4 Religion Online These mass media technologies from the early 20th century allowed the recording and distribution of any type of content associated with the practice of religion, including sermons, services, and music, and they transformed at-home experience of religion into a multimedia experience. And the Inter- net has provided a new set of tools for the spread of religion. For example, in the early 1990s, the practice of Falun Gong emerged from an ancient medita- tion and exercise tradition known as qigong. In less than ten years, Falun Gong spread to a community of millions of adherents. According to O’Leary (2000), “the Falun Gong has used modern technology to its advantage, exploiting the Internet as a tool for teaching, organizing, and mobilizing its global membership, as well as for counteracting the propaganda with which the Chinese government has inundated the world.” The application of media technology by adherents of different faiths has not been limited to mass media technologies. Tehranian (1999) found that “little media,” such as audiocassette tapes and photocopied paper, were effectively used by Islamic ex-patriots, including Ayatollah Khomeini, to spread his sermons and other messages that fomented the rebellion that ultimately led to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and the rise of the Islamic State in Iran in the 1970s. Intersections of Faith and Digital Technology Digital Technology and Evangelism Christianity, Islam, new religious movements, and other faiths have embraced emerging technologies as ways to share their messages with poten- tial converts. Since the advent of written language, most religions have recorded sacred texts and lessons on paper. Later, the printing press made it easier to distribute these messages to all practitioners, even over distances. Electronic broadcast media have been used for almost a century to share ser- vices, sermons, songs, and other forms of religious speech. Indeed, the power of television to communicate religious messages was evident in the rise of televangelists in the late 20th century (Hadden & Swann, 1981). But limited access to the broadcast spectrum, combined with government control of media in many places, limited the range of religious messages that could be shared over the air. The advent of the Internet and social media broke the access barrier, offer- ing virtually any organized (or unorganized) faith the opportunity to share endless information to members, prospective members, and anyone who might be interested in learning more about that religion. These digital media also allow real-time interaction. This social dimension has provided opportunities for the sharing of prayer, inspiration, homilies, and scripture, as well as more mundane information such as schedules and appeals for financial support.
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