Social Media and Religious Syncretism

In the article “What Effect Has the Internet Had on Religion?,” published in The Guardian, author Aleks Krotoski argues that the importance of the internet in everyday life has become a destabilizing force on traditional religion. In order to stay relevant, it’s argued, religious organizations have moved their services online in order to reach wider audiences. This has challenged the control that religious leaders once held over their followers, resulting in a growing amount of spiritual practices that fall between the cracks of what is considered mainstream. Krotoski states “. . . the web has helped proliferate different interpretations and articulations of religions and we have witnessed the emergence of new online communities and faiths. Individuals now have a much more autonomous role in deciding whom to approach as a source” (paragraph 8). I agree with the author’s main claims and further argue that the syncretization of spiritual beliefs is occurring directly due to the rising pluralism of religious groups on social media.

In chapter 16 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, it’s stated that some sociologists believe in a sociostructural crisis in religion caused by pluralism, which is “the presence and engaged coexistence of numerous distinct groups in one society” (Conley). This increased diversity in religious groups is argued to be detrimental to the social foundation of religion, allowing for various denominations to discredit others’ practices. However, instead of the “religious disintegration, psychological malaise, and chaos” these sociologists predicted, we are faced with the modern emergence of individualized forms of spirituality, which borrow from multiple religions and incorporate a variety of traditions. As further stated in the chapter, “These “nones”—which make up about a quarter of the population, up from only a tenth in 1980 (Smith & Cooperman, 2016)—are not necessarily atheists. In fact, only a third definitively state that they do not believe in God (Pew Research Center, 2015b).” This phenomenon of rising eclecticism is directly attributable to the increased plurality in traditional religion, which I argue is enabled by the cross-pollinating forces of social media.

According to a study from 2016, published in Sociological Perspectives Vol. 59, the rapid adoption of social media has had syncretizing effect on the religious beliefs of emerging adults. The study specifically found that “emerging adults who use SNS [social networking sites] are more likely to think it is acceptable to pick and choose their religious beliefs, and practice multiple religions independent of what their religious tradition teaches . . .” (page 818).  This occurrence is due to the cross-pollination of new ideas and beliefs through the internet, recently facilitated by social networks. One of the author’s supported hypotheses states “SNS users will be more likely than non-SNS users to report that it is acceptable for a member of their own religious tradition to practice other religions” (page 830). These trendsetters in the study are indirectly acknowledging that at least some truths exist in other religions, confirming the effect of pluralism.

Does the advent of the internet and rise of social media mark the beginning of social breakdown in religion, or the collective transcendence of divisive traditions? I believe that both are occurring. As religious organizations increasingly utilize the internet to reach wider audiences, an ever-broadening degree of pluralism is arising. This is reflected in the emergence of individualized forms of spirituality that incorporate some form of belief in a higher power, yet do not affiliate with traditional denominations. As Krotoski concludes in her article “The search for answers is part of our social narrative and so it is unsurprising that we have gone to the web to ask the questions. There, we are finding our communities, whether they are organized under a traditional doctrine with well-established rituals, or are evolutions that have been produced by people who feel they have seen the light” (paragraph 11). I agree with the author’s main claims and further argue that the syncretization of spiritual beliefs is occurring directly due to the rising pluralism of religious groups on social media.

Works Cited:

“Chapter 16: Religion.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Krotoski, Aleks. “What Effect Has the Internet Had on Religion?” The Guardian, 16 Apr. 2011, www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/apr/17/untangling-web-aleks-krotoski-religion.  

McClure, Paul K. “Faith and Facebook in a Pluralistic Age: The Effects of Social Networking Sites on the Religious Beliefs of Emerging Adults.” Sociological Perspectives, vol. 59, no. 4, 2016, pp. 818–834. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26340183. Accessed 9 Nov. 2020.

Monocultural Hybridization

In the article “Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm?,” published in Vox, author Kyle Chayka outlines two opposing concerns in the mass culture of entertainment. On one hand, digital streaming has resulted in a reduction of society’s ability to connect and relate through entertainment. The author states “The fear is that we exist in a fragmented realm of impenetrable niches and subcultures enabled by streaming media” (Chayka). The other concern is that social media and algorithmic recommendations in streaming are causing culture to become more similar than different. He further explains “We are worried that our digital niches cause a degree of homogenization, which the word monoculture is also used to describe” (Chayka). It is my opinion that these two seemingly irreconcilable concerns are interrelated and happening concurrently. I argue that mass media is both a homogenizing and fragmenting force on culture through a process of hybridization.

In chapter 3 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, culture is described as “. . . both the technology by which humans have come to dominate nature and the belief systems, ideologies, and symbolic representations that constitute human existence” (Conley). As we are witnessing in the age of the internet, the technological impact on culture happens on a global scale. The rapid dissemination of media is only enhanced through the advent of streaming services, which optimize viewing time through the use of algorithmic recommendations. In contrast to linear television, the modern popularity of digital streaming has fragmented media consumption into various dichotomous categories, such as social vs. intimate and niche vs. mass, with much overlap. This indicates not a reduction but an evolution in monoculture. As Kyle Chayka states, “These are all forms of monoculture that don’t rely on an enforced, top-down sameness, but create sameness from the bottom up” (Chayka). Rather than monoculture being purely determined by the gatekeepers of traditional broadcast media, algorithmic homogenization is a rising influence.

In an academic journal from the University of Pennsylvania, the effects of globalization on culture through different forms of media were explored. The researcher outlined a more nuanced perspective on cultural imperialism, which is the idea that audiences across the globe are disproportionately affected by media from Western countries. This alternative perspective is cultural hybridity or hybridization, which “. . . does not give prominence to globalization as a homogenizing force, nor does it believe in localization as a resistive process opposed to globalization” (Kraidy). The process of hybridization involves mediation between different cultures, which in the example of media streaming, gives birth to the various subcultures of entertainment we have today. The study concludes “Consequently, the globalization of culture through the media is not a process of complete homogenization, but rather one where cohesion and fragmentation coexist” (Kraidy). Thus, I believe this process reconciles both concerns outlined in author Kyle Chayka’s article. The hybridization of monoculture has occurred through both the fragmentation of media consumption and the homogenizing forces of algorithmic recommendations.

Works Cited:

Chayka, Kyle. Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm? 17 Dec. 2019, http://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/12/17/21024439/monoculture-algorithm-netflix-spotify. 

“Chapter 11: Health and Society.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Kraidy, Marwan M. “Globalization of Culture Through the Media.” ScholarlyCommons, 2002, repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/325/?utm_source=repository.upenn.edu%2Fasc_papers%2F325. 

The Ineffectiveness of Online Advocacy

In the article “The Problem With Social-Media Protests,” published in The Atlantic, author Antonia Malchick argues that online social movements are likely to experience faster burnout and result in less actual policy change than in-person activism. Before the internet increased the speed at which information travels, it’s claimed, advocacy in general was slower growing, but benefited from the extra time spent deepening social interactions and strengthening the underlying interconnections of the movement. Malchick states “By contrast, mass protests such as Occupy Wall Street formed rapidly but then, lacking that underlying resilience created over time, often lost focus, direction, and, most important, their potential to effect change” (paragraph 3). I believe that the author’s claims are especially relevant in current times, and I further argue that social media activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy due to its reduced ability to sway an elected official’s vote, and the threat of social manipulation by foreign actors.

In chapter 18 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, the overall effectiveness of online social movements is brought into question. Testimony from sociologist Doug McAdam reveals that despite the easily disseminated nature of information, online-based movements may not utilize preexisting interpersonal relationships to create effective behavioral change. He states “successful movements, movements that take off very quickly, emerge within established communities, and essentially the members of that community are threatened with the loss of member benefits for failure to go along. It’s not clear that the electronic communities have the same capacity to monitor people’s compliance with the new line of action” (Conley). This potentially reduced compliance ultimately results in a lack of accountability within online movements. Empty clicks and inconsequential Tweets take the place of tangible commitment in followers, greatly reducing the likelihood of an elected official treating the cause seriously. As stated further in chapter 18, “politicians and policy makers can easily ignore online social movements. They know that e-mail is cheap and easy, and therefore they value it less” (Conley). In general, lack of legislative potential is a profound reason why internet activism cannot replace physical protests and in-person advocacy.

As communication in our society is increasingly organized online, disinformation and manipulation become more probable threats. The capacity for subterfuge by foreign actors and those who profit from division is only enhanced by the less resilient nature of online social movements. In the journal article “Tackling Disinformation, Online Terrorism, and Cyber Risks into the 2020s,” published in The Cyber Defense Review, author Oz Sultan outlines the complex systems of disinformation and propaganda enabled by social media. He argues that false-narrative stories propagated through alternative media sites are being leveraged by countries such as Russia, as well as copycat campaigns, to influence, confuse, or demoralize social movements and the online population in general. Sultan claims “These anchor stories . . . work like a signal that gets transmitted through several repeaters. Disruption of these stories or weaponized content should actively involve the social media platforms that facilitate their dissemination. However, what we’ve seen in recent years is a reticence by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp to follow through” (page 46). This vulnerability of social movements to the influence of foreign propaganda is another chief reason why online activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy.

Digital technology has given rise to previously unfathomable amounts of interconnectivity and readily available information. It is an inevitability that social activists will seek to utilize the online medium to further their causes. However, there are concerns that arise with this newfound arena for advocacy that remain significant and still partly unknown. As Antonia Malchick concludes in her article, “The realities of face-to-face contact and in-person mass protests, the tools of centuries of struggle for full citizenship and rights, have become even more essential to grounding us as we navigate through a new era of humans’ relationship with technology” (paragraph 11). While the creation of tangible, in-the-flesh connections with each other is being tested by factors like COVID-19, its importance is only further highlighted. Overall, I agree with Malchick’s claims and argue that social media activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy due to its reduced ability to sway an elected official’s vote, and the threat of social manipulation by foreign actors.

Works Cited:

“Chapter 18: Collective Action, Social Movements, and Social Change.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Malchik, Antonia. “The Problem With Social-Media Protests.” The Atlantic, 6 May 2019, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/in-person-protests-stronger-online-activism-a-walking-life/578905/. 

Sultan, Oz. “Tackling Disinformation, Online Terrorism, and Cyber Risks into the 2020s.” The Cyber Defense Review, vol. 4, no. 1, 2019, pp. 43–60. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26623066. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

Fog of Glory

Throughout colonial Boston Massachusetts, until about 1770, Pope’s Day was celebrated to commemorate the discovery and thwarting of a Catholic plot to overthrow King James in 1605. Occurring on the 5th of November, this anti-catholic celebration served as a way to unify the colonists religiously and through their mutual hatred of the Catholic church. The event often included violence, rival mobs, and the burning of effigies to signify disgust in the Devil, Pope and even Tax Collector. It was an unofficial holiday upon which the “have-nots” and poor workers of town would gather, demanding coins from households and brawling in the streets.

In Boston, upon this day of celebratory madness, two rival mobs would generally form: a North End Mob and a South End Mob. Meeting in the middle of town, these two mobs would commence to brawl, the winners partaking in the burning of the effigies. During the time in which the Stamp Act emerged, other mobs developed in opposition to the act, proving to be a vital patriotic aspect of the coming Revolution. The 5th of November, leading up to roughly 1770 in which processions for the Boston Massacre superseded, was defined by protests to the many parliamentary taxes enacted by the British. After the Revolutionary War, Pope’s Day ceased to be celebrated.

This historical event was significant in that it highlights the violent, maddening and overall bloody nature of conflict in the colonies during the 18th century that is often insufficiently mentioned in textbooks. Akin to an outright civil war, the events leading up to the Revolution were hardly peaceful. The mobs, brawls and death at the hands of colonists within their communities paints the decade in a grim light. The transition from British rule to Independence did not arise without sacrifice. Revolutions in general are often glorified to reflect the societal change as beneficial and to prove that the many glaring sacrifices were not made in vain. The families that were torn apart, the children that were killed needlessly and the disruption of economic order are hardly discussed in detail.

Of course, it’s impossible to guess where the United States would be today if the Revolution had never occurred. Most likely, its citizens can thank their freedom and economic opportunity to the very revolution that was carried out in blood and death. What’s important to realize is that the details and possible motives of any major societal change are never completely pretty. November 5th in the original colonies is just one example. Pope’s Day is merely a window into the true passion, desires and animosity of the colonists. However, we can use it as a way to see clearly and factually what the fog of glory has obscured from the mainstream belief.

Remembering the “who” and what” is never enough. Always search for the “why” and “how” and the cause and effect. Only then can the truth of any event be unveiled.

Sources:

“Pope’s Day (1765).” Pope’s Day 1765, a Large Anti-Catholic Celebration Held in Boston Eacy Year during Colonial Days. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.
Deming, Brian. “Pope Day in Boston Before the Revolution.” Suite. 14 July 2009. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

Mizzou — Environmental Leadership Office

The University of Missouri is rich with resources and amenities, offering its students a wide-ranging variety of organizations to become involved on campus. Every interest and concern is addressed through the use of these programs in order to better the lives of each individual student among the collective whole of the university. One such organization is the Environmental Leadership Office which collaborates with MU students to pursue environmental issues on campus and abroad. Providing support and leadership opportunities, ELO connects and empowers students to spread the concept and implementation of a sustainable Mizzou.

ELO Ambassadors are tasked with motivating students in Res Life to pursue a greater interest in environmental efforts. Several well-known student organizations are directly advised and hosted by ELO, including the Bike Resource Center and Mizzou Bike Share programs. On top of this, the organization recruits volunteers for Tigers for Community Agriculture and even spends considerable effort supporting the Campus Farmers’ Markets. While the importance of protecting the environment on campus is increasingly recognized, the Environmental Leadership Office continues to broaden its ranks of openminded and concerned students.

Amy Eultgen is the ELO advisor at Mizzou and holds an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. Throughout her scholastic years, she worked for the ELO and managed the workings of the Bike Resource Center. Amy believes the greatest achievement of the organization to be:

“…getting students engaged and connecting them with all of the environmentally friendly and sustainable practices on campus, so not only promoting our own programs and our own events, such as the Farmer’s Markets we have, but also connecting them with the Sustainability Office…”

This reflects the deep conviction of the Environmental Leadership Office to connect those Students who truly value and understand the necessity of not only a greener campus, but a greener Earth. There are various components to building a sustainable Mizzou, the greatest of which are the interest and engagement of Campus residents. People comprise the backbone of any successful organization or movement and this knowledge is obviously well-regarded and understood throughout the program. Amy continues to detail the mission of ELO as:

“… just trying to act like a liaison or like a central hub for students who have questions about ways to get involved, and connecting them with Sustain Mizzou.”

The Environmental leadership Office is located on the second floor of the MU student Center in the Center for Student Involvement. Interested students, or those who would like to get involved, are welcome to visit and partake in building a greener campus. Through many different resources, there is a way for everyone to become proactive in creating a safe, beautiful, and more environmentally aware Mizzou.

ELO Website — Meet the ELO Team — Sustainability Office