If iPhone applications are becoming extensions of ourselves, augmenting our capabilities in ways both trivial and profound, then I suppose it should come as no surprise that there are now apps for atheism as well as for those who want a quick comeback at their fingertips about why God is real.

Paul Vitello highlights several such apps in You Say God is Dead?  There’s an App for That. My favorite quote:

For religious skeptics, the “BibleThumper” iPhone app boasts that it “allows the atheist to keep the most funny and irrational Bible verses right in their pocket” to be “always ready to confront fundamentalist Christians or have a little fun among friends.”

Similarly, those who wish to ardently defend the existence of God might opt for an equally pithy app by LifeWay Christian Resources, including “responses to 25 common challenges to the Christian Faith”.  (Wonder if v.4.1.2 will include any acknowledgment of arguments for the existence of God from Muslim or Jewish perspectives?)

In some ways, I really like the tongue-in-cheek feeling to these apps.  I like the challenge to any system of belief to create a killer app that can encapsulate all the essential stuff…but then again, we’ve seen where that’s gotten us in the past. 😉

All of this leaves me wondering: In the next decade, will we choose to “augment” ourselves in ways that strengthen our abilities to listen deeply, or that underscore the bad habit we humans have historically had of engaging with those with whom we disagree in polarizing ways?

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Thanks to my colleague, Jason Tester for sending this article my way awhile back.

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Though demographics provide only one glimpse of the complexity of religious expression world-wide, numbers do allow a window into the key areas to watch in the next decade.

In this recent Pew study, the “center of gravity” of the Muslim faith in the next decade resides in Asia (defined here quite broadly, from China to Turkey), with more than 972 million of 1.57 billion global Muslims total (approximately 23% of the estimated global population today).

Together, North and South America have only 4.6 million of this total global population so far, though globalization continues to drive further religious diversity and a move away from national or regionalized religions.

So what does this mean for religious understanding and polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims in the US context, moving forward?  The challenges are clear.

Gallup’s Center for Muslim Studies as well as the collaboration between Gallup and the Coexist Foundation point to alarming polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims in the U.S.

For example:

  • Islam is the most negatively viewed of the major world religions
  • People in the U.S. are more likely to express prejudice toward Muslims than other religious groups.

Among the drivers of this polarization?:

  • Lack of knowledge about Islam
  • Lack of personal relationship with someone who is Muslim.

Came across a fascinating article by anthroplogist & Intel fellow, Genevieve Bell on Techno-Spiritual Practices, the full text of which can be downloaded here.  Ultimately, she argues for the need to design ubiquitous computing for spiritual life, not just secular life alone.

Here are some particularly insightful highlights around the interplay between technology shaping spiritual expression as well as spiritual practices demanding technology be developed to meet new needs:

However, it is my contention that these examples of the ways in which new technologies are delivering religious experiences represent the leading edge of a much larger re-purposing of the internet in particular, and of computational technologies more broadly, that has been underway for some time…These techno-spiritual re-purposings are important for the ways in which they highlight alternate paradigms for technology creation, deployment, consumption and resistance, as well as pointing to different communities, practices and habits that could be supported. Furthermore, these re- purposings seems to be of critical importance as the realm of technological infrastructure extends progressively beyond the office, into the home, and many other points of social and cultural significance, including one presumes, places of worship, ritual and meditation. After all, life also happens in the sacred domain.

To have been there for Computer-Human Interaction conference she describes at the question under consideration was simply:  “Can we have spiritual experiences online?”

She highlights several examples of techno-social practices, including:

  • Pew research stating that 64% of online Americans have used the internet for religious or spiritual purposes.
  • Buddhist practice in China of having your mobile phone blessed
  • texting messages to be printed & placed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, to enable remote participation
  • virtual confessions (quite controversial in Roman Catholic circles, especially)
  • online memorial halls such as “Earth Village” in China to support ancestor worship
  • a Mecca-finding phone app in Malaysia so Muslims can respond accurately to the call to prayer

Bell concludes that

If it is indeed the case, that religion is a primary framing narrative in most cultures, and then religion must also be one of the primary forces acting on people’s relationships with and around new technologies – one could go as far as to suggest that there can be no real ubiquitous computing if it does not account for religion.

What an impressive article by someone who comes from an experience design perspective with an anthropological lens–this article is not new, but it is extremely relevant!

If faith is a lifestyle, how will future markets evolve to meet those lifestyle needs?

Enhancing the Muslim Lifestyle

Muxlim is focused on the Muslim lifestyle as part of a diverse, all-inclusive world which recognizes and welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds who want to share, learn and have fun…Muxlim is an online community that fosters a friendly environment where users can enjoy fun, compelling and easy-to-use social media services. Our vision is to connect the world’s Muslim communities to each other, and to the wider world, through shared online experiences…

Provocatively, you don’t have to be Muslim to be Muxlim.  If a Muslim person in the future is imagined to be a digitally-empowered individual; the central node of a constellation of connection, what will that person need?  In the future, which elements of our needs will be informed by our faith and which by our wider cultural context?  Can the two be separated?  At Muxlim, the answer is no.