This October I launched this study on Catholic media activism in the Holy Land. The study has been generously awarded the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) grant. Here are some details of the study at hand.
Digital Gates to the Holy Land: Challenging the Religious Landscape through Monastic Online Video Production
From online sermons to ISIS beheadings, well-established religious authorities and charismatic movements are frequently turning to video as a medium through which they communicate political and cultural ideas, contend for users' attention, and mediate much of today's religious experience. Despite their widespread use and significant impact on today's competitive religious landscape, online religious videos remain unexplored as a subject of scholarly investigation. This study examines the nature of online videos as a burgeoning popular platform, and specifically questions how religious organizations act to shape users' worldviews and negotiate meaning via online video-mediated communication.
The overall aim of the proposed research is to examine the rise of the use of online videos and the emergent roll of video webmasters in organized religious institutions. This aim is reflected through five primary objectives: (1) To investigate the emergence of monastic webmasters, with attention to innovations in the traditional mode of proselytization through online video-sharing platforms. (2) To examine the appropriation of digital visual technologies by religious institutions, with particular attention on how this process affects the relationship between monastic webmasters and traditional clergy (i.e. religious cooperation, project management, division of labor) in the production of religious videos. (3) To examine how online video production and dissemination challenge or reinforce traditional religious worldviews while creating alternative spaces for learning (e.g. values, practices, doctrines) and community engagement. (4) To shed light on the process of legitimation of information and communications technologies as tools of faith (e.g. mission, video-mediated religious experience). (5) To investigate Catholicism's adopted strategies of response to emergent and competing religious movements, sects and cults that are spreading throughout Europe, the Middle East, South America and the world at large.
To achieve these objectives, this study utilizes a novel research design focused on two Catholic-monastic groups, the Franciscan Order and the Canção Nova, that are currently collaborating to produce videos of faith focused on the Holy Land. This design incorporates semiotic analysis of produced videos, ethnographic fieldwork, and forty in-depth interviews with religious webmasters and stakeholders including elite clergy and media support staff.
This study is designed to reveal how religious groups’ long-standing conflicts over centrality and legitimacy are currently being played out in the arena of new media operations. The central argument is that the nascent video production within the Catholic world concerning the Holy Land highlights an intensifying dynamic between traditional and new sources of religious authority in today's information society. The study also illustrates the tensions that the internet generates for the various faiths and denominations which are attempting to maintain traditional hierarchies and boundaries while presenting their institutional identities online.