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Durham e-Theses
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Creating Church Online: An Ethnographic Study of Five Internet-Based Christian Communities

HUTCHINGS, TIMOTHY,ROGER,BENJAMIN (2010) Creating Church Online: An Ethnographic Study of Five Internet-Based Christian Communities. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



“Online churches” are Internet-based Christian communities, seeking to pursue worship, discussion, friendship, teaching, support, proselytisation and other key religious goals through computer-mediated communication. These online churches are one example of “online religion”, a new kind of digital religious practice that promises to transform worship, authority, community and the construction of identity.

This thesis examines five online churches, representing diverse media, theological traditions, leadership structures and forms of external oversight. Each has created a sizeable congregation and offers forms of worship and community online. I used ethnographic methods to examine these churches with particular attention to media, worship, community and leadership.

I conducted long-term participant observation over the three years of my research, taking part in online and offline activities whenever possible, speaking informally with as many people as possible and interviewing over 100 leaders and members. Survey data and other written materials were also studied where available, including media reports, participant accounts and online blog posts.

My research suggested seven important themes present in each group: mass appeal, the formation of community, spiritual experience, the replication of familiar elements of architecture, liturgy and organisation, the prevalence of local churchgoing among online participants, patterns of internal control and systems of external oversight. Each case study demonstrates the very different negotiations of those themes at work in each group.

In my final chapter, I bring together threads and insights from each case study according to four key dimensions of one common theme: the relationship between digital and everyday life. Online churches deliberately replicate familiar elements of everyday activity, become part of the everyday, remain carefully distinct from the everyday and become distinctively digital. We must attend to all four of these layers to adequately understand and evaluate what takes place online, and what role that online activity plays in everyday religious lives.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Internet; new media; virtual world; ethnography; religion; Christianity; online religion; online church; cyberchurch
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Dec 2010 09:37

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