Religion and the Blogosphere -- An Underutilized Resource?

Next week I'm participating in a conference entitled Theology after Google.  It's part of a Ford Foundation sponsored project called Transforming Theology that is guided by theologian Philip Clayton.  Clayton has come to the conclusion that if theology is going to permeate the church and society in such a way that our world will experience transformation, it will have to move beyond the old ways of doing things.  Waiting for the theological formulations of the academic theologian to trickle down to the congregations and beyond simply won't get the job done.

So, I'll be out there giving my spiel, which I've entitled ""Brick and Mortar Meets Google: Bridging the Ages of Spirituality."  Being one of the older presenters at the conference, and because I pastor a fairly traditional mainline Protestant congregation, I decided to reflect on the ways in which we might try to bridge the two ages, so as not to leave folks behind, as if they don't matter.  At the same time, the world is changing and the church must adapt if it's not going to be left behind or at best become a relatively innocuous social club with a religious front.

It is as I'm preparing for this conference that I run into a report about religion and the blogosphere.  Published by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the report is entitled "The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere," and it claims to have surveyed the largest 100 religiously oriented blogs. Now, while I've made some top 100 lists, I didn't make this list. So, these must be the really big players.

Early in the report, we read why this is important:
Religion blogs, as such, have not necessarily been at the forefront of the blogosphere as a whole; for instance, few of those that this report focuses on are in the very highest echelons of rank and influence (blogging about religion from time to time, on the other hand, certainly occurs there). Still, in hardly so much as a decade, religion blogs have already come and gone, debuted and declined, mutated and morphed.

 The take on this report from those who have reported on it is that religion blogs have been around for some time, maturing and creating new dynamics, but they remain a rather underutilized medium of communication.  So, the question is -- what's next?  What role do those of us small time operations have?  How do we get noticed in the midst of the high powered, institutionally sponsored blogs and sites?  The blogosphere is a wide open opportunity to connect, but how will harness it?  And for what purpose?

I'll leave you with the closing paragraph that ponders the future:

The key variable for the future of the religion blogosphere is the same as for the Internet as a whole: connectivity. In what ways will people interact, share ideas, form hierarchies, and gather social capital? There are certainly content areas that need to be filled, as the bloggers quoted above suggest. But just as important is the kind of infrastructure within which they work. There likely is, somewhere on the Internet, the great writing on Islam Sharlet is looking for, or the diversity Myers sees as lacking, yet they don’t have the means for finding it. While Web 2.0 brought vast, user-generated content-creation, the challenge of Web 3.0 will undoubtedly be finding ways to make all that information even more accessible, useful, and social —“taming the deluge of data,” as one observer puts it (Griner 2009). Even the nearly 100 blogs discussed in this report are more than most people can afford to keep track of on a daily or weekly basis. The bloggers’ suggestions—more diversity, more investigative journalism, more metro coverage, and so on—all amount to more blogs, more data to consume. The question then becomes: what to do with it all?

What shall we do indeed?!


tripp fuller said…
i haven't seen that. i have actually been thinking the along those lines. it seems that non-big name blogs in particular will continue being niche markets and move beyond that by making connections. for ministers i think there are potentials for use in your community that haven't been fully realized yet.

i talked with one minister who was saying how his social networking time had huge pay off for pastoral care. doing it regularly allowed her to develop connections with more people that she could then continue face to face. the people already started trusting her and stuff before hand. she called it the 'beauty parlor' time.

btw you are in my top 100!
Tripp -- I appreciate being in your top 100!

I do think that Facebook and other media does provide unique ways to connecting not available in earlier days!
barry ballard said…
tripp, obviously i wholeheartedly support the idea. the search engines are already used for research in religious issues. we need to tap into the searches already going on so as to promote dialogue, and understanding and thereby raise the forms of our understanding. that's basically what i did. moltmann is already being searched. i just want to be part of the dialogue. i think it will draw the church out of not nbeing in the conversation at all. so i'm all for dialogue through contemporary avenues
matt gallion said…
I was a campus minister for two years, and I would have had no connectional ministry if it hadn't been for social networking and blogging. That's all I gots to say about that.

Second, I like your blog.

Finally, I'm gonna be at TAG, too! I'm so stinkin' excited.
Philip said…
Bob, take your own blog, and the talk you're planning for TAG: you seek to bridge between the internet era and brick-and-mortar churches (and the people in them). For those of us who think these links are crucial, you become a key voice -- one of the wise ones. The problem is not whether or not to blog, or whether you make the top 100, but how to get folks who share our interests to read your blog.

Think Netflix, which has succeeded not just for renting the hits, but because it helps all of us get the rare DVDs that we really want to watch. You can bet that there will be a Netflix for blogs at some point -- a way to get connected in to the particular 'wise ones' that each of us is looking for.
John said…
"Wise one?"

That may be overstating the case.

Anonymous said…
""Wise one?"

That may be overstating the case."

You're so cruel John. Hey, you made me look for this, "Wise One" by Coltrane..Thanks David Mc

I found this too, "Hard Luck" Blues..







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