It could be worse. It could be raining (Young Frankenstein)
Sometimes very exciting things happens. Since I am a simple person with a boring life, my incredibly exciting thing for 2020 was being invited as a keynote speaker for the ESA RN-14 Sociology of Religion conference in Groningen, “Religion and the Urban, Natural, and Virtual Environments”
You probably see where this is going. COVID arrived and goodbye first international keynote of my life, dreams of glory and hopes of getting a tenure one day. BUT I’m also a person that loves to see the glass half-full, and the nice part is that the talk happened online and I can now perpetually have it on my website, and make it available also to you, oh dear reader:
My talk: “The Church Never Closed”: Digital Religion, Space, and Materiality”
Of course, I couldn’t buy fancy shoes for the conference, meet very interesting and nice people, go to Groningen, speak one entire hour about my research, and finally go to a conference without people thinking I’m catering.
But it was nice to have an online event because, for the first time, my parents could also listen to one of my presentations, streaming from the beach in Liguria. Some colleagues could connect and listen to it. My partner made me a conference buffet and brought me to a nice place for a “conference dinner”, and never I had such good food at an actual conference. So, maybe this is just our life right now, with us finding new ways of getting our research out there, connecting, and feeling like all is normal.
In addition, the lockdown gave me some research material to explore digital religion. I started with the picture of Pope Francis preaching in an empty St. Peter’s Square to explain how religious leaders and communities have been used the Internet for decades. I showed some memes and explained how the Internet can both allow religious communities to create online spaces that mirror offline venues, and articulate new digital spaces to talk about identities and beliefs. In so doing, I explained why I think that the study of digital religion should pay attention to materiality and space.
If you’re interested, I really encourage you to listen to the entire conversation here. The organizer, Julia Martìnez-Arino, did a wonderful job putting together a panel to talk about religion in urban, natural, and virtual environments. Pooyan Tamini Arab addressed religion in urban settings by talking about his research on religion in Iran, with very surprising results. Jens Köhrsen talked about religion and the environment by explaining the concepts of greening, non-greening, and ungreening of religion. And then there was me talking about religion and the virtual, but I already said enough.