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How Electronic Media are Changing Personal and Religious Identity

Perhaps the hardest concept for older Christians to grasp about younger people is that they do not "go between the church world and the Internet world. They just live in both spaces." For that reason, effective churches that engage in online evangelism and apologetics are not changing religion so much as reflecting "broader shifts that are also happening offline," says Heidi Campbell, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, in an interview housed on Faith & Leadership, and online offering of Duke Divinity School. Campbell, whose research takes place at the intersection of media, culture and religion, coined the term "networked religion" to highlight the fact that "religious practices and relationships are being informed by the structures of the networked society," which is increasingly decentralized and fluid. In the networked society, individualized patterns of belief are increasing and institutional constraints on personal beliefs are decreasing. Thus growing numbers of especially young people say they believe in God but do not belong to a church, and those who do belong see their church as just one part of their religious community and network. For that matter, younger adults see their personal identity as negotiable and created, something that can be constructed and performed, like a role in a play. As the stage changes, the role changes. Religious institutions need to take account of such dramatic shifts in personal awareness. For valuable insight, read the article. Also see our feature article, "Teenage Religiosity: Widely Practiced, Poorly Understood." 

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