Lea Stolz


The seldom attempts to study interreligious relations in online contexts have tended to approach empirical phenomena predominantly through the paradigm of interreligious dialogue – an institutionalised mode of encounter which envisions participants from different religious backgrounds exchanging about topics of theological relevance, respectfully and with a genuine interest in learning from the other. Especially in its early years, there were high hopes that the internet could serve for such a purpose by bringing together different people from all over the world. However, what researchers found was very different: Highly volatile interaction, users preferring to reaffirm their believes rather than challenge them, or outright conflict, as well as a variety of participants whom one might not meet at a formal dialogue event. They concluded that online interaction rarely at best met the standards of dialogue.
With the aim of advancing the research topic, I designed a study on Twitter for which I retrieved all English tweets from 2020 that contain the #interfaith hashtag (approximately 26,000 posts). Methodologically, I work with a network analysis, which means that I focus on how users connect around the hashtag and examine the relational structures that emerge from its use. Having encountered similar difficulties in conceptualising these structures as dialogic, I have come to realise that such a normative approach does not allow to take into view the phenomena in a way that fits them. Therefore, I adopt the opposite strategy which starts with the empirical findings and discuss them within the logics of Twitter as their immediate context. On that basis, I inquire how they can be theorised in a way that promotes the understanding of interreligious relations particularly in everyday contexts.