Communication, religion and the Internet : a case study of participants in an online Christian forum
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The Internet is affecting people's lives today through their personal and social relationships, professional activities, and their spiritual lives and religious practices. Academic studies in the field of communication and religion have been done frequently, but now in the digital era of social networks, studies are being directed to online religion on the Internet, which is ushering in a concept of digital religion. This case study examined how participants in the online Christian Forum seek and/or benefit from their spiritual activities on the Internet. It used a qualitative approach with e-mail interviews in a growing religious activity online, showing the relationship and the impact of it on the users' spiritual/religious lives. As participants bring to their online religious practices their church or offline church experiences, most of them are actively involved in only their virtual or online community, in contrast to previous studies that showed the Internet being used as a complement for offline church involvement. Findings herein point to a strong faith/spiritual activity on the Internet in different sites and discussion forums. People are seeking online what they are not getting in their offline churches, relative to spiritual/Biblical content to aid their Christian faith, as well as for personal relationships in an online community. Thus study reveals a paradox in two areas of Christian faith practices online: the online experiences don't substitute for the offline church in worship and on face-to-face relationships as a community; and the participants miss those offline church experiences. Despite the fact that they miss them, they are not there physically, but practice their faith online. Participants in online Christian Forums in this study also revealed some distinctive individual/personal concepts about Christian doctrines and traditional historic practices which are not aligned with some specific beliefs and historical practices of the Christian church.