My case study is exploring the answer to the following question: how do Christians create or act out religion in their daily lives in the context of Instagram through the use of symbols and images measured by examination of their posts and how others respond to them? More simply, it is observing how Christians use Instagram as a platform to act out their spirituality.
This case study observing networked religion on Instagram demonstrates the characteristic of networked community. It illustrates the apparent shift that has taken place from a very tightly bounded community found offline to a community online with looser boundaries and “various levels of religious affiliation and commitment” (Campbell, 2011, p. 6). This is demonstrated in the level of interaction that Instagram users have with certain posts reflected religious ideals. Followers can simply “like” a post, write comments and engage in conversation, or they can post their own and initiate conversation and interaction with their followers. The level of depth and involvement with religion through Instagram is up to the user, “fluid and highly personalized” (Campbell, 2011, p. 8).
An example from my case study is found in a post by the user jesuscalling. This user posts a daily devotional from a book called Jesus Calling. As can also be seen in the photo (posted below), this post received 819 likes. Beneath the photo, users comment with words of encouragement and gratitude to the user for posting. Also in the comments, users tag other users thus furthering the number of users that see this photo, increasing the web of believers that are interacting through this post. The user gets to decide how much they want to commit to this post and, by default, associating with Christianity. A user does not have to follow Jesus Calling, like the post, comment on it, or tag others to see it. It is up to them how much involvement they want to have.
My case study proves that Christianity online is connected to offline Christianity as followers practice the same traditional rituals but modify them to fit the context of social media. Users are still forming and engaging in community, but they get to choose how much and what that looks like specifically for them. This concept of networked community supplies a framework for revealing the function of community in an offline and online context, especially within today’s technology-savvy society. People are no longer simply participating in and committing to one bound religious community but are living in dynamic networks of communities that they form and interact with to fit their personal religious needs.