Title of Abstract

Personalizing Religion: "New Age" Spirituality and Authenticity Online

Session Title

Religion and Philosophy

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Department

Department of Sociology, Criminology, and Anthropology

Faculty Mentor

Michael Sickels, Ph.D.

Abstract

Traditionally, spirituality has been understood through uniform religious communities, fixed beliefs, and face-to-face worship in physical spaces. As social media sites begin to rise as a platform for both information and conversation, spiritual identity becomes an individual pursuit and virtual performance. “New age” spirituality comes to the forefront of transcendental conversation as religious practitioners are increasingly encouraged to explore, blend, and pick different beliefs to find their own unique expressions of religious and spiritual selves. This research project explores that pursuit. Three “new age” Reddit communities, oriented around spirituality and religion, are captured in this ethnographic media analysis. 600 threads of conversation were analyzed to explore the processes of identity construction within these communities, what warrants spiritual authenticity in a virtual space, and how one’s individual spiritual endeavors personalize the religious experience. The results of this project find a common thread through three different communities: an emphasis on the personal construction of sacred spaces, communication, and a spiritually powerful self. The broader implications of this project lie in the postmodern suggestions of a continuous fracturing of identity and empowerment of the individual that permeates all areas of social life—including the new and virtual.

Previously Presented/Performed?

SAEOPP McNair/SSS Scholars Research Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, June 2019; Sixth Annual Showcase of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (SOURCE), Winthrop University, April 2020

Grant Support?

Supported by a Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education

Start Date

24-4-2020 12:00 AM

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Apr 24th, 12:00 AM

Personalizing Religion: "New Age" Spirituality and Authenticity Online

Traditionally, spirituality has been understood through uniform religious communities, fixed beliefs, and face-to-face worship in physical spaces. As social media sites begin to rise as a platform for both information and conversation, spiritual identity becomes an individual pursuit and virtual performance. “New age” spirituality comes to the forefront of transcendental conversation as religious practitioners are increasingly encouraged to explore, blend, and pick different beliefs to find their own unique expressions of religious and spiritual selves. This research project explores that pursuit. Three “new age” Reddit communities, oriented around spirituality and religion, are captured in this ethnographic media analysis. 600 threads of conversation were analyzed to explore the processes of identity construction within these communities, what warrants spiritual authenticity in a virtual space, and how one’s individual spiritual endeavors personalize the religious experience. The results of this project find a common thread through three different communities: an emphasis on the personal construction of sacred spaces, communication, and a spiritually powerful self. The broader implications of this project lie in the postmodern suggestions of a continuous fracturing of identity and empowerment of the individual that permeates all areas of social life—including the new and virtual.