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Palacký University Olomouc

Workshop: Digital religion – online communities
programme and abstracts

2. 11. Thursday (CET) 



Jaroslav Franc: Openning speech, invitation

Palacký University, Olomouc, CZ    


Jaroslav Franc and Veronika Müllerová

What is changing in papal communication with the rise of social media? 
Palacký University, Olomouc, CZ


The last twenty years have brought profound changes in communication and technology. World leaders have extended their communication into the digital space. In the Catholic world, we speak of a digital papacy, seeing the growth of a community following the Pope on social media. Our study looks at how the language of the Holy See is changing in media-related texts published annually for World Communications Day. The research corpus consists of the messages of the last three popes – from 1995, when the domain was created, up to 2022. Using textual analysis, we show that, in addition to the normal change in terminology, the approach of the popes as the ecclesiastical authorities to the community is changing, and the community itself is also changing. For example, the word ‘must,’ which was widely used in messages until the rise of social networks, has completely disappeared from the texts in the last few years. Our study leads us to posit that not only is there a change in how the popes address the Catholic community, but there is also a paradigm shift in society and culture. One possibility explored is the transformation of the pronoun ‘we’ in a crisis, of which there have been many since 2008, along with the rise of social media, both within and outside the Christian community.   

14:30  keynote lecture – online  

Giulia Evolvi

Theory of hypermediation: how digital religion intersects with gender and politics 
University of Bologna, Italy


Theory of hypermediation: how digital religion intersects with gender and politics Digital Religion is concerned with the interplay of online and offline narratives and practices. In this presentation, I argue that the fifth wave of digital religion should focus on hypermediated forms of communication, with attention to the interconnections between actors, platforms, and topics. In particular, I explore how gender and politics create venues where religion is discussed outside institutional places of religious authority. I will illustrate the theory of hypermediation by means of two examples: first, the use of online live-streaming from Catholic communities during COVID-19 lockdowns; second, the use of religion and gender within European far-right social media accounts. In conclusion, I present some of the current challenges and opportunities of the field of Digital Religion, which is entering its fifth wave and it is increasingly interested in looking at multi-method approaches and the extremization of online discourses.





Damian Guzek

Individualization of communication habits in practice    
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland    

Individualization of communication habits results in a differentiation of the media users' reflexivity. This qualitative study expands the understanding of religious communication habits by examining the relationship between diverse religious media diets and users' reflexive thinking. Its results, based on 30 digital media diaries and 30 in-depth interviews, show that individual preferences and various media sources constantly sustain the level of media users' reflexivity. Irrespective of the type of religious media users we observe, whether conservative or progressive, they can more deeply reflect on the religious issue when supported by a diversified hybrid media diet. These results obtained through research material obtained from traditional and progressive Catholic media users in Poland might be a positive asset for future discussions on religious users and media consumption.


Terézia Rončáková

The community-building and stimulating function of media in the pre-digital era   
Catholic University in Ružomberok, SR  

The period of normalization (1968 – 1989) in Czechoslovakia is characterised by a relatively rich network of so-called samizdat magazines from the point of view of the history of journalism. They represented an important source of information and a community-forming element for people with internal (and possibly external) resistance to the totalitarian communist regime. The offered paper follows relatively richly processed samizdat statistics and stories by journalistic analysis of rare archival material found in the estate of the founder and editor-in-chief of the Slovak youth Christian samizdat ZrNO (1989) Ladislav Stromček. It is a collection of more than 100 readers' contributions delivered through specific channels to the editorial office for review and publication. ZrNO chose an innovative approach and put emphasis not on quality texts written to order, but on strengthening the community of secret believers, especially young people, whom it wanted to give space for self-expression and mutual encouragement in difficult totalitarian living conditions. In the analysis, we will focus on the genre, theme and stylistic quality of the papers, thus explaining the abilities, interests and mental settings of young Christians at the end of the normalization period.





Giuseppe Maiello

Italian Contributions to Digital Religion
University of Finance and Administration, Prague, CZ


For more than a decade, Italian scholars have been contributing both nationally and internationally to enriching the field of Digital Religion. This academic discipline is interested in religious practices and online religious communities, as well as other activities such as the study of video games of a religious nature, or those concerning how large segments of late modern society approach religion. In addition to the individual activities of scholars, which represent a typical feature of the Italian research system, various initiatives in Italy are partially or completely dedicated to Digital Religion. The most important of these is The Bruno Kessler Foundation at Trento. In addition, in Campania, the Operational Research Center on Digital Religion is being established. This contribution to the workshop will outline a brief overview of Digital Religion in the Italian context and the main areas of interest for scholars. We will also present some study examples and discussion points for the prospects of this discipline.

Tereza Zavadilová

#TradWife movement in the Catholic context: Piety or Hate?
Charles University, Prague, CZ

Recently, Instagram´s social site became an area of a new movement – in prevailing cases Catholic but even secular – “traditional” wives and mothers, “housekeepers”, “homemakers” or even homeschooling teachers of their own kids. These women gave up the well-paid jobs for which they had studied at prestigious universities (Cliff 2021) with a challenging goal – to live according to the “traditional gender roles” given to men and women “naturally” or “from divine order”. The agenda of these online religious influencers is especially to show the beauty and importance of the domestic life – cooking and baking, cleaning the house, devoted supporting of the full-time working husband, and taking care of the kids. This may be seen as the strict opposition to the feminist stance (Bauer 2023, Hunnings 2016), often laughing at the feminists and their achievements and relativizing the serious social problems such as power and sexual abuse of women or the inequality rooted deeply in our culture (Norris 2023). Furthermore, it supports the “unrealistic stereotypes” about marriage (Matthew 2023). And what is dangerous – having such an Instagram profile full of pics and videos of gardening or praying rosary with kids is probably the nicest way to spread the worst political ideologies (supporting far-right wing) or disinformation about studies in gender and feminism area (Kelsey-Sugg, Marin 2020; Cliff 2020; Darby 2021). The label #TradWife is confusing especially in the American context (BBC 2020), but it will be used in this contribution for abbreviation. The research will focus on a selected number of Instagram profiles of representatives of the described movement in a selected time scope with the ambition to answer the following questions: What is the general topic of the presented social media content? What is the second level of the denotation of the communicated information - is there any prevailing narrative behind it, which is not visible at first sight (especially in the quick social sites scrolling)? Was in this scope observed any politically or religiously extremist content? And which place does the influencer’s personal Christian faith as the lived and living relationship with Jesus Christ have in this paradigm? The qualitative and quantitative content analysis of social media (Instagram) is used to obtain the findings.


Let´s have dinner together

3. 11. Friday (CET)  hybrid all day    


Kees Cornelis Hulsman

Dialogue Across Borders; Transcending the line between online and offline    

Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation, Cairo, Egypt


Rasool Akbari

Hijab as a Contested Resource in Iranian Hyperme diated Spaces
Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany   


In recent years, a burgeoning social movement has emerged in Iran, predominantly centered on women's rights and, more specifically, the discourse surrounding the dress code, exemplified by the hijab. The hijab has become a fiercely contested resource at the crossroads of religion and modernity, playing out extensively on social media platforms like Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Amid a backdrop of calls for change, driven by aspirations for modernity, gender equality, and personal freedoms, the hijab has become a pivotal commodity of discussion where religious and modern dimensions intersect and diverge. Social media serves as a dynamic space where narratives of resistance, empowerment, and self-expression merge, fostering community and amplifying alternative viewpoints through hashtags and imagery. The hypermediated discourse surrounding the hijab has not remained confined to the digital realm; instead, it has extended its influence both ways. The digital discussions and contestations have been shaped by street-level movements and discourses, while also transcending those physical spaces to exert influence upon them. The virtual conversations have materialized into physical manifestations, including street protests and public demonstrations. However, these expressions have not always led to peaceful demonstrations; at times, escalated to violence and loss of life, underscoring the real-world implications of these online conversations. Evolvi's theory provides a lens through which the multifaceted development of this movement can be analyzed: revealing how the hypermediated space, spanning virtual and physical realms, serves as a nexus for negotiating religious and modern values. The theory's exploration of different spatial forms, i.e. alternative/mainstream, public/private, real/imaginary, unpacks the intricate interplay within the Iranian context. This abstract argues that the hypermediation of the hijab discourse has fundamentally transformed the relationship between religion and modernity in Iran. By tracing its evolution across virtual and physical domains, it becomes clear that the hijab is more than clothing and has become a contested and dynamic resource embodying societal aspirations, conflicts, and transformations at the juncture of tradition and progress.


Monika Kopytowska 

Online spirituality as a tech-enabled “upgrade” of individual and collective experience

University of Lodz, Poland    



Laura Vermeeren

#Witchtok a pan-cultural phenomenon    
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands       


This paper explores the phenomenon of #Witchtok, a pan-cultural phenomenon with over 40.5 billion views, as a platform for religious performance and cross-cultural narratives of origin and belonging. Over the last couple of years, a subgroup of Tiktok, #Witchtok has developed into a curious type of modern pagan worship. Mostly young people use #Witchtok, and they seem to seamlessly weave together elements from an eclectic range of religious and cultural traditions. In doing so, they connect with their own nationality and identity and forge new solitary practices and cross-cultural alliances. I want to argue that Witchtok is part of a global online movement which seeks utopian reconstructions in response to illiberal democracies, desperation about the status quo of our planet, or authoritarian models. Its aesthetic appeal hinges on principles of self-care, self-help, and self-representation, but at the same time, resonates with contemporary ecological concerns and ecofeminism. This digital movement enables collective agency, serves as a space for consumption, self-care, and aesthetics, all the while promoting dispersed, self-centered practices. How to read an analyse this movement in terms of online religion? By examining its impact on narratives of origin, cross-cultural connections, and collective agency, this research sheds light on the influence of digital platforms like Witchtok in contemporary religious performance.

Michele Varini

The Stars Down To Metavarse. Astrology and magic-superstitious beliefs on social networks
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Italy


In a society increasingly less tied to traditional religious beliefs and practices, it is not difficult to perceive a jarring contrast with the spread of beliefs of a magical or superstitious nature, a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly widespread among young people, especially on social networking platforms, from the most specific to the most sectorial. Energy crystals, tarot cards, wicca, just to mention a few of the most widespread and growing phenomena to date, are now a leitmotif for many social networking users, especially Instagram and Tik Tok, in inverse proportion to the number of traditional believers. In this context, Adorno's foundational work comes to mind, in which he analysed the irrationality of the horoscope, using it as a litmus test to describe contemporary society. The textual analysis developed refers to 1950s America, a world that was totally different in many respects, certainly including technological and communicational ones, which is why the aim of this work is to verify whether the conclusions reached by the Frankfurt author remain valid today. Analysing the Italian context, we intend to replicate the methodology deployed in "The Stars down to Earth", but taking as reference 10 italian speaking (5 from Instagram, 5 from Tik Tok) profiles dedicated to horoscopes, selected on the basis of their popularity, in Italian. These profiles will be subjected to a netnography with the aim of building a dataset of texts, to cover the duration of an entire year (2022). These texts will then be compared and cross-analysed with the intention of trying to find recurrences or dissonances, in order to deepen our knowledge of the beliefs behind this practice in today's context.


Minoo Mirshahvalad

Shi‘a Smartphone Communities: Trends of Continuity and Change 
Foundation for Religious Sciences John XXIII, Palermo, Italy

This article investigates trends of continuity and differentiability between primarily Italian Shi'a communities online and offline. Here, "online community" is adopted for groups formed on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Zoom, both before and after the outbreak of COVID-19. The similarity and differences between Shi'a activities in the online and offline spheres are investigated in three main areas: interreligious relations, gender roles, and relations with religious authorities. These fields have been selected because they are where Shi'as face significant life challenges in a non-Islamic context. Online ethnography and interviews with members of Shi'a communities were employed to gather data. The results confirm that women’s issues remain resistant to change, even in the online sphere, whereas relations with out-groups, as well as relations with Shi'a religious authorities, reveal elements of novelty.



Ruben Brugnera

Exposing injustices within the Church: an act of malevolence or a journalist’s contribution to the Synodal process?

Investigative journalist, and lecturer at Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, Belgium.



Let´s discuss the research plans  



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