The Impact of Cyberspace on a Variety of Religious Traditions and Practices
Revolutionary communication technologies play a pivotal role in contemporary society, uniting the world into a single entity by interconnecting every aspect of our lives online. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic of the past year and a half, this technology has become more salient than ever before. As necessity forced us to be physically socially distant, much of the world compensated by shifting work and social life to virtual meeting places in cyberspace.
What have been the repercussions, both positive and negative, of shifting so much of our lives to cyberspace? How has it impacted our relationships, our physical and emotional health, our education, and our religious faith in particular? Even before the pandemic, religious life had been increasingly moving onto the Internet, but unable to gather in person, followers of many religions have scrambled to adapt their lives of faith to virtual forums. After over a year of this social experiment, we have a wealth of experience allowing us to reflect on the opportunities that the online world offers to religions, as well as the challenges presented by practicing faith in cyberspace.
For traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, what has been the experience of undertaking ritual practices and communal worship through the disembodied, two-dimensional screens of computers, tablets, and smart phones? Can God be met in cyberspace? Have Christians been able to share the trials of others through LCD screens to be one with the suffering Christ on the cross? Has reliance on this technology facilitated or hindered the communitarian life of Islamic mosques and Jewish synagogues? Can the Buddhist monastic experience be reproduced in any meaningful way online, and how have engaged Buddhists pursued the bodhisattva practice of liberating oneself by helping others to attain liberation without meeting others in person?
Some commentators and even governments have identified our technology-interconnected world as the source of trouble, such as the spread of disinformation. Have we lost something of our humanity by interacting through screens instead of through fully embodied communication in person?
As countries move out of the pandemic, how should we proceed into the future? Should we live more of our lives through cyberspace, or should we try to “roll back the clock” and go back to the way things were before? Can we even go back to the way things were before?
In the Spring 2022 issue of Dharma World, we hope to explore the impact of living in cyberspace on humanity’s religious traditions and spiritual practices.