Practical Theology III

Lea Stolz

#interfaith: Exploring Dialogue among Religions on Twitter (working title)

What is regarded as interfaith dialogue has been strongly shaped by its institutional form in terms of participants or agendas: Religious officials or theologians who gather and discuss topics of theological interest. Research has, in large, adopted this notion. Hence, everyday settings of interfaith encounters have rarely come into view until recently.
As religions have taken to the internet, cyberspace offers one rich but largely unexplored setting. Online social networks present a particularly relevant object of study, as they offer the communicative architecture made for dialogue. However, the outcome appears subversive if compared to institutional dialogue: Encounters are often brief and spontaneous, participants and topics are highly diverse – from a dogmatic perspective they might even seem ‘heterodox’.
My PhD project studies interfaith dialogue on Twitter, focusing especially on the hashtag #interfaith. First, I explore its dialogic structure in a general network analysis and then offer an in-depth discourse analysis of subsamples that have generated a varying amount of interaction. Second, the findings are discussed against established theories of dialogue. In doing so, I seek to contribute to a more inclusive theory building. Beyond that, the project also explores innovative methodological possibilities in the research field of digital religion.