When one thinks about world religions, one might not consider social media. In fact, one might appropriately think of biblical passages like the resurrection of Jesus or practices, such as Ramadan. But in the age of the Internet, even religious institutions are adapting applications like Twitter and Facebook as a means of expressing sermons and reaching out to followers. We will explore the ways in which Christianity and Islam have implemented social media in their daily communications.
Just as radio and television were once the mediums for Christian evangelists, preaching the word of God to millions of listeners and viewers, smart phones have now taken over as the preferred medium. Social media applications are cheaper than televised broadcasts and they can reach many more people with a single click of a button. This is surely the principle reason of its adoption.
Durham Cathedral in Yorkshire, England is a perfect example of a Christian institution that has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, which is managed by its clergy. According to Reverend Pete Phillips who is director of the Codec Research Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University, “Faiths are adopting online technologies to make it easier for people to communicate ideas and worship” (Stokel-Walker, 2017).
But it’s also applications like YouVersion that allow users to download entire versions of the Bible for personal use that has really transformed religious dissemination and expression. With over one million subscriptions, the popular app now has over 2000 Bible verses in over 1300 languages, an astonishing increase since it was founded in 2008 with only 15 verses and two languages (Gryboski, 2019).
The Islamic faith has also jumped on the social media bandwagon. The religion has a plethora of Quran apps for smartphones. Yet, its other ways that social media has been used, specifically economically in Western societies. As more and more Muslims arrived in Christian countries, many assimilated into their respective countries, but maintained their traditions and customs. First generation children from these immigrants have used some these traditions in a modern way that have reaped financial rewards.
For instance, fashion is one of the customs that has been reshaped through social media influencers. Habiba de Silva and Maria Alia who have millions of followers on Instagram are part of the first generation of Muslims that were born and raised in Western countries, but have maintained Islamic culture and customs (Patel, 2020). They’ve created their own lines of clothing, which can be expressed through each individual and are often advertised on their Instagram accounts.
Aside from fashion, there have been other advances of religious social media adherence. For the hearing impaired, YouTube has now been utilised as a way to learn the Quran. For example, Surya Sahetapy, a 25-year-old Indonesian who is deaf, partnered up with a local Islamic organization to translate all 114 chapters, known as surahs into sign language (Cochrane, 2019). Now, deaf Muslims from all over the world can follow these videos on YouTube through their smartphones anytime of the day.
It should come as no surprise the manner in which organized religions have adopted social media platforms. It engages with followers in ways that were unimaginable 15 years ago. In addition to the ability of interacting with millions of people throughout the world, individuals now have the freedom of reading religious text directly on their smartphones, whenever and wherever they are. Do you think religious text is as effective through social media apps as it is in person at a church or mosque?