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Please begin with an informative title:

Some time ago, I filled out a survey from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in connection with an academic study they were doing of the religion blogosphere. Talk to Action is not exactly what I think of as a religion blog, but it is not exactly not a religion blog either. In any case, I filled out the survey, and sent it in.  The survey was part of an interesting Ford Foundation-funded study, The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere which has just been published.

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It is a worthwhile read for those who are interested in the role of the blogosphere in religion in public life, academia and journalism.  Several people,including me, were asked to briefly comment at the SSRC's blog, The Immanent Frame. You can check out our comments  here. Most of us talked about what blogs have meant for our work, for writing, and even for religion. But significantly, the first thought from the editor of the blog First Thoughts, was to say that religion bloggers really ought to be subject to ecclesiastical authority.  

First Thoughts is the blog of the religiously neoconservative journal, First Things.

Before we get to Carter's first thought, here is part of the introduction to the study itself: The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere
 

Blogs have given occasion to a whole new set of conversations about religion in public life. They represent a tremendous opportunity for publication, discussion, cross-fertilization, and critique of a kind never seen before. In principle, at least, the Internet offers an opportunity to break down old barriers and engender new communities. While the promise is vast, the actuality is only what those taking part happen to make of it.

This report surveys nearly 100 of the most influential blogs that contribute to an online discussion about religion in the public sphere and the academy. It places this religion blogosphere in the context of the blogosphere as a whole, maps out its contours, and presents the voices of some of the bloggers themselves.

Among the studied hundred are the Daily Kos-affiliated Street Prophets, as well as Killing the Buddha (co-founded by Jeff Sharlet, best known to those following the various scandals related to the "C Street house" as the best selling author of book The Family), as well as the atheist Pharyngula the pagan The Wild Hunt, as well the journalistic (and religiously diverse) Religion Dispatches, and a broad range of blogs affiliated with academic, religious, and news organizations.

Blogger Richard Bartholomew appreciates the religion blogosphere's role in promoting the "democratization of knowledge." But of course the democratization of anything tends to make some uncomfortable. And so Joe Carter rightly suspects that most religion bloggers will disagree that their writing should be subject to higher religious authority; but here is the nugget of his argument:

Despite their importance, there is no council, diocese, presbytery, or synod that oversees and sanctions these religious blogs. But should these bloggers be able to teach large audiences without oversight from a higher-level polity? If a professor and ordained minister at a Presbyterian college writes regularly on issues about religion and theology, should her writing be exempt from denominational authority? Or what if a Lutheran layman and a Catholic priest hold a regular open debate? Should they not be held to account as if they were writing in a denominational magazine or journal?
According to the SSRC study, the Vatican is worried about all this as well:
"...high-level meetings at the Vatican have discussed how blogging is shaping the conversation about Catholicism and have even suggested the idea of issuing guidelines for Catholic bloggers. “In the past, the church’s educational efforts included helping people decide what they should or should not watch,” said one archbishop. “Now it must also help them decide what they should or should not produce”—including, he added, what they post on the Internet (Wooden 2009). Daily dispatches from Vatican correspondent John Allen’s All Things Catholic blog, together with the more gossipy Whispers in the Loggia, are part of a blogosphere that lends a new degree of transparency to a hierarchy more accustomed to an older media environment. The kind of discourse available on less judicious blogs has already made a strong impression on the curia. “I have been appalled by some of the things I’ve seen,” said Roger Mahoney, Cardinal of Los Angeles, about the blogosphere, adding: “Of course, I’ve been the object of some of them.”"
Of course, most American religious individuals and institutions have no such censorious impulse. But that does not change the fact that religious rightism may not only express itself via blogging (as it already does), but will be considering how to silence bloggers with whom they disagree.

At Talk to Action, as I mention in my comment about the report at The Immanent Frame, we take a different view:

Our featured writers come from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds and represent a range of progressive political perspectives. But we all write from the standpoint of recognizing the importance, as well as the historic and constitutional significance, of religious pluralism and the separation of church and state. It is this unity of perspective about the nature of the threat to these values from the Religious Right that animates our conversation and gives structure to how we learn from one another...

Even as we think and write critically about the Religious Right, we seek to do so without resorting to unfair labeling and demonization tactics. In this way, we seek to model effective civic —and civil— discourse. We embrace a common understanding that we all share the same rights, but that the religious supremacism of most elements of the Religious Right is a threat to the rights of all.

It was really just a matter of time before the theocratically inclined began to cast wether eye at the blogosphere. And that time has come.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 04:34 PM PST.

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