Call for Papers: Religion on the Web

Annual conference of the French Association of Social Sciences of Religion (AFSR)
– 5 February 2013
EHESS Paris, Amphithéâtre François Furet
105 bd Raspail
Paris 6e

During the 1990s, Internet developed in every field of the public sphere and of social life. A new and unprecedented chance to spread a message almost universally (Lévy, 1994) or a danger for the social link because of growing individualism (Breton, 2000) – the increasing importance of virtual reality can be assessed positively or negatively by the social sciences depending on how it is analyzed.

At its beginnings the web offered its users the possibility to consult websites, but for several years a second more interactive phase has been developing that allows users to express themselves on forums and social networks and interact on websites which reproduce the real world online (“Second Life”).

Religions participate in this evolution. They have indeed adapted relatively quickly to modern technologies and sometimes even played a pioneering role. Religious phenomena – institutional religions or more diffuse religious experiences – are nowadays totally present on the web. The Internet itself can become an object of belief or cult.

This conference aims to explore new relationships between the Internet and religions situated in precise cultural contexts. It will be interesting to point out the representations of space and time and the use of written contents and images in each context. It does not aim to establish an inventory of the presence and uses of religions on the Internet, but to deliver detailed analyses of the relations between the former and the latter. Analysis also involves a methodological reflection on the way this new field can be investigated by the social sciences.

With this in mind, three main axes have been identified which will structure three sessions of the conference:

1. Designers and users of the religious virtual scene

Although it may seem easy to carry out a content analysis of these websites because of their visibility (by essence), it is more difficult but indispensable to define their reception and the use to which they are put. Different questions can be envisaged:
– Who are the designers of the website: religious institutions, a self-proclaimed leader, radical movements? This refers back to questions about authority and religious legitimacy, forces of opposition – also secular – or dissidence.
– What do religious institutions, movements or leaders reveal of themselves through contents, images, virtual identities? Which publics are they addressing?
– How is regulation organized on websites and who are the persons in charge?
– How do the users move about those spaces: participation, interactions between users, direct or roundabout use, liberty, constraints, anonymity, amount of time spent online?

2. What is the impact of Internet on religions?

Is the Internet just one more medium by which to disseminate contents or does it produce in-depth change and if so, in what fields and in what ways?  Several questions can be asked:
– Is the local anchoring reinforced? Is religious globalization intensified?
– Are rituals transformed or renovated?
– Forms of religious jurisprudence (fatwas, responsa…) and requesting advice on blogs, forums, social networks…
– Marketing and all sorts of religious services on the internet: marriage agencies, geo-localization of religious businesses or places of worship, sales of religious goods…In this respect, we are interested not only by the services offered but also by the uses to which they are put
– Is the Internet conducive to creating new religions?

3- How does virtual reality relate to reality per se?

– When and how do people go from virtual reality to actual reality and vice-versa?
– What does that imply from the point of view of the organization and perception of time and space?
– Presence/absence of the body in a certain number of religious acts: conversion, confession, rituals…
– Has the religious factor not always been concerned by virtual reality, by the communication it supposes with the super-natural?

Papers must be based on specific fieldwork.
All cultural and religious contexts qualify.

Papers for the International Conference “Religion on the Web” should be sent before September 30th 2012 to the following address: and must include: title, applicant’s full name and scientific affiliation, and an abstract of ca. 300 words in French and English, specifying the axis, the methodology and cultural area concerned.

  • Presentation of papers (in English or French) should not go over 20 min.
  • Applicants should already be AFSR members or decide to join (
  • The Acts will be published.

Questions concerning the conference may be sent to the following addresses:

  • Fabienne Duteil-Ogata, Laboratoire d’anthropologie urbaine (LAU), IIAC/ EHESS-CNRS,
  • Isabelle Jonveaux, Centre d’études interdisciplinaires des faits religieux (CEIFR/EHESS-CNRS) et Université de Graz (Autriche),
  • Liliane Kuczynski, Laboratoire d’anthropologie urbaine (LAU), IIAC/ EHESS-CNRS,
  • Sophie Nizard, Centre d’études interdisciplinaires des faits religieux (CEIFR/EHESS-CNRS)