Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Health/Psychology/Social Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2023) | Viewed by 10677

Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
SARAS Department, Sapienza University of Rome, 00185 Roma, Italy
Interests: sociology of religion; sociology of communication

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Religious or belief organizations address artificial intelligence mostly with two approaches. On the one hand, they defend themselves against oppressive and repressive potential or the legitimate use of AI technologies: China's high-tech surveillance of the Uighur community in Xinyang is an extreme yet realistic and exportable example of how AI could be used to the detriment of the freedom of religion or belief. On the other hand, religious or belief organizations position themselves in the debate on the regulation of AI by providing ethical principles that can be implemented for the sake of human-centered Artificial Intelligence. The participation of religious organizations in the consultation on the White Paper on AI of the European Union (2020) provides a clear example of this second approach.

In this polarized frame this Special Issue aims to explore the different theoretical and practical approaches which position religious or belief communities at extremes poles or at the middle gradients of this polarization. Religions indeed have various agency in shaping AI technology, and contributors are invited to provide case studies where it is possible to observe doctrinal and practical involvement in religious communities to the AI debate and the level of their agency in designing, developing, or applying the AI of the future.

Relevant proposals can address the following suggested (but not exclusive) topics:

  • How religious communities and leaderships use AI to reinvent or perpetuate themselves within a globalized culture;
  • How AI can spread, foster, and shape religious symbols, values, and practices;
  • How AI can construct realities that mediate and define new religious relationships, sacred spaces, and objects;
  • Which and how religious groups or institutions oppose techno-mediated or AI-mediated religious practices;
  • How the re-enchantment effect of AI contributes to the construction of new religious or spiritual meanings leading to the new human empowerment conception;
  • How the negotiation between religious values and technological innovation can promote original uses or implementations of AI technology.

Abstracts of 200 words maximum should be submitted to the Guest Editor at alessandra.vitullo@uniroma1.it by 30 September 2023. Accepted abstracts will be notified via email by October. Full-length articles of about 6000 words including references are due by 31 December 2023.

Dr. Alessandra Vitullo
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • digital religion
  • AI
  • technology
  • religions
  • digital culture

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

18 pages, 268 KiB  
Article
Algorithms and Faith: The Meaning, Power, and Causality of Algorithms in Catholic Online Discourse
by Radosław Sierocki
Religions 2024, 15(4), 431; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15040431 - 29 Mar 2024
Viewed by 685
Abstract
The purpose of this article is to present grassroots concepts and ideas about “the algorithm” in the religious context. The power and causality of algorithms are based on lines of computer code, making a society influenced by “black boxes” or “enigmatic technologies” (as [...] Read more.
The purpose of this article is to present grassroots concepts and ideas about “the algorithm” in the religious context. The power and causality of algorithms are based on lines of computer code, making a society influenced by “black boxes” or “enigmatic technologies” (as they are incomprehensible to most people). On the other hand, the power of algorithms lies in the meanings that we attribute to them. The extent of the power, agency, and control that algorithms have over us depends on how much power, agency, and control we are willing to give to algorithms and artificial intelligence, which involves building the idea of their omnipotence. The key question is about the meanings and the ideas about algorithms that are circulating in society. This paper is focused on the analysis of “vernacular/folk” theories on algorithms, reconstructed based on posts made by the users of Polish Catholic forums. The qualitative analysis of online discourse makes it possible to point out several themes, i.e., according to the linguistic concept, “algorithm” is the source domain used in explanations of religious issues (God as the creator of the algorithm, the soul as the algorithm); algorithms and the effects of their work are combined with the individualization and personalization of religion; algorithms are perceived as ideological machines. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)
15 pages, 247 KiB  
Article
Artificial Intelligence’s Understanding of Religion: Investigating the Moralistic Approaches Presented by Generative Artificial Intelligence Tools
by Ruth Tsuria and Yossi Tsuria
Religions 2024, 15(3), 375; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15030375 - 21 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1675
Abstract
As AI becomes more commonplace, it is imperative to investigate the ways in which this technology represents various socio-political concepts and identities, such as religion. To do so, we present several conversations with various AI tools on three religious traditions: Judaism, Islam, and [...] Read more.
As AI becomes more commonplace, it is imperative to investigate the ways in which this technology represents various socio-political concepts and identities, such as religion. To do so, we present several conversations with various AI tools on three religious traditions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. From our analysis of these conversations, we noted three important elements: AI struggles to represent complex religious issues; It emphasized diversity of opinions; And it encourages the reader to engage with respect and sensitivity regrading religious issues. We therefore suggest that AI takes an axiologically focused approach towards religious representations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)
14 pages, 256 KiB  
Article
Researching Artificial Intelligence Applications in Evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches: Purity, Bible, and Mission as Driving Forces
by Alexandra La Cruz and Fernando Mora
Religions 2024, 15(2), 234; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15020234 - 16 Feb 2024
Viewed by 1521
Abstract
We explore in this article how Evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches (EPCCs) view Artificial Intelligence (AI), and how they use it, either intentionally or indirectly. Considering first the digital habitus in which EPCCs are immersed, we have documented and analyzed three sample cases showing [...] Read more.
We explore in this article how Evangelical and Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches (EPCCs) view Artificial Intelligence (AI), and how they use it, either intentionally or indirectly. Considering first the digital habitus in which EPCCs are immersed, we have documented and analyzed three sample cases showing how EPCCs use advanced AI tools to improve the sanctification process for believers; how the Bible can be translated, distributed, and its reading can be fostered around the world, using machine intelligence; and how a spiritual revival among EPCCs can spread rapidly through AI-mediated algorithms. We discuss the implications of these developments and conclude finally with some ideas about how EPCCs should engage AI applications in the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)
12 pages, 263 KiB  
Article
Prayer and AI: Exploring the Impact on Orthodox Romanian Youth in a Confessional High School Context
by Liviu L. Vidican-Manci
Religions 2024, 15(2), 181; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15020181 - 31 Jan 2024
Viewed by 874
Abstract
The study’s main objective is to identify and analyze the attitude toward prayer of teenagers in a denominational school in Romania and the need to use AI-assisted tools. To find a satisfactory answer, we considered it necessary to identify how they pray, i.e., [...] Read more.
The study’s main objective is to identify and analyze the attitude toward prayer of teenagers in a denominational school in Romania and the need to use AI-assisted tools. To find a satisfactory answer, we considered it necessary to identify how they pray, i.e., freely or by calling on the prayer book, and whether they questioned whether artificial intelligence could be an agreeable support. The research also takes into account the documents of the Romanian Orthodox Church from which the attitude of the Hierarchy towards new technologies in general and artificial intelligence in particular emerges. How attentive is the Church to these realities, and how open is it to incorporate them? Does it have any good reason to consider tools like e-rosary in the Catholic world or Alexa Pray in the Anglican world in the near future? The introduction addresses Romania’s socio-political, educational, and theological context, and the discussion focuses on how the literature on digital religion and its subchapters is received in the Romanian theological landscape. The research method includes qualitative, questionnaire, and textual analysis; it is an interdisciplinary approach, namely practical theology and the study of digital religions. The questionnaire was administered to 216 respondents, respecting all research ethics requirements. The results reveal that young people prefer to pray freely, use the prayer book moderately, and have not gathered information regarding artificial intelligence that could help them. However, they are open to a future offers from the Romanian Orthodox Church, including AI-assisted tools. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)
16 pages, 322 KiB  
Article
Buddhist Transformation in the Digital Age: AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Humanistic Buddhism
by Yutong Zheng
Religions 2024, 15(1), 79; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15010079 - 9 Jan 2024
Viewed by 3007
Abstract
Humanistic Buddhism is one of the mainstreams of modern Buddhism, with special emphasis on the humanistic dimension. With the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Humanistic Buddhism is also at an important stage of modernization and transformation, thus facing a continuous negotiation between [...] Read more.
Humanistic Buddhism is one of the mainstreams of modern Buddhism, with special emphasis on the humanistic dimension. With the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Humanistic Buddhism is also at an important stage of modernization and transformation, thus facing a continuous negotiation between religious values and technological innovations. This paper first argues that AI is technically beneficial to the propagation of Buddhism by citing several cases in which AI technology has been used in Buddhism. Then, by comparing Master Hsing Yun’s Buddhist ethics to “Posthuman” ethics, it points out that the theories of Humanistic Buddhism share similarities with AI and Posthuman ethics. Among them, Master Hsing Yun’s theory of “the nature of insentient beings” provides an important theoretical reference for the question of “whether AI can become a Buddha”. From the technical and ethical dimensions, it points out that the interaction between Humanistic Buddhism and AI can promote original uses or implementations of AI technology. However, it should also be noted that compared to the cases of “Artificial Narrow Intelligence”discussed in the paper, the “Strong AI” could lead to much more ethical crises. It is also likely to cause the cult of science and technology, and thus subvert the humanistic tradition of Buddhism with a new instrumental rationality. In addition, there are some potential pitfalls that Humanistic Buddhism may encounter when using AI. Hence, while it is necessary to encourage the use of technologies such as AI in contemporary Buddhism, it is also important for Buddhism to keep a critical distance from digital technologies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)
19 pages, 313 KiB  
Article
The Intersection of Bernard Lonergan’s Critical Realism, the Common Good, and Artificial Intelligence in Modern Religious Practices
by Steven Umbrello
Religions 2023, 14(12), 1536; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14121536 - 13 Dec 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1978
Abstract
Artificial intelligence (AI) profoundly influences a number of societal structures today, including religious dynamics. Using Bernard Lonergan’s critical realism as a lens, this article investigates the intersections of AI and religious traditions in their shared pursuit of the common good. Beginning with Lonergan’s [...] Read more.
Artificial intelligence (AI) profoundly influences a number of societal structures today, including religious dynamics. Using Bernard Lonergan’s critical realism as a lens, this article investigates the intersections of AI and religious traditions in their shared pursuit of the common good. Beginning with Lonergan’s principle that humans construct their understanding through cognitive processes, we examine how AI-mediated realities align with or challenge traditional religious tenets. By delving into specific cases, we spotlight AI’s role in reshaping religious symbols, rituals, and even creating novel spiritual meanings. Using Lonergan’s insights on the balance between subjectivity and objectivity, I analyze AI’s potential to both create new sacred spaces and challenge religious orthodoxy. The crux of the discussion centers on the negotiation between religious values and technological innovation, assessing how AI can bolster religious life while maintaining its core essence. Ultimately, this article underscores the importance of the common good in the age of AI-driven religious evolution. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Rethinking Digital Religion, AI and Culture)
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