Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Final Blog

The purpose of this blog was to investigate lived religion in the Twitter realm. Over the course of the past weeks, I have been investigating various Catholic Twitter users and how they bring their faith into their online social life. I have looked at people within the Church (Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan, and Father Jonathan), people working in youth ministry (Mark Hart, Jackie Francois, Ennie Hickman, Christopher West), and two college-age Catholics (Caity Tarrabocchia and Kim Strong). Three tweets of each of these nine people containing religious related content were discussed. All the participants had several tweets referencing God or religious topics in some way. This proves that these people are in fact bringing religion into the world of Twitter. These people often discussed topics such as loving thy neighbor, forgiveness, and the goodness of God. One of Kim Strong's tweets read, "I am way too blessed. #glorytoGod." Kim recognizes God's presence and goodness. One of Ennie Hickman's tweets says, "We want to give advice. Jesus wants us to give love." Ennie talks about Jesus directly and his love.
All of the tweets I looked at were consistent with the teachings of the Catholic church. No one tweeted anything contrary to the Catholic Church. The majority of the tweets did not reference specific doctrine but rather general topics such as love, forgiveness, evangelization, and prayer. Mark Hart tweeted about prayer comparing it to taking your car to the only mechanic you can trust. Ennie tweeted about God's love: "When we fail, God doesn't call us out. He calls us to supper." The lived religion being performed online is not contradicting any Catholic teachings, but does not highlight specific Catholic doctrine.
The Twitter users being observed for this case study were expressing their religion online. They discussed religious topics and recognized God in their own lives. They were able to bring religious discussion into Twitter; however, they were not "doing" religion on Twitter. These tweets were not comparable to going to Mass or participating in religion. These expressions were simply used to talk about God and communicate ideas. Religious discussion exists on Twitter, but it is not being used as a sacred space for the actual performance of religion.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Week 7--Focusing Observations and Looking for Trends in Lived Relgion Online

For this week's blog, we are asked to investigate three more instances of how religion is performed on a specific media platform. I will be looking at three more examples of how Twitter users express their Catholic faith on Twitter and compare them with my previous findings.
I will begin by analyzing the Twitter account of Catholic author, Christopher West.

Looking at his recent tweets, I came across several references to Pope Francis's recent encyclical. West cites the Pope's writings several times in his tweets. One of his most recent posts states, "Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them..." This is a direct quote from Pope Francis. West also references his own personal blog in many of his tweets. In this blog, Christopher discusses a range of topics all centered around the teachings of the Church. Many of his blog posts relate the weekly church readings to modern ideas. Another tweet asks, "Who do I serve?" This is followed by a link to West's blog that contains commentary on the Bible passage discussing that no one can serve two masters. Christopher seems to be using Twitter to spread the teachings of the Church through sharing the Pope's message and discussing the Gospel.

Next, I will look at the Twitter account of my good friend, Kim.

Perusing Kim's tweets, I immediately came across one mentioning God: "I am wayyy too blessed. #allglorytoGod" Kim also posted a picture with a friend after going to Mass. I also noticed a religious related post that Kim retweeted that states, "Pointing fingers at the world's behavior is not the same as evangelization. Love the world, don't simply condemn it." Kim displays her Catholic-ness by the nature of her tweets. She does not discuss specific doctrines of the Church, but she recognizes God in her life and her tweets. Religion is part of Kim's life, and she displays this in her social media use.

Lastly, I will examine the Twitter account of Catholic priest Father Jonathan Morris.

Fr. Jonathan's tweets are largely about religious subjects. One of his recent tweets reads, "Hi, my name is Jonathan. I'm a sinner. I'm a Catholic priest. I love Jesus. I'm involved in many projects, but they don't define me." One of his tweets contains a photo of the tomb of St. Peter along with a few words about how Fr. Jonathan prayed for a miracle for everyone who asked him for prayers. Another notable tweet from Father Jonathan says, "Oh God, I trust that you will take my insignificant efforts today to do your will, the best I know how, and make them significant." This particular tweet had 36 favorites and 50 retweets. There were also several comments to this tweet, many saying "Amen" or "Thank you Fr. Jon." Father Jonathan has over 30,000 followers and his tweets average around 40 retweets each. He is using Twitter to express and share his faith with others, and his followers are receptive of that. There is interaction and self expression of religion through this social media platform.

These examples of performance of religion on a social media platform are similar to the previous examples I observed. Every person that I've looked at seems to use Twitter to express their religion and communicate their beliefs to others. They are looking to spread their faith to others and display something that is of value to them. The people I've observed talk about religion in a positive light. Many people, including Kim and Caity, express thanks and gratitude to God. Others, such as Ennie and Jackie, talk about the goodness of God and God's love. Still others, including Pope Francis and Mark Hart, talk about specific elements of the Catholic faith such as prayer and forgiveness.

As far as patterns or trends go, I've noticed that in general the users I've observed have posted positively about religion and have received positive feedback, with the exception of Pope Francis. Many people received numerous retweets and favorites for their religious posts. No one received negative comments except for Pope Francis. Something else interesting I found was that several of the people I observed follow each other on Twitter. Jackie Francois, Mark Hart, and Ennie Hickman all follow each other, and they each also follow Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan, and Father Jonathan Morris. Kim follows Ennie Hickman, and both Kim and Caity follow Pope Francis. It appears that a community of Catholics has emerged on Twitter. Many of these people retweet each other and tweet at each other. Catholics seem to be searching out other Catholics for inspiration and encouragement on Twitter. I would assume with all the negativity I've seen on Twitter and other social media platforms that religious people are looking for positive content on Twitter. This leads them to find people who believe in similar things as them and post positive messages.

Last week I observed that Catholic Twitter users were using this social media platform to spread and express their religion. Twitter is being used largely for evangelization purposes and to encourage fellow Catholics. Among all of the people I have observed so far, everyone has posted positive messages in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. These posts are not random or superficial; they appear to be a natural extension of one's life simply conveyed into an 180 character or less tweet. The findings I have analyzed this week are harmonious with my observations of last week.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 6- Identifying Trends in the Performance and Constrution of Lived Religion Online

In this post I will be examining my findings from the past few weeks and drawing comparisons and conclusions about the performance of religion on Twitter.

The six people I looked at on Twitter were Pope Francis, Mark Hart, Jackie Francois, Caity Tarrabocchia, Ennie Hickman, and Cardinal Dolan. Two of these people are leaders in the Church. Three of these people have a history of working in youth ministry, and one is a college student at Texas A&M.

Because of the nature of Twitter, performing religion on this platform is somewhat limited and provides little variation. There is a character limit of 180 on Twitter. Posts can include words, a picture, or a link. Because of these parameters, the tweets of the people I observed offer little variation. The majority of the people I observed used only words to communicate their thoughts; Jackie Francois used a link to an article in one of her tweets. Caity used a picture of Jesus in one of her tweets. A few of the twitter users including Caity and Cardinal Dolan chose to directly quote scripture in their tweets. Most of the users reference Jesus or God in some way in their tweets. A majority of the tweets I analyzed contained thoughts and reflections on certain religious ideas such as forgiveness and prayer. Mark Hart compared prayer to going to the only mechanic you can trust. Cardinal Dolan tweeted about the importance of prayer even though it may be difficult at times. Ennie offered a few insightful thoughts on the nature of Jesus saying, "When we fail, God doesn't call us out; He calls us to supper." These people offer support and encouragement to their audiences. They offer ways to apply and think about religious ideas in the world today. They seem to be using Twitter to evangelize, reach out to their modern audience, and reaffirm the teachings of the Church. People like Caity and some of the Twitter users who commented on Cardinal Dolan's and Pope Francis's tweets also seemed to use Twitter as a space for public expression and validation of religion. They wanted people to know of their beliefs and see that there are others out there who believe the same things. All of the posts I have observed have been in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church and therefore have not been conflicting with each other.

These findings have implicated that people are using Twitter to perform religion. The six people I observed use Twitter to express their thoughts and ideas regarding religion as well as seek to encourage and spread religion to their audiences. These people are not harsh or accusing in their tweets; they offer encouraging and insightful thoughts regarding religious ideas. These tweets are a natural extension of themselves and their expression on Twitter.

My proposed research question for the rest of this assignment will be as follows:
Within the Twitter realm, how do users express, share, and promote religious ideas and thoughts thereby performing religion, and how has this created a network of support among fellow believers and a platform for evangelization and promotion of religion?

My research has uncovered that there is vast population of people who use online media to perform religion. I have found that Twitter is not primarily used for religious purposes; it is most often used to keep up with the day to day activities and thoughts of other users. However, religion is incorporated into many people's Twitter usage. Twitter offers a place to spread and promote ideas, and many people utilize this platform to express their religion and beliefs. People do this by quoting scripture, stating their own thoughts on religious teaching, and posting reminders of God's works and qualities. This has created an online community among members of the same religion. This will help me to focus my study on the performance of user generated religion online by looking at this incorporation of religious ideals and considering the motives and outcomes of this religious performance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Week 5 - More Investigations in Lived Religion in Social Media

In this week of blogging, I will continue to explore the construct of religion on Twitter by examining the posts of various Catholic users. First up on my observation list will be my good friend, Caity Tarrabocchia. She identifies as Catholic, and is a user of Twitter.

Perusing her recent tweets, I quickly came across one referencing scripture. She states, "Romans 5:8-9 made my day so much brighter." Through this tweet, Caity is expressing her enjoyment of scripture and also sharing Bible verses with all of her followers.
The next tweet I found having to do with religion states, "Crazy that we sweat the small stuff when this guy had his body nailed to a cross for us to even breathe," with a link to a picture of Jesus Christ. Caity is obviously tweeting about Jesus's passion when he died on the cross to save all of humanity. She is using Twitter to express what really matters to her, which is Jesus Christ. She uses this social media platform to express her belief in Jesus and share that belief with her followers.
Looking back to Caity's tweets from June, I found one with a direct scripture quote from the gospel of according to Luke. Caity tweeted this verse and shared it with her followers. She uses Twitter to express her religion and share it with others. She is conveying the message that her religion is a rock that grounds her, and she wants others to know the satisfaction and peace she gets from her faith.

Next up for analysis is Ennie Hickman, a proclaimed Catholic and speaker.

Ennie's most recent tweet reads, "God needs us to be okay with simply loving people without quantifying its success." Two tweets from not long before that one read, "We want to give advice. Jesus wants to give love," and "When we fail, God doesn't call us out. He calls us to supper." The majority of his tweets have some sort of religious content. Ennie offers his own insight and thoughts on religious ideas. He speaks of forgiveness and love. Ennie's tweets express his own thoughts and reflections as well as speak to his followers and offer challenges to live a certain way. Ennie's message conveyed through Twitter is that religion should challenge one to live differently and that religion is for everyone.

Lastly, I will look at the Twitter account of Cardinal Dolan, a cardinal to the Catholic Church and archbishop of New York.

Looking at his tweets, this first one I found containing religious content discusses the importance and struggle of prayer. The next religious laden tweet I found states, "The way, the truth, and the life. It's not a thing or a concept, but a person: Jesus Christ." He also quotes a scripture verse about judgment in one of his most recent tweets. Cardinal Dolan works for the Catholic Church; part of his intention for his Twitter account is most likely to evangelize for the Church. He offers his own advice, insight, and reflection on Church teaching. Cardinal Dolan has over 138,00 followers. The three tweets I mentioned have a combined total of over 800 retweets; people are responding positively to Cardinal Dolan. Interestingly, only one of the tweets I mentioned had comments following it. This is quite a contrast from the Pope's tweets which all receive a plethora of comments. Cardinal Dolan is not quite as popular as the Pope, however, so this does make some sense. The comments that I read on Cardinal Dolan's tweet about prayer were much more positive than the comments I read on the Pope's tweets. Most of the comments to Cardinal Dolan were stating personal opinions and preferences about prayer. The people that follow Cardinal Dolan seem to gain encouragement and insight from the tweets of Cardinal Dolan. Cardinal Dolan offers theological insight and information.

The platform of Twitter offers a place to reach many people. Tweeters can receive feedback to their posts and also see how many people they are reaching as well as who they are reaching by examining who is retweeting and following them. Twitter also keeps users at a safe distance from other users. Some people may follow people or have followers who they have never met before. Because of this, tweeters can be more bold about what they say. There is no fear of actually coming face to face with the people that read their tweets. This can cause tweeters to say things they might not normally say in person. People who are skittish about talking about religious topics in person might have more courage to say these things online. This also eliminates the personal touch of face to face interaction, which is a useful tool in evangelization. This could make Twitter less useful in evangelization. Also, if users cannot get people to follow them, they may not get the gratification they are looking for in expressing their religion to others through Twitter. The 180 character limit also presents a challenge in expressing oneself.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Week 4- Mapping User Generated Religion

Week 4 - Mapping User Generated Religion
My chosen case study is focusing on the construct of religion on Twitter, specifically how users are responding to religious leaders on Twitter and how ordinary users who identify with a specific religion bring their beliefs into the Twitter world. My focus will be refined specifically to Catholicism.
Firstly, I will look at the Twitter account of Pope Francis:

My first observation is that the Pope is quite popular; he currently has 2,979,686 followers. Looking at his last three tweets from September 13th, 14th, and 15th, I see that two of the tweets offer general life advice. The third offers a reflection about Jesus and Mary. While these tweets are uplifting, another story is told in the comments of these tweets. I have read five comments so far, and all of them have been extremely negative. A few criticize Pope Francis and call him a hypocrite. These comments addressed a tweet that said, "Seeking happiness in material things is a sure way of being unhappy." I would say that this idea is rather counter to our current culture of always wanting the latest technology or gadget, and the comments support this. Twitter users have not taken this statement  about materialism well. The comments are much more positive on a tweet regarding getting to know one's neighbors. However on the tweet about Jesus and Mary, the tweets are again extremely negative and disagreeing. One user says that the tweet sounds like paganism; another comment questions the Pope's theology, disagreeing about the role of Mary. These three tweets have a combined total of around 15,000 retweets and about 9,000 favorites. So it is apparent that the Pope is reaching users on Twitter. There is both positive and negative feedback to the his online preachings.

The next Twitter user I will investigate is Mark Hart.

Mark Hart is the vice president of Life Teen, a Catholic organization that specializes in youth ministry. He is an acclaimed Catholic. I will be looking at his last three tweets from one hour ago, nine hours ago, and ten hours ago. His most recent tweet accounts an interaction between him and his daughters and a discovery of a treasure on Netflix. This tweet is not religious in any obvious way; it simply tells us that he is a caring father and a lover of Netflix. Hart's next tweet compares prayer to taking one's car to a trusted mechanic. This tweet obviously contains the religious word "prayer." He is not specifically talking about a Catholic idea. Hart is expressing a metaphor about the underlying goodness of prayer. This tweet has 45 retweets and 31 favorites. He is obviously not reaching as many people as the Pope, but Mark Hart does have an audience on Twitter. There are only two comments: one makes a joke and the other appears to be a spam tweet. Hart's next tweet is promoting his appearance on a radio show. While this tweet is not overtly religious, the radio show he mentions was surely a religious centered show. He is promoting an event that discusses religious ideas and inviting others to listen to this event. Hart is attempting to reach his followers and engage them in this radio show.

The last person I will observe in this blog is Jackie Francois.

Jackie is also an acclaimed Catholic. She is a singer and speaks at many Catholic youth events. Looking at two of her tweets from September 13th and one from September 11th, I find one happy birthday wish to her mother and two comments on articles. Jackie's most recent tweet links to an obituary along with Jackie's input of admiration of the woman the obituary is about. This tweet is not religious; it simply expresses Jackie's reverence for this woman who has passed. It show's Jackie's compassion for this woman. This tweet received 10 retweets and 13 favorites. This is not a huge audience but still a larger audience than an average Twitter user. People are reading Jackie's tweets. Francois's next tweet contains a heartfelt birthday wish to her mother. There appears to be nothing religious in this; we see that Jackie cares about her mother. The next tweet links to a blog entitled, "Love is not Tolerance," by Fulton Sheen. This article discusses the idea of love standing up for truth and not tolerating others to live lives of sin. This article mentions God and many religious concepts; however, it does not directly say anything about Catholicism. By posting about this article, Jackie expresses her views about love, truth, tolerance, and sin. She is broadcasting her beliefs in the Twitter realm. This tweet received 12 retweets and 6 favorites. There are no comments on any of Jackie's tweets. Jackie does not specifically post about direct theology of the Catholic Church, but she does express her own beliefs, opinions, and faith.

Twitter offers a unique form of communication. Anyone is able to post anything they wish on this platform. Twitter does offer the challenge of only being able to use 180 characters, so tweets must be rather short. Twitter offers a way to reach a large audience. It also offers a way to reach teenagers who compose the majority distribution of Twitter users. Twitter can and is being used to communicate certain religious ideas and topics; however discussion is limited with the character limit. Also, anyone can comment on tweets, so negative feedback is a major issue when presenting religious ideas. One might see a tweet from the Pope and think positively of it and consider applying to his or her life. After scrolling through the comments, however, this person might question the validity and truth of the Pope's message.
This platform offers an opportunity to express personal beliefs and opinions. One can openly share his or her thoughts on religion and receive feedback. Twitter users can also read others' opinions, beliefs, and theology on certain subjects. Pictures and links can be attached to tweets as well, so users have the options of utilizing these functions to share religious pictures or articles. Again, because of the character limit, users are limited on the length of their expression. Also, users may have a hard time gaining followers and broadcasting their beliefs which could be discouraging for some.
Each person I have studied communicates a message about religion. Pope Francis is using Twitter to share his insight and reflections about faith. He is showing an example of bringing one's beliefs into Twitter. He is showing that church ideals can extend beyond the actual church building.
Mark Hart also offers his reflections about religion and uses his Twitter account to promote religious events. He is an example of a good family man, and is using Twitter to be a role model to others. Hart is communicating that one can be inherently good without broadcasting beliefs and theology at all times.
Jackie Francois shows her faith and opinions on general topics through her Twitter account. Similar to Mark Hart, she shows her good virtues of kindness and compassion through Twitter. She is an example of a good human being and brings positivity to Twitter. She doesn't always quote theological ideas, but she expresses her beliefs on religious topics.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Case Study Proposal

My proposed case study will focus on Twitter as a social media platform. The study will investigate various religious leaders as well as ordinary participants of various religions on Twitter. I will explore how religious leaders are utilizing Twitter to reach a new, modern audience. I will then observe the responses to the efforts of these religious leaders and attempt to gage the success of bringing religion into the Twitter world.
I have chosen Twitter as my area of focus because as a participant in social media, I feel as though Twitter is currently one of the most popular social media outlets. From what I have observed, Twitter also seems to be the area many people are most comfortable expressing themselves. I am a member of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, and out of these four outlets, I have witnessed the most bold expressions on Twitter. Of the people I follow on Twitter and am friends with on Facebook, the majority are much more likely to state controversial opinions and more heavily stress their beliefs on Twitter rather than Facebook. Instagram and Pinterest are both interesting social media sites, but there is more room for vocalizing opinions on Twitter.
My focus for this study is the responses to evangelization efforts of religious leaders on Twitter. By evangelization I mean the preaching and spreading of beliefs to others. I have chosen this topic because evangelization has become more emphasized in religions nowadays. I am interested to see how effective the utilization of social media outlets is in reaching followers of different religions. Most importantly I will focus on the response to the utilization of Twitter for religious purposes and examine how ordinary people bring their religion into the Twitter realm.
I will be observing the posts of various Christian religious leaders including the Pope. These leaders will not necessarily hold any specific title; I will also investigate devout members of certain religions. I will study the posts of ordinary people who do not hold any specific religious leadership title as well. I will compare and contrast the types of posts as well as the frequency of posts by these people. I will most importantly be looking at the responses to these posts, including retweets and comments, as well as the number of followers of each person.
As I mentioned before, the twitter account of Pope Francis will be one of my first areas of exploration. I am not only interested in his specific tweets, but more importantly the response to those tweets. By viewing any of the tweets on Pope Francis's Twitter page, one can see the sundry of responses. Some people comment with praises and thankfulness to the Pope's message while others make jokes. The last several tweets averaged around 3,000 retweets, so it is apparent that a number of people are participating in bringing religion to Twitter, a phenomenon that will be explored further in this blog.