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Issue No. 009

Vol. 9 - August 2008
Religion and IT

Religion - from an evolutionary point of view - can be called the very first information business of humankind. The medicine man, the priest, the witch doctor were indeed the first institutions to deal with information only. Their core business was to provide information on the transcendent that is not directly present and accessible: the will of the goddess, the sense of life, what may come after death ... .

As substantial scientific progress has been achieved in the field of information science over the last decades, it is about high time to also reflect the relationship between information (respective the technology used to produce, store and distribute it) and an incumbent subject like religion.

Against the backdrop that until today some religions rely heavily on oral traditions while others are (not only virtually) written in stone our question is not only if that makes any difference for the doctrine itself: the content to be developed and/or passed on. We particularly want to take the ethical point of view and ask the question of the morality involved in the different usage of information in the different religions. Will the technological revolution of the internet account for another religious one? Is it true that you can tell from one’s media usage one’s religious attitudes? And will the convergence within ICTs push a religious convergence adding another yet important facet to the notion of the global village to be promoted by the internet. And finally, is that ethically desirable?

These questions found an impressive echo from all over the world ranging from fundamental, philosophical deliberations on the influence of media usage on religious characteristics over specific examples to be found in Japanese Religion, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity to speculations on possible future developments of religion promoted by the current enhancements of ICTs.

Admitting that we are not able to present final answers here is especially in the field of religion no weakness at all. Thus, we confine ourselves with the hope to contribute substantially to the ongoing discourse on the subject and to your personal deliberations.


the Editors.

Vol. 9 (full journal)
edited by Chibueze C. Udeani, Johannes J. Frühbauer, Rafael Capurro
pdf-fulltext (943 KB)


Introduction to IRIE Vol. 9
by Chibueze C. Udeani, Rafael Capurro, Johannes J. Frühbauer
Language: English
abstract:   Religions are not only communities of faith but also of communication. Religious communication takes place vertically between human beings and a transcendent holy entity. It also occurs horizontally among individuals and groups. This is the reason why religions cannot remain unaffected by the development and the future directions of the global digital network. In view of this situation, religions experience the challenge of giving ethical answers to pressing ques-tions particularly in the field of information and com-munication technology that is at the same time an important instrument for religious communication:

Unsuccessful ‘chats’ for mutual understanding about religion in the Japanese Internet: preliminary studies for global information ethics
by Takanori Tamura, Daiyu Tamura
Language: English
abstract:   This paper analyzes the structure of unsuccessful chats over the internet about Japanese religions. On the internet, people of different religions and beliefs can easily meet. However, in Japan, chats about religion rarely succeed. This is due not only to a lack of social cues and anonymity but also because there is power balance between two groups, one with a positive attitude towards religion and the other with a negative attitude. Their different pre-understandings of religion make the discussion difficult. It is important to analyze moments of pre-understanding of discussants in order to better understand the dynamics. We present an approach for such analysis based on Paul Ricoeur’s theory for “Threefold Mimesis.” This is a trial for successful communication among people from different cultures and societies via the internet. It could be a step forward in achieving the global information ethics that Charles Ess claims. This is because differences in the pre-understanding of a topic are an essential problem there.

Plato, Judaism, Kant and Information Technology
by Richard A. Cohen
Language: English
abstract:   Plato’s two complaints in the Phaedrus about the new technology of writing, namely, that reliance upon it leads to forgetfulness and fosters intellectual misunderstanding, which are here taken equally to be relevant. Possible complaints about contemporary information technology, are examined and assessed, in themselves and in relation to Jewish rabbinic exegetical tradition and in relation to Immanuel Kant’s positive claims for text based religions in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.

Toward a Religious Ethics of Information Communication Technology
by Richard Shields
Language: English
abstract:   This paper deals with how religions formulate ethical responses to the challenges arising from information-communication technology. For over forty years the Catholic Church has constructed an official teaching that attempts provide a consistent and universal perspective for making moral judgments about these technologies and the communications media they enable and sustain. Because of its stature and size as world religion and because its moral understanding has attempted to keep pace with the rapid development of ICT, the Catholic Church’s views have particular significance and can be taken as an artefact and model of how religion responds to the moral challenges posed by modern technology. This paper will examine how ethics and religion come together in Catholic teaching, discuss certain problems arising from that approach, and conclude with suggestions for a future religious ethics of ICT.

Ethical Instruction via ‘Anschauung’
by Thomas Zeilinger
Language: English
abstract:   The way the big churches in Germany traditionally address ethical issues is by discursive memoranda and pastoral letters. The article explores the possibilities of a complementary approach by symbolic presentation. It is suggested that the specifics of the Internet point as well towards that direction as the specific understanding of the educational process as seen in the Christian tradition. Thus the idea of an ethical orientation by exemplary models using the power of imagination is stressed. Some examples from different areas are given to illustrate the notion of a participatory and dialogical exploration of the ethical challenges the net has in store. Rather than defining answers before meeting the challenges, the paper suggests to explore new and appropriate answers by ways of mutual, interpretative practice in the new medium.

The Internet and Hinduism – A Study
by Patheneni Sivaswaroop
Language: English
abstract:   This paper discusses some results of a sample study on how Hindus are using the internet for religious purposes comparing their on-line and off-line religious activities. The behaviour is similar to those reported for different religions from different countries. But it is found that 74% of the sample pray daily, where only 16% go daily to a local temple. This seems to be a major difference between Western and the Hindu religions. In Hinduism going to temple is secondary, as each Hindu house has generally a pooja (room/corner). The survey reports and the uses of the internet by Hindus as well as whether the internet increases religious tolerance or hatred.

Controversy and Charity: The Disembodiment of Religion in Cyberspace
by Ian M. Kenway
Language: English
abstract:   The paper explores the limitations and distortions of religious discussion on the Internet within the wider context of those ethical challenges posed by controversy and debate in cyberspace where “language that is no longer checked and verified by physical reality loses its very grounding”. In particular, it attempts to establish a series of critical connections between the emergence of polemical forms of ‘feuilletonism’ in the area of religious comment and the characteristic weightlessness of language which has become detached from the body, despite the latter’s extension and intensification in the concrete social realisations found in specific faith communities.

Chances and Challenges of ICT for Religious Ethics, its Networks and Power Structures
by Christoph Stückelberger
Language: English
abstract:   Underlining the twofold characteristic of ICT this article deals with chances and challenges of ICT for religious ethics and practice. Chances are: access to information and argumentation; broader access to different traditions around the globe and to history of the own tradition; deeper understanding of other religious and non religious ethics through easier access and exchange. The challenges considered are: relativism, pragmatism, syncretism, opportunism. Both chances and challenges are related to the case of Globalethics.net. A final reflection is focused on changes in (religious) power structures on ethics: they are illustrated by three different models of generating ethics. This contribution closes by emphazising the necessity of responsible ethics.


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