Digital Anthropologies Interest Group Invited Session

Friday, November 18

8:00 AM – 9:45 AM

Minneapolis Convention Center, Room: 206AB

Session Description: As smartphone use becomes increasingly widespread globally, the development of mobile apps has a potentially significant impact on contemporary religion. Mobile apps can reach large audiences; one of the most popular religious apps available, the Biblical app “YouVersion”, has an estimated 200 million users worldwide. From Roman Catholic confession apps to Jewish Kaddish assistance apps and Muslim halal food apps, religion-themed mobile apps may create complex sites for potential new forms of religious expression, worship, discussion, and practices. The purpose of this panel is to explore from an anthropological perspective the impact of mobile apps that focus on religious practice, communities, and religious issues, and/or those that may used for religious purposes whether or not they were originally developed for that purpose. The papers in this panel represent a variety of app uses within different religious traditions, in a discussion framed by some of the following issues and questions. Technology has been credited with almost super-powers in terms of its abilities to effect change and shape human experiences, frequently without, as John Rahagi has pointed out, “a clear understanding of the context of what is actually transpiring” (Rahagi 2012:154). Thus while the large numbers of religious app users such as those mentioned earlier may be impressive, there is also a need to examine in more detail what these numbers actually mean from a lived perspective. Anthropological studies of religious mobile apps may focus on a range of potential issues, emphasizing the cultural significance of widespread use, or exploring the ways in which a focus on the globalizing influences of mobile app technologies minimizes attention to the significance of local contexts of production, pre-existing knowledge networks, and non-digital relationships of power. Such studies can be situated in a broad historical context, thus placing what may seem to be “revolutionary” technologies into cultural narratives that span centuries (Hofheinz 2011). To focus on the digital and to reify it as some new form of culture, is, as Miriam Aouragh pointed out, often done so in ways that project Orientalist notions of modernity, civilization, and progress on the Other, ignoring human agency. Thus our analysis must be critical and recognize the complex ways in which in-app and on-ground (as opposed to online or virtual) contexts interact (Aouragh 2012). Whether this comes in the form of conceptualizing the in-app and on-ground as “collocations” or as a critical reconceptualization of the human, methods and insights from the growing subfield of digital anthropology may useful to apply to the study of religious mobile apps (Whitehead and Wesch 2012; Boellstorff and Nardi 2012; Boellstorff 2015).

Organizer & Chair: Jacqueline Fewkes Florida Atlantic University


Lindsay Barone Remaking the Museum in His Image

Jacqueline Fewkes ‘Siri, Is Alligator Halal?’: Mobile Apps and the Contemporary Food Practices of American Muslims

Robert Phillips An Ambivalent Jewishness:  Half Shabbos, the Shabbos App, and Modern Orthodoxy

Deana Weibel Medieval “Miracle of Equilibrium” or Contemporary “Sanctuary of Rock-Hard Faith”?: How Digital Media Guides Visitors’ Experiences at the Shrine of Rocamadour, France

Discussant: Jacqueline Fewkes



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