Fernback—Internet Ritual

Internet Ritual: A Case Study of the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning

by Jan Fernback

[Fernback, Jennifer. 2002. “Internet Ritual: A Case for the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning.” In Practicing Religion in the Age of Media. New York: Columbia University Publishing.]

Points

(good lit review on ritual)

asserts that “logging on to and participating in neopagan discussion groups is a form of ritual behavior (259)”

  • uses Grimes six modes of ritual action: ritualization, decorum, ceremony, liturgy, magic, & celebration
  • supported by VanGennep (separation, transition, & incorporation)
  • & Turner (liminality, communitas)

Online communication is “betwixt and between” (therefore liminal) the “structure of everyday societas and the antistructure of autocracy, boundless possibility and the communitas of the CMC environmant (260)”

“while cyberspace is a ritual site of religiosity, it can also serve as a site for the reconstruction of embodied rituals in a textual mode (266)”

non-participant observation (“lurking”) and interviews on neopagan online discussion groups

parachurch religiosity—religious experience outside of a church or other communal avenue of worship

Abstract

As computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies attain widespread use throughout the world, media scholars are examining these technologies as new forms of media and as extended cultural environments. Although some scholars criticize the use of CMC as an atomizing force that promotes ersatz social bonding, others hail its use as the progenitor of new sites of community and social action. This chapter follows a tradition of interpretive approaches to communication phenomena by examining the realm of cyberspace as a site for the construction of cultural practice for a religious group. Specifically, I explore the ritual processes and meanings evident in the discursive communities formed around various neopagan-oriented computer bulletin boards. After giving some brief background on neopaganism and ritual theory, I take a case-study approach to investigate ritual within a computer-mediated communicative environment and its significance with regard to the relationship between religion and technology

Annotation Summary for: Fernback – Internet Ritual, in Hoover & Clark – Practicing religion in the age of the media (2002)

Page vii (8), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “. Internet Ritual: A Case Study of the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning Jan Fernback”

Page 254 (267), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “INTERNET RITUAL: A CASE STUDY OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF COMPUTER- MEDIATED NEOPAGAN RELIGIOUS MEANING Jan Fernback”

Page 255 (268), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Methodologically, the analysis follows the tradition of ethnography; I did not act as a participant-observer in the public discussion groups, I merely “lurked.” However, I clearly stated my intentions and objectives to the subjects I interviewed. I monitored the discussion groups for several months and downloaded hundreds of pages of conversations.”

Page 255 (268), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While neopaganism is often regarded as a so-called New Age religious movement in the contemporary United States, it has roots in the ancient, pre-Christian, polytheistic religions. Current estimates put the number of neopagans in the United States at , to ,.3”

Page 255 (268), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Margot Adler, in her definitive history of the contemporary pagan movement in the United States, articulates the essence of the neopagan belief system as nature centered.4″

Page 255 (268), Underline (Red): Content: ” Margot Adler”

Page 255 (268), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “God and Goddess and that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular or the spiritual and the material. This rejection of dualistic thinking, prevalent throughout pagan belief, is reminiscent of Eastern philosophies and religions, and clearly rejects Durkheim’s distinction of the sacred and the profane.”

Page 255 (268), Underline (Red): Content: “Durkheim’s”

Page 255 (268), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As many as one-quarter of fearful of being mischaracterized as “devil worshippers” or satanists, do not reveal their religious identities to others.6”

Page 256 (269), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “subculturaloffshoot of young people who have fused neopagan ideals with anacceptance of high technology (particularly computer technology). ”

Page 256 (269), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Zippies, according to “shamanic zippie spokesperson” Fraser Clark, have a faith in a technology- based spiritualism.10”

Page 257 (270), Underline (Red): Content: “James W. Carey’s”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “James W. Carey’s “ritual” view of communication”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Carey emphasizes a somewhat Durkheimian approach to the notion of ritual in that he links communication to fellowship, social unity, and the preservation of shared meanings, but he does not examine ritual as a process.”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I will use a more anthropological notion of ritual theory to argue that members of neopagan virtual discursive communities indeed participate in rituals of a certain kind.”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the cor- pus of Turner’s work on ritual focuses more on the notions of liminality and communitas, where, through ritual, one experiences a “liminal” thresh- old moment of transition from an everyday, profane, structured world (societas) to a substantive, sacred, antistructural world of communitas.18”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “liminality communitas,”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Turner acknowledges that ritual is not necessarily a conservative mechanism for social reinforcement; it can be creative, speculative, and contrary.”

Page 257 (270), Underline (Red): Content: “Arnold VanGen- nep’s”

Page 257 (270), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Turner’s work on the liminal is derived from Arnold VanGen- nep’s notion that ritual has three phases: separation, transition (the limi- nal), and incorporation.19”

Page 258 (271), Underline (Red): Content: “Catherine M. Bel”

Page 258 (271), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Catherine M. Bell argues that ritual is inherently purpo-sive.22 Bell uses the term ritualization to refer to ritual as a distinction be-tween the sacred and the profane, but she notes that the strategies of ritu-alization are rooted in the body and in the body’s dynamic connectionwith a symbolically delineated temporal and spatial realm. ”

Page 258 (271), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Geertz argues that the religious domain contemplates the commonplace by transcending it, not through scientific method but through encountering reality in wider, more open terms.”

Page 258 (271), Underline (Red): Content: “Geertz”

Page 258 (271), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Ritual helps in that encounter; it is through ritual that religious “truth” is established symbolically and in practice.”

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Iassert that logging on to and participating in neopagan discussion groupsis a form of ritual behavior. In addition, I use Grimes’s six modes, orphases, of ritual action to interpret my findings: ritualization, decorum,ceremony, liturgy, magic, and celebration.26”

Page 259 (272), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “But first, a brief (and hence reductive) explication of each mode: Ritu- alization is gesturing and posturing. Decorum is a system of expectations within social occasions. Ceremony is large group action or social drama involving civil religion. Liturgy is any ritual action with an ultimate frame of reference and cosmological significance. Magic is any element of prag- matic ritual work. Celebration is ritual with a sense of playfulness.”

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Ritu- alization Decorum Ceremony Liturgy Magic Celebration”

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Ritual as a social practice involving the body in physical space is, neces- sarily, impossible within a body-less medium, although some work has been done on ritual involving the mass media.”

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Because the nature of community within computer-mediated communicative environments is essentially discursive in nature, ritual must be examined with regard to these limitations.”

Page 259 (272), Stamp (Question Mark (?, Red))

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Elihu Katz and Daniel Dayan use significant live televised events (e.g., the fu- neral of a national leader) to claim that television is liminoid—it trans- ports the viewer symbolically between structure and antistructure.29”

Page 259 (272), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “liminoid”

Page 260 (273), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Logging on to a discussion group, real-time chat service, or multiuserdungeon (MUD) is itself a ritual practice. Participation in these on-line fo-rums is a ritual embrace of Internet technology; it is expressive, perfor-mative, and dramaturgical. T”

Page 260 (273), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “TheCMC environment is the site for this contemporary, technological ritualwhere users seek a communal experience in the placeless realm of cyber-space. Indeed, logging on and participating in on-line culture is a liminalexperience; the user is suspended “betwixt and between” the structure ofthe everyday societas and the antistructure of the autocracy, boundlesspossibility and the communitas of the CMC environment”

Page 260 (273), Underline (Magenta): Content: “The CMC environment is the site for this contemporary, technological ritual where users seek a communal experience in the placeless realm of cyber- space.”

Page 260 (273), Underline (Magenta): Content: “Indeed, logging on and participating in on-line culture is a liminal experience; the user is suspended “betwixt and between” the structure of the everyday societas and the antistructure of the autocracy, boundless possibility and the communitas of the CMC environment. This liminality encourages expressivity, reflexivity, and a celebration of belief. The user is of course sitting at a computer and ostensibly participating in the ritual alone, but, Robert Wuthnow notes, private ritual can be just as significant as public ritual. He claims that private ritual communicates valuable con- ceptualizations of the individual within the larger collectivity since “the individual has internalized a conception of that collectivity.”31”

Page 260 (273), Note (Orange): Online ritual!

Page 260 (273), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This liminality encourages expressivity, reflexivity, and a celebration of belief. The user is of course sitting at a computer and ostensibly participating in the ritual alone, but, Robert Wuthnow notes, private ritual can be just as significant as public ritual. He claims that private ritual communicates valuable con- ceptualizations of the individual within the larger collectivity since “the individual has internalized a conception of that collectivity.”31”

Page 265 (278), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““parachurch religiosity.”35 This is an opportunity for individuals to have religious expe- riences outside of church or other communal avenues of worship—to participate in nondenominational institutional activities.”

Page 265 (278), Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““parachurch religiosity.”35”

Page 266 (279), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “we see that while cyberspace is a ritual site of religiosity, it can also serve as a site for the reconstruction of embodied rituals in a textual mode.”

Page 266 (279), Underline (Magenta): Content: “while cyberspace is a ritual site of religiosity, it can also serve as a site for the reconstruction of embodied rituals in a textual mode.”

Page 266 (279), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 267 (280), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” I do not say thatparticipants in these cyberfora necessarily receive their primary religiousexperience from this ritual (although some may, fearing the potential con-sequences of being openly neopagan), but that they do attain some levelof religiosity through this technological ritual practice.”

Page 268 (281), Underline (Red): Content: “Lewis Mumford,”

Page 268 (281), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “prognosticators, particularly Lewis Mumford, argue that tech- nology has supplanted religion as the arbiter of truth, has introduced and popularized secular forms of knowledge, and has demystified religious symbolic epistemology.38”

Page 268 (281), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Mumford claims that sacred ritual created social order in the past; but now we rely on technology to create that order. The expression of our humanity is directed toward technology (Mumford’s “machine”), and the scientific mind rejects the components of this past order that made us human, such as ritual, magic, and religion. Further, Mumford asserts that widescale religious conversion is the only salvation for a humanity doomed to destruction at the hands of the machines and computers it so dearly worships.”

Page 268 (281), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Technology, ac- cording to Mazlish, is a type of human prosthesis, and the computer is an extension of the brain of humanity.”

Page 268 (281), Underline (Red): Content: “Mazlish,”

Page 269 (282), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While Margot Adler notes that an earth-based religion such as the neopagan might seem to disapprove of the proliferation of techno- logical development, she found that pagans tend to be more open-minded about the social benefits of technology;”

Page 269 (282), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Many neopagans embraced scientific inquiry and high tech- nology in an organic, or alternative, vein, agreeing with Buckminster Fuller’s theories and solar-energy development.”

Page 269 (282), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Neopagans, and in particular zip- pies, argue that technology can be spiritual if it does not attempt to domi- nate nature but rather works with nature and demonstrates respect for the ecosystem.”

Page 269 (282), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The ritualistic behavior of these meaningful religious discussions could be indicative of the search for communal experience within what some social forecasters perceive as an increasingly atomistic world. Yet, this ritual has an even greater impor- tance for neopagans who are often “closeted” in a country that is increas- ingly conservatively religious.”

Page 269 (282), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Religion involves emotion, morality, con- templation, and fulfillment. Technology is not generally associated with”

Page 270 (283), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “these ontological aspects of life, but these religious goals can be realized through a form of ritual in which technology aids in the process of dis- covery.”

Page 270 (283), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “While neopagans and zippies may recognize that a Beltane ritualon the Internet is a sort of postmodern simulacrum, this realization doesnot seem to detract from the individual and collective meaning it holdsfor them. Their religion is important to them, and insofar as the Internetritual constitutes parachurch religiosity for them, it is an authentic, legiti-mate experience. ”

Page 271 (284), Underline (Red): Content: “Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (New York: Addison-Wesley, );

Elizabeth Reid, “Cultural Formations in Text- Based Virtual Realities” (master’s thesis, University of Melbourne, Australia, ).”

Page 272 (285), Underline (Red): Content: “Catherine M. Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, ).”

Page 274 (287), Underline (Red): Content: “Durkheim, Emile. Elementary Forms of Swain. New York: Free Press, . the Religious Life. Trans. Joseph Ward”

Page 274 (287), Underline (Red): Content: “Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, .”

Page 274 (287), Underline (Red): Content: “Mumford, Lewis. The Myth of the Machine.  vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, , .”

Page 275 (288), Underline (Red): Content: “Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine, . ——. Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, .”

Page 275 (288), Underline (Red): Content: “VanGennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, .”

Page v (6), Bookmark (Orange): TOC

Page 254 (267), Bookmark (Orange): Internet ritual

Page 271 (284), Bookmark (Orange): Notes

Page 273 (286), Bookmark (Orange): Bibliography

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