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:
What shall we do indeed?!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?