful and pervasive than anything on-line—the Internet is starting to seem like a scary place, a labyrinth of electronic tunnels as disturbing and seedy as anything Thomas Pynchon has dreamed up for the bizarre worlds in such works as Gravity’s Rainbow, V and Vineland. The Heaven’s gate suicides can only amplify fears that, in some quarters, may be already bordering on hysteria. The Internet, it seems, might be used to lure children not only to shopping malls, where some ‘sicko’ waits, but into joining UFO cults (see the version reprinted in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, April 5, 1997: C27). CNN’s online news magazine carried these suspicions further (http:// cnn.com/TECH/9703/27/techno.pagans/index.html) citing comments from presumed experts on the web, like Erik Davis of Wired magazine, and ‘experts’ on cults, like Margaret T. Singer. A story, posted under the heading “The Internet as a God and Propaganda Tool for Cults”, sought to create the impression that ‘computer nerds’, and other compulsive denizens of the net, might be particularly susceptible to cult recruitment (and hence eventually to abuse). In Davis’s view, “identifying more and more of your life with what’s happening on the other side of the [computer] screen…” can have a “very dissociative effect”, increasing the risk of cult conversion. What is more, Singer assures us, the cults are targeting these very people: What the cults want to recruit are average, normal, bright people and especially, in recent years, people with technical skills, like computer skills. And often, they haven’t become street smart. And they’re too gullible. Wisely, the stories in The New York Times and Time magazine (April 7,1997) both seek to cast doubt on such scare mongering. They each seek to do so, however, by defending the integrity of the world wide web and not the cults. Their pointed concern is to disassociate the net as a neutral means of communication from its use by religions (i.e. don’t confuse the medium with the message). No effort is made to even begin to address the realities of cult recruitment in general, let alone their actual use of the net. So what do we know about cult recruitment and the world wide web? Do we have reason to believe that the Internet either has or someday could become aDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 20 L. L. Dawson & J. Hennebry significant source of new converts? Is there something to worry about? A recent survey of adult Canadians reported that 12% claim they use the Internet for “religious purposes”.5 This paper examines and compares what we know about the presence of new religious movements on the Internet and how people come to join these groups. The most reliable results of decades of research into religious conversions cast doubt on the special utility of the world wide web as a mechanism of recruit- ment. Face-to-face social interactions and networks of personal relationships play too large a role in the data about conversions collected by scholars. Further, previous studies suggest that such ‘disembodied appeals’ as religious advertise- ments, radio shows, and televangelism, have little significant effect on rates of religious recruitment (Lofland, 1966; Shupe, 1976; Snow, Zurcher & Ekland- Olson, 1980; Rochford, 1982; Hoover, 1988). But these are broadcast media, and largely under the control of a relatively small elite. Might things be different within the interactive and more democratic, even anarchic, conditions of cyberspace? At present we cannot say, because there is little reliable information and because it is too soon. Discussions of the nature and impact of the new public space opened up by the Internet, however, suggest that the emergence of the world wide web may be changing the conditions of new religious life in our societies in significant ways. There are both promise and peril in the new technologies of cyberspace for the future of religion. Internet Surveys Our analysis of these matters is augmented with insights drawn from two surveys: our own survey of the ‘web meisters’ of several new religious move- ments, and an online profile of Internet users. Some interesting problems with the first survey will be discussed before proceeding with the analysis. In the late spring of 1998, we surveyed the web page creators of thirty groups by e-mail (see Table 1). The brief survey asked 23 questions delving into such matters as the origins of their web pages, whether professional help was used in their design or updating, whether the pages were official or unofficial in status, the primary purposes of the web pages, their level of satisfaction with the web pages and what measures of success they used, the mechanisms used for inviting feedback (if at all), the nature of the feedback received and the responses given, any knowledge of whether people had become affiliated with their groups as a result of contact with the web page, and their views on whether and how the world wide web should be regulated. The groups and individuals approached were selected according to three criteria: (1) they represented relatively well-known new religious movements; (2) they represented a fairly reasonable cross-section of the kinds of groups active in North America; (3) they were already known to be operating fairly sophisti- cated web pages. In administering the survey by e-mail we had hoped to garner a higher rate of return from these ‘computer savvy’ individuals and groups, thinking many might be able to respond almost immediately by return e-mail (as requested). To our surprise, however, the rate of return was very low: seven surveys or 23.3 percent.6 Why the low rate of return? We are not sure, although we have some ideas. Using the Internet to do surveys would seem to be a subject in need of systematic investigation itself.7Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 21 All the same, some information from our seven respondents will be intro- duced here, for strictly illustrative purposes, since this is the only empirical data currently available. Moreover, the seven respondents happen to represent several of the more prominent new religions and an interesting, if highly limited, cross-section of the kinds of new religions available (neo-pagan, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and psychotherapeutic).8 The information derived from the other survey of Internet users, on which we are calling, is more straightforward and based on a large, if perhaps not completely reliable, sample (N = 9,529) collected by the Inter Commerce Cor- poration and made available to all on the net at http://www.survey.net (see Table 2).9 Better data on both counts would assist future investigations of the issues raised by this paper. But a timely, appropriate, and significant response can be made with the data and theoretical insights at hand. Research into the nature, social and religious functions, and consequences of the Internet is only begin- ning and the issues raised in this discussion help to explain why we need to do more. New Religions on the Net To date we do not know much about how surfing the web may have contributed to anyone joining a new religious movement. With the exception of the brief forays undertaken by Cottee, Yateman, and Dawson (1996: 459-468) and Bainbridge (1997:149-155), we know of no specific studies, popular or academic, of this subject. The journalist Jeff Zaleski has written an interesting book about religion and the Internet called The Soul of Cyberspace (Zaleski, 1997). It contains some fascinating interviews with religious figures from many of the world’s religions that have already heavily invested in the Internet as a tool of religious discourse (from the Chabad-Lubavitch Jews of New York, at http:// www.chabad.org, to Zen Buddhists, at http://wwwl.mhv.net/~dharmacom/ lhtmlmro.htm). It also contains some equally intriguing conversations with a few of the founding or influential figures of cyberspace and virtual reality about the possible interface of religion and cyberspace. Zaleski’s attention, however, is directed to discerning if anyone thinks that religious services can be per- formed authentically over the web and how. Can the spiritual essence of religion, the subtle energies of prana, as he calls it, be adequately conveyed by the media of cyberspace? Or will such hyper-real simulations always be inadequate to the task? The question of recruitment arises in his discussions, but it is never explored in any detail. On the contrary, in his comments on Heaven’s Gate and the threat posed by ‘cults’ on the Internet, Zaleski displays a level of prejudice and misunderstanding that is out of keeping with the rest of his book: Those most vulnerable to a cult’s message—the lonely, the shy, misfits, outcasts—are often attracted to the Net, relishing its power to allow communion with others while maintaining anonymity. While the Net offers an unprecedented menu of choice, it also allows budding fanatics to focus on just one choice—to tune into the same Web site, the same newsgroup, again and again, for hours on end, shut off from all otherDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 Table 1. Survey sample—new religious movements on the Internet Group Site name URL site location t-1 Q? 3 3 <3 A.R.E. Aumism BOTA Brahma Kumaris Church Universal & Triumphant Churches of Christ Covenant of the Goddess Eckankar Foundation for Inner Peace (AC1M) International Society for Krishna Consciousness Meher Baba Group MSIA Ordo Templi Orientis Osho Raelians Rosicrucian Order A.R.E. Inc. Aumism—Universal Religion BOTA Home page (Builders Of The Atydum) Brahma Kumaris W.S.O Brahma Kumaris W.S.O Our Church (Church Universal & Triumphant) Boston Church of Christ International Churches of Christ Covenant of the Goddess Eckankar A Course in Miracles—ACIM Miracles web site ISKON.NET A Hare Krishna Network Meher Baba Group MSIA—Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness Hodos Chamelionis Camp of the Ordo Templi Orientis Thelema Meditation: The Science of the Inner International Raelian Movement Rosicrucian Order, (English) AMORC Home Page AMORC International http://www.are-cayce.com/ http://www.aumisme.org/gb/ http://www.atanda.com/bota/default.html http://www.rajayoga.com/ http://www bkwsu.com http://www.tsl.org/intro/church.html http://www.bostoncoc.org/ http://www.intlcc.com/ http://www.canjure.com http://www.eckankar.org http://www.acim.org/ http://www.miraclesmedia.org/ http://iskcon.net http://daveyjsunyerie.edu/mb/html http://www.msia.com/ http://pw2.netcom.com/ ~ bry-guy/hcc-oto.html http://www.crl.com? ~ thelema.home.html http://www.osho.org/homepage html http://www.rael.org/ http: //www.rosicrucian.org/ http://www.amorc.orgDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 School of Wisdom Scientology Shambhala Shirdi Sai Baba Sikh Dharma (3H) Soka Gakkai Subud Quest For Utopia (Koufuku no kagaku) Temple of Set The Family TM Unification Church Urantia Wicca School of Wisdom Home Page Scientology: SCIENTOLOGY HOME PAGE Welcome to Shambhala Shirdi Sai Baba International Directory of Kundalini Yoga Centers (3HO) Soka Gakkai International Public Info Site Soka Gakkai International-USA (SGI-USA) SUBUD: The World Subud Association Website Quest for Utopia Institute Research Human Happiness (Koufuku no Kagaku) Temple of Set Balanone: Temple of Set Information The Family—An International Christian Fellowship Complete Guide to the Transcendental Meditation Unification Church Home Page Urantia Foundation Wiccan Church of Canada Home Page Welcome to Daughters of the Moon (Dianic Wicca) http://ddi.digital.net/ ~ wisdom/school/welcome.html http: //www.scientology.org/ http://www.shambhala.org/ http://www.saiml.com http://www.sikhnet.com http://www.sgi.org http://www.sgi-usa.org/ http://www.subud.org/english.menu.html http: //www.quest-utopia.com http://www.quest-utopia.com/info/irh.html http://www.xeper.org/pub/tos/noframe.htm http://www.geocities.com http://www.thefamiiy.org/ http://www.TM.org/ http: // www.unification.org/ http://www.urantia.org http://www.wcc.on.ca/ http://www.wco.com/ ~ moonwmyn/index.html 3 5a o’ en a. 3 TODownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 24 L. L. Dawson & J. Hennebry Table 2. Internet user statistics (1997-1998) [http://www.wisdom.con/sv/sv- inetl.htm] Age 26-30 yrs. old 22-25 31-35 41-50 19-20 36-40 51-60 13-16 17-18 61-70 under 12 over 71 Occupation Professional Student Blue Collar Retired Occupation associated w/ computers Primary Use of the Internet Research Entertainment Communication Sales/Marketing Education 25.40% 16.50% 13.00% 12.90% 9.10% 9.00% 4.60% 4.00% 4.00% 0.90% 0.30% 0.20% 59.20% 34.30% 4.50% 1.90% 39.40% 44.50% 24.50% 15.90% 9.70% 5.30% Sex Female Male Education College College Graduate Masters Degree Some High School High School Graduate Ph.D. + Ph.D. Student Industry Education/ Student Service Publishing Other/Unemployed Sales Government Manufacturing Arts/Creative 28.40% 71.50% 34.00% 30.10% 18.20% 6.70% 6.60% 4.10% 0.30% 37.10% 23.60% 12.20% 7.10% 6.30% 5.10% 5.10% 3.40% Source: Inter Commerce Corporation, “SURVEY.NET”. stimuli—to isolate themselves from conflicting beliefs. Above all, the headiness of cyberspace, its divorce from the body and the body’s incarnate wisdom, gives easy rise to fantasy, paranoia, delusions of grandeur. (Zaleski, 1997: 249) In echoing the comments of Davis and Singer, Zaleski is rather unreflexive about his own and others’ fascination with religion on the Internet. Reports on the web say that Heaven’s Gate did contact people by e-mail and through conversations tried to involve them in their activities, even encouraged them to leave home and join the main group in California. One particular conversation between a member of the group and an adolescent in Minnesota has been recorded (we are told), and it does not seem unreasonable to presume that there were more. How many? How successful were these contacts? Who knows? Reports in the news of the past lives of some of the 39 people who died indicated that a few of the members first contacted the group through the Internet.10 But we lack details of how and of what happened. Did these people know of the group before or not? Had they been involved in similar groups before? Did the Internet contact play a significant or a merely peripheral role in the decisions they made about joining Heaven’s Gate? There are a lot of important questions that have yet to be answered.Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 25 Was the recruiting done over the Internet part of a fully sanctioned and prepared strategy of Heaven’s Gate or something simply done by enthusiastic members—like an evangelist in any tradition, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise? At present we do not know. We briefly describe the presence of new religions on the Internet. Then we place our discussion in context by looking at the scholarly record about who joins new religious movements and how, to see how this data fits with the results of our survey of the creators of web pages for the new religious movements and the survey of the users of the net. Heaven’s Gate did have a relatively flashy website (for its time), making a lot of information available, although it was of variable quality. The site employed many colourful graphics, but in the main it consisted of programmatic state- ments of the group’s beliefs, focused on the role played by aliens from space in the past, present, and future life of humankind. Undergirding all was the warning that a great change was at hand: “The earth’s present ‘civilization’ is about to be recycled—spaded under. Its inhabitants are refusing to evolve. The ‘weeds’ have taken over the garden and disturbed its usefulness beyond repair.” In the days immediately preceding the mass suicide of the group, their web page declared: “Red Alert. HALE-BOPP Brings Closure.” It was time for the loyal followers of their leader Do to abandon their earthy “containers” in preparation for being carried off by a UFO, thought to be accompanying the comet Hale- Bopp, to a new home at “The Evolutionary Level Beyond Human” somewhere else in the galaxy. Few if any people, it now seems clear, were listening or chose to take their warnings seriously—an interesting indicator of the real limits on the vaunted power of the web as a means of religious ‘broadcasting’. Apart from the imminent character of its apocalyptic vision, the Heaven’s Gate web site is fairly representative of the presence of new religious move- ments on the Internet. Most of the better known new religions (e.g. Scientology, Krishna Consciousness, the Unification Church, Soka Gakkai, the Church Universal and Triumphant, Eckankar, Osho, Sri Sai Baba) have had websites of some sopliistication (in graphics, text, and options) for several years (see Table 1). The respondents to our survey said their sites were launched in 1995 or very early in 1996, when the world wide web was still more or less in its infancy. In addition, there are literally hundreds of other sites for more obscure religious or quasi-religious groups. Most of these sites are official, in some sense, although some are privately run by devotees and others. Most of these sites simply replicate, in appearance and content, the kind of material available in other publications by these groups, and the web materials are often meant to be down-loaded as a ready substitute for more conventional publications. Most of these sites offer ways of establishing further contact to obtain more materials (e.g. pamphlets, books, tapes, and videos) and to access courses, lectures, and other programs, either by e-mail, telephone numbers, or mailing addresses. All of our respondents indicated that this was an important feature of their sites, most claiming that they respond to several messages every day, and one award-winning site claiming to receive “about 100 messages per day”. Similar comments can be found in the conversations Zaleski had with other religious web masters. A few of the more elaborate sites (e.g. Scientology, Eckankar) offer virtual tours of the interiors of some of their central facilities and temples. Many offer music and sound bites in real audio (e.g. messages from their founders and other inspirational leaders). None of our respondents claimed that their webDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 26 L. L. Dawson & J. Hennebry sites had been professionally designed or altered. The individuals or groups had done the work themselves. Three of the respondents indicated, however, that they have since become engaged, to some extent, in the professional creation of web pages for other groups within their own organization or tradition, as well as other clients altogether. The primary use of the web is clearly a way to advertise the groups and to deliver information about them cheaply. Most respondents stressed how ideal the medium was for the dissemination of their views (see also Zaleski, 1957: 73, 75, 125). To this end, many of the new religions operate multiple pages with slightly different foci, all ‘hot-linked’ to one another, to maximize the chances of a browser stumbling across one of the pages. Similarly, these pages are often launched with unusually long and diverse lists of ‘key word’ search terms, assuring that their address will appear when requests are made through search engines for all kinds of information that may be only tangentially related to the religious beliefs or mission of the group in question (see also Zaleski, 1997: 105; see Table 3).n In these ways, the web sites act as a new and relatively effective means of outreach to the larger community. They undoubtedly enhance the public profile of each of these religions and add to the revenues obtained by the sale of books, tapes, and other paraphernalia. In fairness most of the literature available through the web is offered free of charge—to spread the word.12 The Internet and Recruitment The popular stereotypes of recruits to NRMs are that they are young, naive and duped or that they are social losers and marginal types seeking a safe haven from the real world. In an inconsistent and opportunistic manner, some mem- bers of the anti-cult movement (e.g. Singer, 1995) have recently claimed that everyone is susceptible to being recruited. The comments of Erik Davis and Margaret Singer in the CNN story on cults and the Internet, and those of Zaleski in The Soul of Cyberspace manage to combine all three points of view. Heavy users of computers and hence often the world wide web are presumed to be ‘social nerds’ and thus more vulnerable to the ‘loving’ outreach of online cult recruiters. Is this the case? The evidence at hand shows that the situation is probably much more complex. In the first place, the data acquired by sociologists over the last 20 or more years about who joins NRMs and how they join tends not to support the popular supposition (see the summaries and references provided in Dawson, 1996,1998). It is true, as studies reveal, that “cult involvement seems to be strongly correlated with having fewer and weaker extra-cult social ties…[as well as] fewer and weaker ideological alignments”. In the terms of reference of Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge (1985), the ‘unchurched’ are more likely to join (Dawson, 1996: 149, or Dawson, 1998: 70-71). If heavy users of the net are indeed social isolates, then in at least one respect they may appear to be at greater risk of being persuaded to join a NRM. But there are three other propositions about who joins NRMs and how, with significantly greater empirical substantiation, that off-set this impression:Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 Table 3. Inventory of new religious movements on the Internet, detailed Group A.R.E. Aumism BOTA Brahma Kumaris Church Universal and Triumphant Churches of Christ (Boston) Covenant of the Goddess Eckankar Foundation for Inner Peace (ACIM) International Society for Krishna Consciousness Meher Baba Group Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness Ordo Templi Orientis Osho Quest for Utopia (Koufuku no Kagaku) Raelians Rosicrucian Order School of Wisdom Scientology Shambhala Sikh Dharma (3HO) Shirdi Sai Baba Soka Gakkai Subud Temple of Set The Family TM Unification Church Urantia Wiccan Church of Canada Keywords 13 •93 •34 7 •49 — 5 •20 — 49 — •19 — — — — 11 •31 •32 •39 — — 15 — •26 •78 4 — Design advanced average advanced advanced average advanced average advanced basic advanced average advanced basic advanced average advanced basic average advanced advanced advanced advanced advanced basic advanced advanced advanced advanced advanced average Site characteristics Interactiveness high med-high high (Java) med low med med-low med low high (Java) low med low high high (Java) low med-low high (Java) high (Java) med high high (Java) med med med med-high med-high med-high med-high low i Special features audio, links, books petition multi-language, regional, free brochure books, regional links regional links, multi-language regional links, directory webring, regional links free books catalogue, mailing list audio, site host, search engine, international products, organization links multi-language links to other Thelemic sites audio talks, on-line shopping audio, languages (Japanese) multi-language, multi-geographical, counter free booklet, counter guestbook free info, film, search engine, multi-language international server chat room, search engine, international multi-links international international mailing list, language audio, free info, music video, links, online books online bookstore, online newsletter, reading list international, on-line catalogue regional links Communications email X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X Phone X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X Mail X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X 3 •Keywords were not specific to organization. Summary statistics. 47% used detailed keyword searches, with 10 keywords or more; 30% high interactivity; 40% medium interactivity; 63% advanced websites; 97% provided email addresses; 40% provided email, telephone and mailing addresses. hoDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 28 L. L. Dawson & ]. Hennebry (1) “studies of conversion and case studies of specific groups have found that recruitment to NRMs happens primarily through pre- existing social networks and interpersonal bonds. Friends recruit friends, family members each other, and neighbours recruit neigh- bours” (Dawson, 1996: 147; Dawson, 1998: 68); (2) “in general, case studies of individuals who joined NRMs or of the groups themselves commonly reveal the crucial role of affective bonds with specific members in leading recruits into deeper involvements” (Dawson, 1996: 148; Dawson, 1998: 69-70); (3) “equally strongly, from the same studies it is clear that the intensive interaction of recruits with the rest of the existing membership of the group is pivotal to the successful conversion and maintenance of new members” (Dawson, 1996: 149; Dawson, 1998: 70). First and foremost, the process of converting to an NRM is a social process. If the denizens of cyberspace tend in fact to be socially isolated, then it is unlikely that they will be recruited through the web or otherwise. What is more, there is little reason to think that the Internet, in itself, ever will be a very effective, means of recruitment. As the televangelists learned some time ago (Hoover, 1988), the initial provision of information is unlikely to produce any specific commitments, unless it is followed up by much more personal and complete forms of interaction, by phone and in person. Therefore, most of the successful televangelist run quite extensive ‘para-church’ organizations to which they try to direct all their potential recruits. The religious web masters, as Zaleski’s inter- views reveal (Zaleski, 1997: 63, 73, 75, 125) do the same, pressing interested individuals to visit the nearest center or temple. As the creator of one site, Christian Web, states: Internet ministries are never meant to be a replacement for the real church. It is impossible for anyone to develop a personal relationship with God without being around His people, His church. These Internet works are nothing more than something to draw in people who may otherwise not want to know anything about Jesus or not want to visit a church for fear of the unknown. For some reason, people find it less intimidating if they can sit at home in the privacy of their own room asking questions about the church and the Bible and God that they have always wanted to ask but never quite feel comfortable enough in the real church to do so. (Zaleski, 1997: 125) Approaching the same question from another angle, can we learn anything from a comparison of the social profiles that we have of Internet users and the members of NRMs (see Table 1 and Dawson, 1996:152-157 or 1998: 74-79)? Both groups tend to be drawn disproportionately from the young adult population, to be educated better than the general public, and they seem to be dispro- portionately from the middle to upper classes. In the case of the Internet users, the latter conclusion can only be inferred from their levels of education and occupations. But it is fair to say that the fit between this profile and the stereotypes of cult converts is ambiguous at best. By conventional social inferences, it would seem to be inappropriate to view these people as social losers or marginal. Nor clearly do they constitute ‘everybody’. Are they more naive and prone to being duped or manipulated? That would be difficult toDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 29 determine. But we do not have any reliable evidence to believe such is the case, certainly not for Internet users. On average, they are not as young as most converts to NRMs, even better educated, and overwhelmingly from professional occupations (or so they report). Given the extent of their probable involvement in computer technology, surfing the web, and the real world of their professions, it is more plausible to speculate that they will be more sceptical, questioning, and worldly-wise (in at least a cognitive sense) than other segments of the population. But even if we were to somehow learn that this is not the case, there are other issues to be explored that raise doubts about the soundness of the popular fear of cult recruitment through the net. The common complaint of educators, parents, and spouses is that those drawn to the web for hours on end are simply riding on the surface of things (surfing). They have substituted the vicarious life of the web for real life commitments. In this they call to mind certain individuals whom Eileen Barker (1984: 194-198, 203; see also Dawson, 1998: 108) noted in her comprehensive study of the Moonies. These are people who seem to fit the profile of potential recruits delineated by the anti-cult movement, yet in fact attend a few lectures with some enthusiasm, only to drop-out in pursuit of some other novel interest on the horizon. On the other hand, following the logic of the argument advanced by Stark and Bainbridge (1996: 235-237) for the involvement of social elites in cults, we can speculate that there are special reasons why a certain percentage of heavy Internet users may be interested in cult activities and why NRMs may have a vested interest in recruiting these people. “In a cosmopolitan society which inflicts few if any punishments for experimentation with novel religious alter- natives”, Stark and Bainbridge propose, “cults may recruit with special success among the relatively advantaged members of society” (Stark & Bainbridge, 1996: 235). Even within elites, they point out, there is an inequality in the division of rewards and room for individuals to be preoccupied with certain relative deprivations (Glock, 1964) not adequately compensated for by the power of the elite (e.g. concerns about beauty, health, love, and coping with mortality). In fact, the very material security of this group may well encourage their preoccupation with these other less fundamental concerns. People moved by these relative deprivations are unlikely to be drawn to religious sects to alleviate their needs, because the sects are much more likely to be opposed in principle to “the exact rewards the elite possesses as a class” (Stark & Bainbridge, 1996: 236). Alter- natively, Stark and Bainbridge stipulate: …an innovative cult…can offer a set of compensators outside the political antagonisms which divide the elite from other citizens, and focus instead on providing compensators for particular sets of citizens with a shared set of desires that wish to add something to the power of the elite while preserving it. (Stark & Bainbridge, 1996: 236) In addition, “in a cosmopolitan society…in which the elite accepts and supports cultural pluralism and thus encourages cultural novelty”, certain religious innovations may hold a special appeal because they are emblematic of “progress”. Cults are often associated with the transmission of “new culture” and as such may have a certain appeal in terms of the cultural capital of the elite. More mundanely, of course, there is also the fact that the elite are the ones “withDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 30 L. L. Dawson & ]. Hennebry both the surplus resources to experiment with new explanations and, through such institutions as higher education, the power to obtain potentially valuable new explanations before others do” (Stark & Bainbridge, 1996: 236-237). From the perspective of the NRMs, members of an elite are particularly attractive candidates for recruitment, not just because of the resources they can donate to the cause, but because they are more likely to be involved in the kind of wide-ranging social networks essential for the dissemination of a new cultural phenomenon. “Since networks are composed of interlocking exchange relation- ships”, Stark and Bainbridge reason, “a network will be more extensive, including more kinds of exchanges for more valued rewards, if its members possess the power to obtain the rewards.” (Stark & Bainbridge, 1996: 236) Recruitment from the elites of society can be instrumental in the success of a new religion. Whether any of this is relevant in this context is a matter for empirical investigation. The survey of Internet users does suggest, however, that the web provides a convenient point of access to a seemingly elite segment of our society. Access to computing technology and to the Internet, as well as sufficient time and knowledge to use these resources properly is still largely a luxury afforded the better-off segments of our society. The conclusions we can draw about the threat posed by ‘cults’ on Internet are limited, yet important. First, while the Internet does make it cheaper for NRMs to disseminate their beliefs over a larger area and to a potentially much larger audience, it is unlikely that it has intrinsically changed the capacity of NRMs to recruit new members. In the first place, Web pages, at present at least, differ little in content or function from more traditional forms of religious publication and broadcasting. Secondly, we have no real evidence that Internet users are any more prone to convert to a new religion than other young and well-educated people in our society. All the same, there are other reasons for wondering if the world wide web is changing the environment in which NRMs operate in fundamental and perhaps even dangerous ways. The Perils and Promise of the New Public Space We are starting to be inundated with discussions of the wonders and significance of cyberspace. Much of the dialogue is marked by hyperbole and Utopian rhetoric that leaves scholars cold. A few key insights, however, warrant further investigation. Most fundamentally, it is important to realize that it may be best to think of the Internet as a new environment or context in which things happen rather than just another new tool or service. As David Holmes (1997) observes (citing Mark Poster, 1997): The virtual technologies and agencies…cannot be viewed as instru- ments in the service of pre-given bodies and communities, rather they are themselves contexts which bring about new corporealities and new politics corresponding to space-worlds and time-worlds that have never before existed in human history. (Holmes, 1997: 3) When religion, like anything else, enters these new worlds, there are both anticipated and unanticipated consequences. The new religious ‘web meisters’ we questioned seemed to approach the Internet simply as a tool and showedDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 31 little or no appreciation of the potential downside of their efforts. But in thinking about these matters, two disparate sociological observations by Anthony Giddens and James Beckford came to mind and we began to wonder about a connection. With the advent of the technologies of modernity, Giddens argues (1990), time has become separated from space and space from place, giving rise to ever more “disembedded social systems”. Social relations have been lifted out of local contexts of interaction and restructured across “indefinite spans of time-space” (Giddens, 1990: 21). Writing, money, time-clocks, cars, freeways, television, computers, ATMs, walkmans, electronic treadmills for running, shopping malls, theme parks and so on, have all contributed to the transformation of the human habitat, incrementally creating “successive levels of ‘new nature’ ” for humanity (Holmes, 1997: 6). As sociologists since Marx (1846) have realized, new tech- nologies bring about new forms of social interaction and integration that can change the taken-for-granted conditions of social life. This is especially true of communications technologies. Relative to our ancestors, we have become like gods in our powers of production, reconstruction, and expression. Yet the price may have been high. Even these pre-virtual technologies have changed our environments in ways that detrimentally standardize, routinize, and instru- mentalize our relations with our own bodies and with other people. As we have refashioned our world, we have in turn been remade in the image of techno- science (see e.g. McLuhan, 1964; Ellul, 1964; Marcuse, 1966; Baudrillard, 1970; Foucault, 1979; Postman, 1985). Does the advent of the Internet typify, or even magnify, these and other undesirable social trends? Some keen observers of the sociological implications of the Internet, like Holmes (1997), seem to think it does. If so, what unanticipated consequences might stem from the attempt of religions to take advantage of the disembedded freedom of cyberspace? A clue is provided by an observation by Beckford. Beckford has intriguingly proposed that it might be better to conceptualize religion in the contemporary Western world as “a cultural resource…than as a social institution” (Beckford, 1992: 23; see also Beckford, 1989: 171). The social structural transformations wrought by the emergence of advanced indus- trial societies have undermined the communal, familial and organizational bases of religion. As a consequence, while “religious and spiritual forms of sentiment, belief and action have survived as relatively autonomous resources…retaining] the capacity to symbolize…ultimate meaning, infinite power, supreme indignation and sublime compassion”, they have “come adrift from [their] former points of social anchorage”. Now “they can be deployed in the service of virtually any interest-group or ideal: not just organizations with specifically religious objectives” (Beckford, 1992: 22-23). Is this an apt description for what the Internet may be doing to religion? Like any ‘environ- ment’, the web acts back upon its content, modifying the form of its users or inhabitants. Is the ‘disembedded’ social reality of life in cyberspace contributing to the transformation of religion into a ‘cultural resource’ in a post-modern society? If it is, what would be the consequences for the future form and function of religion? Perhaps developments in religion on the web will provide some initial indications. After examining the pitfalls of life on the web, we will briefly comment on one such development: the creation of truly ‘churchless religions’.Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 32 L. L. Dawson & ]. Hennebry With these conjectures in mind, we briefly itemize and counterpoise some of the noted benefits and liabilities of life on the Internet.13 On the positive side, much has been made of the net as an electronic meeting place, a new public space for fashioning new kinds of communities (Shields, 1996; Holmes, 1997; Zaleski, 1997). The defining features of these new communities are the various freedoms allowed by the technology. The Internet allows freedom from “the constraints of the flesh” (Holmes, 1997: 7), from the limitations of interaction within Cartesian space and the natural cycles of time. It allows a greater measure of freedom from traditional forms of social control, both formal and informal. It allows for the “breakdown of hierarchies of race, class, and gender”. It allows for “the construction of oppositional subjectivities hitherto excluded from the public sphere” (Holmes, 1997: 13). It allows people, seemingly, to “bypass or displace institutional politics” (Holmes, 1997: 19). The bottom line, we are told by the hardcore denizens and promoters of the net, is that the Internet consti- tutes a new and freer community of speech, transcending conventional institutional life. All of these presumed freedoms, each as yet a worthy subject of empirical investigation (see e.g. Shields, 1996; Holmes, 1997), rest upon the anonymity and fluidity of identity permitted and sometimes even mandated by life on the Internet. The technology of the net allows, and the emergent culture of the net fosters, the creative enactment of pluralism, at the individual or psychological level as well as the social, cultural, and collective level. This unique foundation of freedom, however, comes at a price that may vitiate the creation of any real communities, of faith or otherwise. As noted, there is a marked tendency for life on the net to be fashioned in the image of the current techno-science, with its new possibilities and clear limitations. This environmental influence on social relations is likely to spill out of the confines of the computer into the stream of everyday life—much like the virtual realities of television that influence the social ontologies of North America, Britain, Japan, and much of Europe. Part of this new standardization, routinization, and instrumentalization of life is the further commodification of human needs and relations. The pitch for the creation of new virtual com- munities bears the hallmarks of the emergence of ‘community’ as a new commodity of advanced capitalism—a product which is marketed in ways that induce the felt need for a convenient substitute for an increasingly problematic reality. But do ‘communities’ shaped by the Internet represent real communities any more than shopping malls? Are the possibilities of interaction and exchange sufficient in kind, number, and quality to replicate and possibly even to replace the social relationships born of more immediate and spatially and temporally uniform kinds of communal involvement? There is good reason to be sceptical, for as Holmes notes: …technologies of extension [like the Internet or freeways]… characteristically attenuate presence by enabling only disembodied and abstract connections between persons, where the number of means of recognizing another person declines. In the ‘use’ of these tech- nologies…the autonomy of the individual is enhanced at the point of use, but the socially ‘programmed’ nature of the technology actuallyDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 33 prohibits forming mutual relations of reciprocity outside the operating design of the technological environment. (Holmes, 1997: 6-7) Sharpening the critique, Holmes further cites the views of Michele Willson (1997: 146): …the presence of the Other in simulated worlds is more and more being emptied out to produce a purely intellectual engagement, and possibilities of commitment to co-operative or collective projects become one-dimensional, or, at best, self-referential. “Community is then produced as an ideal, rather than as a reality, or else it is abandoned altogether.” (Holmes, 1997: 16) In like manner, Willson points out (Willson, 1997), the Internet seemingly allows us to celebrate and extend social pluralism. But appearances can be deceiving. In the first place, the largely ungrounded and potentially infinite multiplicity of the net is often little more than “a play of masks”, which serves more to desensitize us to the real and consequential differences between us. Secondly, the medium simultaneously and paradoxically tends to “compartmentalize populations” and physically isolate individuals, while also “homogenizing” them (Holmes, 1997: 16-17). As in the rest of our consumer culture, the market of the Internet tends to favour standardization with marginal differentiation. Consequently, with Holmes we find that dialogues on the net tend to be “quite transient and directionless, seldom acquiring a substantive enough history to constitute a political [or religious] movement” (Holmes, 1997: 18). To the extent that any of this is true, and speculation far out-strips sound empirical research at this point, it is clear that the side-effects of involvement in the net could be quite deleterious for religions, new and old. The lauded freedom of the net merely compounds the difficulties, since the producers of content have little control over the dissemination and use of their material once launched. Things may be repeated out of context and applied to all manner of ends at odds with the intentions of the original producers. The Internet, as Zaleski says, is organized laterally rather than vertically or radially, with no central authority and no chain of command. (Individual webmasters have power over Web sites, as do… system opera tors… over bulletin board systems, and moderators over Usenet groups, but their influence is local and usually extremely responsive to the populations they serve.) (Zaleski, 1997: 111) There is little real regulation of the Internet and to date, only a few organizations have been able to enforce some of their intellectual property rights (most notably, some software producers and the Church of Scientology—see Frankel, 1996; Grossman, 1998). The sheer speed and scope of the Internet and the complexity of possible connections can frustrate any attempts to control the flow of information. As several of the web masters we surveyed stated, any attempt to regulate the net would likely violate the freedom of speech and religion guaranteed by the United States constitution and in the process render the net itself ineffective. However, this state of affairs can have a number of other unanticipated consequences for religions venturing onto the Internet that our web masters did not seem to realize:Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 34 L. L. Dawson & J. Hennebry Because the medium influences the message, it’s possible that in the long run the Internet will favour those religions and spiritual teachings that tend toward anarchy and that lack a complex hierarchy. Even now, those who log on to cyberspace may tend to gravitate to religious denominations that emphasize centrifugal rather than centripetal force, just as the medium that is carrying them does. Authority loses its trappings and force on the Net…(Zaleski, 1997: 111-112) This reality of the world of the Internet might well pose serious problems for religions that have historically stressed the role of a strong central authority, like the Roman Catholic Church or Scientology. As public information sources multiply through the Internet, it’s likely that the number of sites claiming to belong to any particular religion but in fact disseminating information that the central authority of that religion deems heretical also will multiply. (Zaleski, 1997: 108) When everyone can potentially circumvent the filters of an ecclesial bureaucracy and communicate directly and en masse with the leadership in Rome, Los Angeles or wherever, there will be a shift in power towards the grassroots (Zaleski, 1997: 112). The internet could have a democratizing effect on all religions and work against those religions that resist this consequence. The elaborate theorizing of Stark and Bainbridge (1996) and their colleagues (e.g. Innaccone, 1995) suggests, however, another somewhat contrary unanticipated consequence of the emergence of the world wide web for new religions. As Stark points out in his discussion of the rise of Christianity (1996), the way had been cleared for the phenomenal triumph of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world by the “excessive pluralism” (Stark, 1996: 197) of paganism. The massive influx of new cults into the Roman empire in the first century created “what E.R. Dodds called ‘a bewildering mass of alternatives. There were too many cults, too many mysteries, too many philosophies of life to choose from’.” (Stark, 1996: 197) This abundance of choice had at least two conse- quences with parallel implications for the fate of new religions on the Internet. In the first place, it assured that only a truly different religion, one that was favoured by other circumstances largely beyond its control, was likely to emerge from the crowd. For excessive pluralism, as Stark argues, “inhibits the ability of new religious firms to gain a market share” (Stark, 1996: 195), since the pool of potential converts is simply spread too thin. The competition for this pool, moreover, is likely to drive the competing new religions into ever new radical innovations to secure a market edge. Secondly, as Stark and Bainbridge argue elsewhere (Stark & Bainbridge, 1985, 1996; see also Stark, 1996: chapter 8), if many of the religious choices people have are “nonexclusive”, as was the case in the Roman Empire and seems to be the case on the Internet—there is no way of demanding or assuring that people hold to only one religion at a time—then, given the inherent risks of religious commitment (i.e. choosing the wrong salvific investment), people “will seek to diversify” (Stark, 1996: 204). The most rational strategy in the face of such structurally induced uncertainty will be to maintain a limited involvement in many competitive religions simultaneously—quite possibly to the long-term detriment of all. Stark, Bainbridge, and Innaccone suggest that true religiousDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 35 “movements” are much more likely to emerge from new religions that demand an exclusive commitment. As a medium, however, the Internet carries a reverse bias.14 This bias is reflected most clearly in some new religions to which the Internet itself has given birth—communities of belief that exist only, or at least primarily, on the net. The ones people are most likely to know are intentional jokes, blatant parodies like the Church of the Mighty Gerbil (http:// www.gerbilism.snpedro.com) or the First Presbyterian Church of Elvis the Divine (http://chelsea.ios.com/~hkarlinl/welcome.html). But there are other more problematic instances as well, one of which we have begun to study: Thee Church Ov MOO (http://members.xoom.com/gecko23/moo). This new religion was invented, almost by accident, by a group of gifted students interacting on an Internet bulletin board in Ottawa, Canada, sometime in the early 1990s. Today many of these same people operate a sophisticated web site with over eight hundred pages of fabricated religious documents covering a sweeping range of religious and pseudo-religious subjects. A visit to the web site reveals an elaborate development of alternative sets of scriptures, commandments, chronicles, mythologies, rituals and ceremonies. Much of this material reads like a bizarre religious extension of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is irreverent and playful, alternately verging on the sophomoric and the sophisti- cated. Many of the texts of the Church ov MOO seem to have been devised with a keen awareness of religious history, comparative beliefs and practices, and some real knowledge of the philosophy, anthropology, and sociology of religion. The site records a great many hits every day, we are told, and about ten thousand people have applied for membership. Several of the key figures are currently pursuing training or careers in physics, mathematics, computer science, and the other so-called hard sciences. With MOOism they are attempting to devise a self-consciously postmodern, socially constructed, relativist, and self-referenial system of religious ideas, purposefully and paradoxically infused with humour, irony, and farce, as well as a serious appreciation of the essentially religious or spiritual condition of humanity. In a typically postmodernist manner, the conventions we normally draw between academic reflection and religious thought are flaunted. An unsolicited essay we received from one of the church leaders on “MOOism, Social Constructionism, and thee Origins ov Religious Movements” characteristically begins with the following note: Thee language ov this essay conforms to TOPY standards ov language discipline. Thee purpose ov this is twofold: first, to prevent thee reader from forgetting that E am not attempting to separate this sociological comment from religious text; second, to prevent thee writer from forgetting thee same thing. These ideas should be taken neither too lightly nor too seriously. Similarly, the MOO homepage declares: Among other things, MOOism has been called the Negativland of religion. Not only does it irreverently (and sometimes irrelevantly) sample innumerable other religious traditions, it uses recontextualiza- tion and paradoxical framing techniques to prevent minds from settling into orthodoxy. Paradox and radical self-contradiction are, in the post- modern context, the most reasonable way to approach the Absolute.Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 36 L. L. Dawson & J. Hennebry MOOIsm is certainly about having ‘fun’ with religion. But the objective does seem to be to encourage and facilitate the rise of a new conceptual framework and language for religious experience suited to the changed environmental conditions of postmodern society. The ‘religion’ seems to be influenced significantly by neo-paganism and is representative of what is coming to be called Technopaganism. (But it is also influenced by such earlier and quite sophisticated joke religions as Discordianism and The Church of the SubGenius.) In line with many aspects of that movement it is seeking to provide an intellectual and social forum for fostering the kind of human imagination and creativity that empowers people to override the public demise of spiritual life or ‘realities’ in our time (see Luhrmann, 1989). But unlike many other forms of neo-paganism, this ‘religion’ is well suited, in form and function, to life on the net, perhaps because it is in many respects the witting and unwitting mirror reflection of the sensibilities of the Internet culture in which it developed. But, in truth, we do not know as yet whether MOOism is a ‘religious’ movement or just a most elaborate hoax. The Church solicited our attention and its web page currently carries the disclaimer: ‘This page is in the progress of being altered to mislead Lome Dawson. It may therefore seem disjointed and confused.” If it is all a joke, then one must marvel at the time and energy invested in its creation and perpetuation. In conversations, however, we have been lead to believe that the originators of MOOism are beginning to have an ambiguous understanding of their creation and are seeking some assistance in thinking through the significance of MOOism as a social phenomenon. One thing is clear, without the Internet, this phenomenon is unlikely to have developed or exercised the influence it undoubtedly has on some people. But is it reflective of the future of religion in some regard? Joke or not, it may be similar to other current or future religious phenomena on the net that are of a more serious intent. The Church ov MOO does appear to embody elements of both Beckford’s conception of religion as a ‘cultural resource’ and Stark and Bainbridge’s speculations about the special appeal of cult innovations to elites}5 At present, most of the virtual communities of the net are much less intriguing and problematic. Most new religions seem content to use the net in quite limited and conventional ways. But the web masters we surveyed are uniformly intent on constantly improving their web pages in visual, auditory, and interactive technology. So we must be careful not to underestimate what the future may hold. There is merit, we think, in the metaphorical conclusion of Zaleski: Virtual and physical reality exert a gravitational pull on one another. At present, virtuality is the moon to the real world, bound by its greater mass, but just as the moon influences tides, spiritual work in the virtual communities is influencing and will continue to influence that work in real-world communities. (Zaleski, 1997: 254) The new religious uses of the Internet are likely to exercise an increasingly determinant, if subtle, effect on the development of all religious life in the future (Lovheim & Linderman, 1998). Dr Lorne L. Dawson is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Jenna Hennebry is an M.A. Candidate in the same department. Correspondence: Department of Sociology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada N2L 3G1.Downloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 New Religions and the Internet 37 NOTES 1. This paper was first presented to a special seminar on “New and Marginal Religions in the Public Space” held in Montreal on July 25, 1998, organized by Pauline Cote. 2. The term ‘cults’ is so strongly associated with negative images in the popular mind that academics have long preferred to use such terms as ‘new religions’ or ‘new religious move- ments’ (see e.g. Richardson, 1993). The word will be used, nonetheless, at various points in this essay to call to mind the fears giving rise to this discussion in the first place. 3. “Web of Death” was the double entendre used as the headline of a Newsweek cover story on the Heaven’s Gate suicide. 4. In 1997, Statistics Canada reported that of all the homes in Canada with some type of facility to access the Internet, only 13% have made use of the opportunity. Reginald Bibby (1995) reported that 31% of Canadians had some contact with the Internet, ranging from daily to hardly ever. The rate of growth of the net, however, is exponential and quite phenomenal. It is estimated that the world wide web is growing at a rate of close to 10% per month. Zaleski (1997: 136) notes, for example: “In 1993, the year the Web browser Mosaic was released, the Web proliferated at a 341,634% annual growth rate of service traffic.” 5. This finding, from a more general survey by the Barna Research Group in February, 1997, is reported in Maclean’s magazine (May 25, 1998: p.12). 6. Five groups (potentially another 16.6%) informed us that our request had been passed along to higher authorities, but at the time this paper was submitted, a later reminder notice had merely earned us a reiteration of this reply. Another five groups or individuals declined to participate in our survey, for a variety of reasons: several complained that they are simply not religions; one pointed out that they do not wish to be associated with the subject of cults in any way; and two said that they receive too many surveys and now refuse to respond to them. 13 groups or 43.3% of the sample simply did not respond. (None of the messages were returned as undeliverable). 7. The questionnaire and accompanying information letter of our survey were reviewed by two other experienced survey researchers, as well as by the ethics review board for research with human subjects of our university. Nonetheless, some mistakes may have been made with regard to the sensitivity of these groups to outside investigations of any sort. Undoubtedly many new religions are wary about co-operating with any requests for information about their operations. Others are simply ignorant of the real nature of sociological research and mistrust- ful of the unknown in their own right. Further, it has been our experience that some of these groups are by no means as organized and professional in their activities as many exponents of the anti-cult movement would have us believe. It is likely that some of our surveys have simply been overlooked or ‘trashed’. Contrary to our expectations, in each regard, the immediacy and the anonymity of the Internet may actually have worked against us. Our colleague Dr. John Goyder of the University of Waterloo Survey Research Institute told us of two other e-mail surveys in which he participated that resulted in similarly disappointing rates of return (about 33%). These were, however, surveys of university faculty, which were dealing with relatively noncontroversial subjects. In one instance, when the first survey was followed by a mailed questionnaire to all non-respondents, the overall rate of return was doubled. It is possible that the Internet is already a saturated medium and not well suited for survey research. However, research into these matters has just begun (see e.g. Bedell, 1998). 8. Respondents to the survey were offered anonymity and most of the seven groups and individuals who did respond requested that they not be identified or quoted directly without permission. The groups will therefore not be named in this paper. 9. We wish to thank Jeff Miller for calling our attention to this data in his Senior Honours Essay (Sociology, University of Waterloo, 1998) on “Internet Subcultures”. 10. As Zaleski reports (1997: 249) and we recall from the news: “At least one of the suicides, 39-year-old Yvonne McCurdy-Hill of Cincinnati, a post-office employee and mother of five, initially encountered the cult in cyberspace and decided to join in response to its online message.” 11. For example, the web page for Osho actually employs a set of ‘key words’ for each page of its very large site and many of these search terms are very general: meditation, Christianity, brainwashing, deprogramming, relaxation, self-esteem, sadness, depression, tensions, and so on. 12. Of course, the web has offered new opportunities to the opponents of new religions as well. Entering the term ‘cults’ in any search engine will produce a surfeit of sites dedicated toDownloaded by [University of Manitoba Libraries] at 09:57 29 July 2014 38 L. L. Dawson & J. Hennebry so-called watch dog organizations or the home pages of disgruntled ex-members (e.g. American Religion Information Center, http://www.fopc.org/ARIC_home.html; Watcher, http:// www.marsweb.com/~ watcher/cult.html; Operation Clambake—The Fight Against Scientology on the Net, http://www.xenu.net). 13. These reflections are strongly influenced by the ideas discussed by David Holmes in the introduction to his book on identity and community in cyberspace, Virtual Politics (1997). 14. Zaleski points out that the web sites of the Holy See (http://www.vatican.va) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (http://www.lds.org) both characteristically commit what in cyberspace are two ‘cardinal sins’. The sites offer no links to other sites, giving lie to the notion of Internet and World Wide Web, and they seek to misuse the net as a broadcast medium since no e-mail or other facility is provided for interactivity. 15. 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