Online Religious Communities: Spirituality and Faith through E-Leisure

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Sarit OKUN, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
Throughout the Cyberspace, there are many active "Online Religious Communities", from which we can learn about the offline and online leisure of different religious audiences. Applying a netnographic approach, this case-study research aimed to explore the leisure culture of such online community, the Bechadrei Charedim forum, that target orthodox Jewish Internet users. Five months of observations and analysis of 3000 online discussions led to identifying four main characteristics of that community:

1. Personal and group identity games, which indicated that this religious community maintained a ‘relative anonymity’ regarding its members along with exchanging distinct messages as for their personality, beliefs and life styles.

2. ‘Religious-secular discussion’, that included nine major topics: current affairs, leisure, “Halacha” (religion and its statutes), politics, courts struggles, life cycle events, orthodox identity, health, and technical-technological.

3. Teeming online leisure activity, in which participants were engaged in writing, responding, expressing thoughts and witnessing events. Prolonged asynchronous interaction as well as almost synchronic interaction amongst members were observed, taking place in unusual times such as after midnight and around holy days sundown.

4. Unique religious expressiveness manifested in the emotional and style aspects as one. While we observed mutual criticism, which sometimes resulted in insulting exchanges, it was clear that the orthodox community asked to lead its members for solidarity and care, as expressed by the biblical commandments on behaviors between humankind.

The novelty of this research is evident in two aspects. On the empiric aspect, this research made use of a fascinating qualitative and interpretive methodology, which enables a deep observation of the many faces of a society, especially one that is considered “enclave culture”. On the theoretical aspect, this case study contributed to increase our knowledge in the study of E-leisure of different segments of the society in the digital era.