Friday, October 28, 2011

Strength in Online Practices

As mentioned before, digital media and the use of the internet has begun to play a larger role within religion. Today I’m reflecting on the question: Does digital media strengthen or weaken an individual’s ability to construct or perform their religious identity? Personally, I believe that identity is strengthened through the use of the internet. There are many different ways for a person to practice their faith online. I want to look at the website that I mentioned in my last post to use as an example. Prārthanā is an online website that allows Hindus to practice their faith throughout the internet. It gives the option of leaving pujas and prayers in temples across the world.
Prārthanā builds an individual’s religious identity because it is a tool to help further their spirituality. Unlike practices of Hinduism offline, online practices are something that the individual must approach themselves. It strengthens their focus because they are relying on themselves to practice their faith rather than relying on a community or pastor. This online practice keeps a consistency within their faith and allows them to grow faster by involving their religion in more areas of their life. For example, a person that practices their faith online can be doing so at home on top of their attendance to regular temple services, unlike those that only attend temple.
Online faith is a tool to help broaden and exercise a person’s spirituality. Their continuous use of this supplement to their regular religious practice, strengthens their individual connection with their religion – in this case, Hindusim.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Community on a Worldwide Spectrum for Hindus

Nowadays, there are several different avenues for worshiping online within the Hindu faith. Today I want to focus on a specific online community known as the Prārthanā: Online Hindu Temple Services. Prārthanā is an online interactive website that allows Hindus to express their faith in different ways concerning worship and prayer. Their “Hindu philosophy advocates two paths, one of Bhakti (that of devotion), and the other of Gnana (that of wisdom)” (

This online tool of worship and prayer creates the ability for Hindus to supplement their regular worship with that of a worldwide attraction. For example, within the website it allows visitors to send poojas (a specific type of worship that involves an offering) to temples around the world, which can give a Hindu a stronger spiritual existence since many of these temples are either out of reach or inaccessible due to worldly restraints like expenses and available time. The ability to virtually worship creates an online community for the Hindu population. In other words, they are given opportunities to connect with other Hindus across the world that can conduct their specific poojas, allowing them to unite in their faith worldwide. Another option that is offered on the website is the ability to virtually tour a temple, referred to on the website as “Temple Darshan.” Here, Hindus are able to navigate through a temple and attempt to experience a more 3-Dimensional worship on a 2-Dimensional scale. This shows the creator’s attempt to create a more realistic and lifelike spiritual practice on the worldwide web. These examples strengthen the argument that Hinduism will not only allow but use the digital world as a platform to strengthening one’s faith and religious beliefs.

In a case study done by Tim Hutchings called Considering Religious Community through Online Churches; Hutchings describes the uses of two Christian online resources called St. Pixels and Church Online. Here, Hutchings goes into detail about community and how it is portrayed in both sites. They both offer online chatting and messaging. This is something that is absent in the Prārthanā online experience. The Prārthanā website does not offer areas of intercommunication. This may appear to be lacking in the idea of community, however, I personally believe that the website wants to build relationships on a more global scale so that the main priority of the website can be the actual faith rather than relationship building through social networking or online chatting. Like mentioned earlier, the Prārthanā’s take on “community” is one that is on a global scale, and not limited to that of immediate and close-nit relationships. Their focus on their faith is what strengthens their online practice because they do not have distracting elements that can potentially take away from the main message.

Hutchings, Tim. (Unknown date). Considering Religious Community through Online Churches, HUMlab: Umea University.
Prārthanā. (2000). Website,

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Legitimate Online Practice or A False Spiritual Connection

There has been a large debate in recent years on whether or not rituals performed online are considered sacred and/or legitimate. Christopher Helland’s article Ritual Online, he focuses on the observed definitions of what is believed to be a ritual, as well as whether or not religious rituals online can be considered sacred or not. His personal definition of ritual, “a purposeful engagement with the sacred (whatever the sacred may be for those involved),” breaks down into two focuses of “what ritual is” and “what ritual does.”
Specifically for my topic with Hinduism, it is important to understand how to combine traditional religious rituals with an innovative online experience. The majority of people that are online practicing their faith do not do so for any other reason than to further their spirituality with their God/gods. There is a lack of the sensual however when attempting to partake in such activities. Heinz Scheifinger goes further in depth on the difference between online and offline worship in her case study Hindu Worship Online and Offline. He speaks about the way pujas, or worship practices, that have certain physical, musical, and environmental aspects when being performed. This creates a huge gap between the physical and virtual versions of worship. It may be difficult for a Hindu to feel that religion is sacred while being performed on a screen in front of them, instead of at their own temple. Scheifinger however argues that these problems may be overcome by adding physical aspects to the virtual/digital culture of religious rituals. For example, creating a “clean” and “pure” surrounding for the computer mirrors how the environment would be during a puja in a Hindu Temple. Also adding incense and playing prayer specific music during pujas is another way to bring a more realistic feel and atmosphere to online worship.
The Hindu religion is a very old and traditional practice. It is a difficult concept for many to try and integrate such old world ideas with new innovations such as the internet. However, based on Christopher Helland’s article and Heinz Scheifinger’s case study, I do not believe that online ritual practices are something that can radically decrease the importance or spirituality of any participants. If anything, it should be a tool that bridges the gap between tradition and innovation, working towards strengthening the faith of Hindus everywhere.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Approaching Rituals Online With Christopher Helland

          Today I attended a Digital and Religion Symposium where I listened to Christopher Helland talk about the importance and presence rituals have within religions in an online identity. This is important towards my research and focus on media and the Hindu religion because positive examples of utilizing media to enhance traditional faith and enlarge networking. Christopher Helland is an Associate Professor of Sociology of Religion at Dalhousie University. He began his lecture by defining the term “ritual” and how it pertains to religion. He personally defined ritual as a “purposeful engagement with the sacred (whatever the sacred may be for those involved).” While this seems like a simplistic definition it does not mean that rituals won’t be complex.
Hellmand also described the social context and social level of rituals. The social context side is for the believer, a means by which supernatural beings and powers be contacted, influenced or coerced. The social level is used to teach, form identities, regulate societies, and draw a community together. He then went on to explain the difference between two different forms of rituals involving the Internet. Rituals online are “prescripts, ritual texts, and material about rituals that can be found on websites. While online rituals are performed in a virtual space, and not as common as rituals online. There have been many arguments on whether online rituals can be determined as sacred or not. Neopaden communities however, have announced their beliefs that online rituals are sacred. People all around the world are embracing online rituals more and more. Last, Helland discussed the creation of the Spirituality Celebration Circle and how it is meant to set aside room for ritual space within a cultural space. Liminality is created by the physical virtual and physical activities when participating in an online religious world. Rituals are dynamic and always changing involving three main aspects of transformation, invention, and exclusion. Christopher Helland helped explain the importance of rituals and how their presence online for religious purposes furthers the use of media in a traditional world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Media and Religion: A Loss of Tradition? Or An Innovative Networking System?

For the next several weeks I will be focusing this blog on how media and digital culture affects the traditional values of religion as well as its' affect on progress; specifically with the Hindu religion. Hinduism is the oldest religion practiced. It is largely mistaken in its' beliefs because of the great amount of stereotyping it receives and common misconceptions held by the average human. It has a diverse belief system for its followers, allowing them more free range of a faith to believe in either one god, multiple gods, or no specific god, but more of a spirituality. Their central ideas focus around that of Dharma (ethics and duties), Samsara (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).

The main research for this project will come from my encounters with the Shri Omkarnath Temple of the Hindu Society of Brazos Valley as well as various scholarly articles that help show the main points of the religion and how it interacts with media currently. Based on the Shri Omkarnath Temple, members focus on three aspects of God: Brhama (the creator), Vishnu (he who maintains), and Shiva (the destroyer). After personally seeing the Temple and speaking with one its' members I was able to understand a lot about their practice within their religion, as well as get an idea of what kind of media they deal with and how they use it to further their spiritual selves.

The following posts should help bridge the gap between media and Hinduism, and show how digital culture can have a huge impact within an extremely traditional religion.