Review

Give Me That Online Religion

by Brenda E. Brasher



If you are reading this review, you are probably aware of the
far-reaching effects of the Internet on modern culture. The last
several years have seen the World Wide Web grow from a few hundred
pages visited only by academics to a sprawling, almost tangible
entity that has changed the way we live. Hop online and you can
shop, listen to music, gamble, and yes, even find religion online.
Brenda Brasher explores many different online religious experiences
in this well-researched, thorough book, from the funny to the
serious, from simple church websites to simulcasts of Passover
Seders.

Brasher posits that religion is good for society and that the
Internet is a necessary tool to ensure the future of religion. The
Internet allows individuals and religious organizations large and
small to bring their message to untold masses. The advent of the
Internet has had a revolutionary impact on the dissemination of
knowledge, comparable to the effect the printing press had around
the time of Martin Luther. Technologies like chat and real-time
video make the online religious experience more real for website
visitors. In one chapter, Brasher compares the online religious
experiences of three individuals. One, a young woman named Ashley,
went online looking for information about Judaism when she started
dating an observant Jew. Her search led to her participation in a
Cyber-Seder, in which a real-life Seder was broadcast over the web
and online participants were able to chat with each other. Ashley
enjoyed the experience and ended up converting to Judaism.

On the lighter side, Brasher highlights a few online shrines to
celebrities. Again, the Internet provides an unprecedented method
of showing admiration for celebrities. The tongue-in-cheek website
of The Dudes of the Keanic Circle celebrates the wisdom of Keanu
Reeves. There are hundreds of websites devoted to "Star Trek."
After Princess Diana died, shrines to her sprang up all over the
web. These celebrity websites are good for online religion as a
whole because they challenge more traditional religious
institutions to make their website content more engaging in order
to attract more visitors. In this way, they will be brought into
the Internet age and will continue to flourish.

Along with mainstream religious websites and pop-culture paeans,
doomsday prophets have found a home on the Web. Apocalyptic
sentiment typically spreads when a social or natural crisis
approaches. For the members of Heaven's Gate, a small religious
community, the arrival of the comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 was their
signal that the end was at hand. The group, which supported itself
with a website design business, posted its intentions on its site
shortly before 39 members committed suicide in accordance with
their beliefs. More recently, the Y2K crisis prompted record
numbers of apocalyptic evangelists to spread the word that the end
of days was near. Even though Y2K came and went without a hitch,
apocalypticism prospers online.

There is an almost infinite variety of religious experiences to be
had online. People who go online looking for a spiritual lift are
likely to surf around a bit until they find what they are looking
for. As Brasher points out, it is often difficult for people raised
in the 20th century to relate to religious texts that were written
for agrarian societies. It will be interesting to see which
religious institutions keep up with the changing times and learn to
use online media to create religious experiences for a wired
world.

Reviewed by Amita Guha on January 22, 2011

Give Me That Online Religion
by Brenda E. Brasher

  • Publication Date: February 6, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass
  • ISBN-10: 078794579X
  • ISBN-13: 9780787945794