The Christian faith, in common with many of the major world religions, includes a direct imperative for believers to share their personal faith with others. Jesus instructed his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ – the Great Commission. Some years later, the apostle Paul posed members of the early Church with a somewhat rhetorical question: ‘How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?’ The Qu’ran similarly commends Muslims to proselytise: ‘invite [mankind] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best’.
But other than a July 2012 study by the Public Religion Research Institute (which showed low levels of American Christian use of social media technology), little research has been undertaken into the factors which influence the extent to which people of faith use social media to express their beliefs.
Putting Your Faith in Social Media is a research project by David Giles, a postgraduate Media Communications student at the University for the Creative Arts in Surrey, UK – supervised by Dr Yuwei Lin, an experienced practitioner and researcher in social media methods. David is also the Web and Social Media Manager for The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters in London, who has represented the organisation at the Christian Resources Exhibition and at the Premier Digital Awards, as well as speaking on social media at Salvation Army events.
Building on his 2015 study into social media use surrounding The Salvation Army’s 150th anniversary ‘Boundless’ congress, Putting Your Faith in Social Media seeks to explore not just an out-of-the-ordinary act of corporate celebration, but people’s everyday expression of faith on social media platforms. Are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and their contemporaries seen as ‘valid’ ways of self-expression with regards to one’s faith? Or is there a reluctance to use these technologies for ‘sacred’ purposes?
This is a timely study. The phenomenon of ‘prayer shaming’ came to the fore in December 2015 as a backlash to some Twitter users appending the #PrayForSanBernardino hashtag to their tweets, following the fatal shooting in the Californian city. Meanwhile, the 2015 Freedom on the Net report notes that 21 countries routinely censor or block access to material ‘considered insulting to religion’. Trolling, too, can be a disincentive to openness regarding personally-held beliefs. In some cases, even co-members of the same faith group can be seen to vilify social media users who express opinions that diverge from their own.
By exploring what influences the use and non-use of social media by members of different faith communities, we can make recommendations to faith groups that will achieve greater social inclusion and efficacy with regard to sharing beliefs with others. This, we hope, will help faith-based organisations to provide more shareable and customisable content and promote discussions and action among faith leaders about positive and optimal use of social media.
Participation is entirely voluntary. Over the next few days, online questionnaires will be added to this site. We also want to interview people face-to-face and in small focus groups. And if you're prepared to share your whole (anonymised) Twitter or Facebook history with us, you'd make our day! All contributions will be handled discreetly and confidentially, in line with the Data Protection Act and academic research best practice.
When complete, the research findings will be made freely available.
Thank you for your interest.