Religious Online Developments in a Secular Context

Peter Fischer-Nielsen

Abstract

Religious groups have conceived the internet as both a promising way of increasing interest in religious issues and a threat to the core religious values. This article deals with religious developments on the internet based on theoretical perspectives on secularization. Four relevant themes are listed, namely secularization as loss of religious institutional power and authority, secularization as adaption, secularization as decrease in individual religious engagement, and secularization as changed conditions for religious communication. These themes are investigated through an empirical analysis of results from two large surveys with 1,015 Danes and 1,040 Danish pastors. The article concludes that the internet does not seem to have dramatically changed people’s religious orientation. As in offline contexts, religious institutions are under pressure on the internet. Though the internet has been viewed as a new direct channel to people, evidence suggests that people are difficult to reach and that other players than the religious institutions dominate the transmission of religious messages. Secularization does take place online, but the development is counteracted by deliberate attempts to use the internet in religious activities, for instance by pastors who engage in critical negotiation of the possibilities online.

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