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Rome Reports

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How the Internet helps religion

When the Internet became popular in the 1990s, many religious leaders were unsure of how to handle the change. Would digital culture strengthen people's faith? Or would they lose their sense of community?

Heidi Campbell has studied questions like that for the last twenty years. Her research focuses on the relationship between new media, religion, and digital culture.

HEIDI A. CAMPBELL

Associate Professor, Texas A&M University

"What I've found in my research is that it's not so much the Internet changing religion. The Internet is just putting a larger spotlight on these larger social changes happening in religious culture.�

Many people assume that the Catholic Church is hesitant to adapt to technological changes. But according to Campbell, the Church actually leads in the digital space.

HEIDI A. CAMPBELL

Associate Professor, Texas A&M University

"We've seen a lot of interesting experimentation. In fact, when people come to me and say, 'Hey, what religious communities are doing interesting things?' I say, 'Well, let me give you some examples from the Catholic Church.'�

She pointed to how Catholic groups have innovated with religious formation online and created digital communities for the faithful.

She said that the most effective religions don't just use the Internet to push information on people; they use it to connect them.

But Campbell says that the Internet will never be a substitute for in-person religious interaction. It's just a nice supplement to strengthen the faith.

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