Thursday 25 June 2009

Theology and the self in cyberspace

At next week’s AACC conference in Brisbane, I’ll be giving a dinner talk entitled “Theology 2.0: Blogging as Theological Discourse”. If anyone knows of some good research in this area, I’d be glad for some extra reading tips before I start writing the paper. Here’s the abstract I submitted:

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben once remarked: “There are no authors today who could console themselves by thinking that their work will be read in a century (by what kind of human beings?)...” The emergence of new web technologies, coupled with the formation of new online communities, raises sharply this question of “what kind of human beings” might exist a century from now. This paper analyses the contemporary Web 2.0 environment (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, online gaming, etc), and offers a reflection on the way these web technologies are forming our interior human landscapes. Focusing especially on the place of blogging in contemporary theology, the paper argues that theological discourse is changing and adapting under the impact of new technologies and new forms of human interaction – just as, in another period, theological discourse changed under the impact of the printing press and the mass production of books. The paper will suggest some possible answers to the questions: what kind of self is formed by blogging? And what kind of theology?


Anonymous said...

Well, I found Eriksen's Tyranny of the Moment stimulating and accessible. But by far the most insightful thing I've read about our current ways of reading is Foucault's article "Self Writing", which you can find here: - I can't vouch for the legality of its publication, so you can also find it in Davidson's Foucault and his Interlocutors collection, and in Rabinow's Ethics collection, translated by Ann Hobart and Robert Hurley respectively.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks, you've read my mind: Foucault's stuff on self-writing, technologies of the self, etc, is the main basis for what I want to try to do in the paper. And I'll certainly check out this Eriksen book too — thanks for the tip!

Guy Davies said...

In my "Blogging in the name of the Lord" interviews, I usually ask the subjects to refect on the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection. There have been some interesting responses. We're now in series 6:

Michael F. Bird said...

Crossway have a book about theology and the new media and one of the editors interviewed me for one of the case studies. Although I always thought I'd be more likely to be a psychiatric case study than anything else.

Anonymous said...

OK this may seem far-fetched, but I think there is some aspect of blogs that try to improve on reality, as Eco comments about
People are more open, more reflective, more egaging in the blog than ordinary reality.
However, I think it is a subtle sales game, due to the reinforcement of seeing one’s comments online. The information lost due to the missing non-verbal cues result in, I fear, too often being pulled into the witty rather than the wise.

Unknown said...

Hi Ben,

I would LOVE to attend your paper, as well as catch up when you're up in Brissie. Let me know the where's and when's?

I've been reading Graham Ward's "Cities of God". Apart from a few strange segments, it is a great read, with a concluding section on the redemption of cyberspace. I haven't got to that section yet, but judging by what I've read so far, it sounds promising.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these suggestions — very helpful; and I'd never seen this Umberto Eco piece before. (Actually, I'm quite sympathetic with the idea that we can improve reality: good art, for example, can be more perfect than the world it represents.)

MJP: my paper is on Thursday night — I've no idea about the venue, etc, but the website should have details. It'd be great to see you there!

Anonymous said...

Good art...does it improve reality, or celebrate the beauty there? I have to say the latter. As a painter, I have to say I don't create an improvement (maybe I'm just a lousy painter), but try to accentuate one aspect of the beauty I see. Good art is part of reality.
Theme parks, on the other hand, aren't good art, and the thing I most dislike is the contrived element. Take children to tide pools along the ocean when the tide it out instead, and let them wander in the rocks and meet the crabs and other creatures.

JohnLDrury said...

Check this out:

It helped me re-think what it means to think "topically" about theology in a Web 2.0 world.

Anonymous said...

Scott Savage said...

Might want to check out Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele's comic The Surrogates (2005-2006). They’re making this into a movie in September. Based on the story broadly, and more specifically through Greer’s (main character) wife Margaret, a preliminary answer to your question—“what kind of self is formed by blogging?”—might be this: a self ultimately incapable of truly speaking theologically to another person without the medium (distance) offered by blogging. Of course, there a great deal of nuance to be laid out in all of this. Check it out if you need a change from books.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks, I'll take a look at The Surrogates tomorrow. And that piece on ontology and classification looks really interesting. Just a couple of days ago, I was talking with a friend (through fits of laughter) about Borges' story about "a certain Chinese Encyclopedia", the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it is written that animals are divided into:

1. those that belong to the Emperor,
2. embalmed ones,
3. those that are trained,
4. suckling pigs,
5. mermaids,
6. fabulous ones,
7. stray dogs,
8. those included in the present classification,
9. those that tremble as if they were mad,
10. innumerable ones,
11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
12. others,
13. those that have just broken a flower vase,
14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox said...

Have read through your BLOG. I will be returning because it is just so interesting and thought provoking. Thank you. Kathryn

Brian Lugioyo said...

Ben, the works of Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, and Technopoly), Walter Ong (Orality and Literacy), Barry Sanders (The Private Death of Public Discourse) are a few guys who in following Marshall McLuhan are highly suspect of internet media as a space where fruitful discourse can take place. They might make for good sparing partners.


myleswerntz said...

I have to be fairly cynical about the whole matter, frankly. I feel both hypocritical and luddite saying this, but if blogging is to be in service to theology, it has to think of itself in terms of practice. This means, among other things, that the discourse of blogging (and blog commenters) should inhabit the same virtues we would pray for theological formation in general: faith, hope, love, aided by fortitude, etc.

Now, these things take time, and the blog format has much more promise than the narcissistic Twitter, for sure. Twitter and Facebook are unidirectional, while blogs allow for discursive reasoning. Online gaming? One could argue it plays a wholly different purpose, as one inhabits another person's virtues instead of one's own in order to participate (which could be construed as a didactic endeavor to a degree, perhaps?).

Good luck on the paper. Again, largely skeptical of the 'new media' as I think it encourages egoism more than virtue. But, again, I say this as a blogger and blog lurker. But this blog is great. said...

Ten Warnings to Theobloggers

1. pride. blogs are about self-promotion. what else could be more obvious?

2. quickness. no serious theology is or could be done at the speed of a blog. what happens on blogs are spouts of self expression, not drawn out intercourse.

3. waste of time. classic theological texts and important contemporary works are waiting to be read, not journal reporter theology written in 5 min. and never proof read by scholars.

4. ghetto entertainment. this is an actual form of ghettoisation. young minds get caught up in a circle of blogs which they like, ones which promote their ideology or theology. theoblogging has the opposite effect of what it intends to do. rather than opening discussion, it closes it down into ghettos. rather than being exposed to diverse new constructive ideas theobloggers are ghettoised into subprofessional circles of pseudotheologians.

5. dying grandparents. theobloggers spend less time with people and more time with machines.

6. gnostic non corporeality. blog theology is a gnostic turn like so many in contemporary culture. one no longer needs other humans and their smelly presence, one can interact and think that they are learning through a digital medium. second life, theology style. walk around all day with your ipod, then go home to your blog.

7. individualism. blogs are inherently individualistic. they promote individualism and demand it.

8. anticommunity, antifamily and antichurch. blogs replace and fight against families, bodily communities and churches as communities of discussion.

9. attention deficit disorder. blogs encourage attention deficit disorder symptoms.

10. antisocial extended online time. blogs encourage long hours on the internet. this is unnatural, a waste of energy, and most of all antisocial.

summary: if you must theoblog, then don’t do it too often.

Lugioyo said...

Ben, I am a skeptic of the use of technology for fruitful discourse (especially if it replaces other forms of discourse and reflection) - however, I have been edified greatly by the theological/ministerial discussions and postings on this blog. The medium may be the message - but with prudence there might be ways to baptize the medium; and I think you have.



roger flyer said...

Ben has dunked the medium

Anonymous said...

Ben thanks for your work on this. We have a recent post on Faith & Leadership that mentions yours here on the way to talking about social media itself, largely amen'ing your same conclusions here. Blessings, Jason Byassee

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