The Web of Religion, Religions, Religious

In “Religion, Religions, Religious,” J.Z. Smith asserted that “‘religion’ is not a native term; it is a term created by scholars for their intellectual purposes and therefore is theirs to define.” [This essay can be found here and here, and in pdf form here.] It is, in other often quoted words, “the creation of the scholar’s study.” While many scholars may rely on this to frame our research or teaching, our students and the general public are often introduced to “religion,” religions, and the religious through their own use of search engines. As Hugh Urban has recently pointed out, religions–like in this case Scientology–are being contested in the streets of cities and in cyberspace, seemingly separate from scholarly classifications.

For THATcamp AAR, I propose a session that considers how digital technologies, including but not limited to social media, can encourage critical approaches to religion. The organizing question is: rather than cataloging instances of religion, how can digital approaches to the humanities help Religious Studies scholars draw attention to or model critical inquiries of “religion,” religions, and the religious? In the spirit of THATcamp, I do not have answers to propose, but an interest in brainstorming with colleagues how we can incorporate sources, apps, and the like from the web into our research and teaching.

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