FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, July 20, 2006

That New-Time Religion

How could the national discussion about religion evolve in the coming years? The future of faith could hold some surprises.

A survey conducted by the City University of New York in 2001 found that the third most popular "religion" in the US was, in fact, no religion at all. After Catholic (24.5%) and Baptist (16%), the third largest religious category was "no religion" (atheist, agnostic or secular). Even in "Bible Belt" states and Mormon-dominated Utah, "non-theists" represent a significant portion of the population. Currently, many of these people don't think of themselves as part of a religious group. But what if they were to discover their commonality, or identify with a leader who could offer them a political alternative? Would any of today's leaders consider taking up the challenge?

On a different note, the new blog The Digital Sanctuary speculates on how new media might change the nature of religious worship. The blogger, Cynthia Ware, notes that, in her experience, Internet technology has already become critical to keeping her congregation informed about events and activities. How else could the faithful leverage technology... and how might the use of technology influence the development of religious faith?

Technological change has had an enormous impact on religion, from the first printed copies of the Bible that helped trigger the Reformation, to television that led to a new form of worship in televangelism. Rituals and doctrine have been created in response to the needs of the populace; the stationary, land-bound serfs of medieval Europe built grand cathedrals, while the nomadic tribes of the Islamic world memorized the Koran and prayed wherever they happened to be. How else will future trends and technologies shape and redefine our religious faith?

UPDATE: Flying in the face of assumptions that religion would decline in the modern world, researchers at the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life believe that religious observance is growing worldwide. Freed from oppression of communism and other regimes that saw faith as a threat, religion is manifesting itself in forms ranging from evangelical Christianity to radical Islam to "neo-orthodoxies" that adapt religious observance to politics and other aspects of the modern world.