Yogyakarta, May 15th, 2020 - Technology and religion are often seen as opposites, where technology reflects modernity and religion is seen as something that is out of date. To look deeper on how technological advancement impacts people's perceptions in viewing religion and beliefs, Center for Digital Soceity (CfDS) held the 24th Difussion series, which was filled by CfDS’ researchers, Heidira Witri Hadayani and Felice Valeria. This discussion was held online via YouTube live streaming on Friday (05/15).
The Use of Technology & Its Impact on Religious Spirituality
Heidira began the discussion by explaining the secularization thesis, which assumed that modernization in the economic, technological and socio-cultural aspects would make religion lose its relevance in social life. However, Heidira also stressed that the secularization thesis does not apply universally, because technology itself can affect religion positively and negatively. Positive influence means that, with the development of technology, it will be easier for people to access religious information. The social media platform is arguably an effective space for religious leaders to teach religious teachings more broadly. Ease of access provided by social media is also used by minority religious groups to increasingly show their existence, which is very useful to erase stereotypes about minority religious groups in the society. However, such measures also make them vulnerable to attack done by the majority religious group. The negative influence of technology is in line with the assumption of the secularization thesis, where with the development of modernity in various aspects, religion will always be left behind because it is not always in accordance with the values of modernity which are currently developing rapidly.
Heidira also stressed that technology has a considerable impact to our perception in understanding spirituality. "In addition to providing 'space' for us to do religious practices, the internet also provides a variety of information about religiosity, so that each individual will look for interpretations that best suit themselves," Heidira said. For example, the majority of people in the North American region believe more in religion as an individualist thing, while in Indonesia there is an increase in the number of young people who claim that they are agnostic or atheist, because they feel that they are not compatible with the teachings of conventional religions that exist until now this.
Radicalism and Extremism in Cyberspace
Technological development is also not spared from the attention of radical and extremist religious groups, who see technological development as an opportunity to spread their ideology. Felice then explains the term "online radicalization", which is understood as the action of a group of people who invite people to adopt radical values through social media. For example, the ISIS terrorist group uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. "Social media makes it easy for people to find information related to ideologies that they feel best suited to, including radicalism and extremism. Young people who are in the process of searching for identity are the main target of this group, because their conditions are tend to be volatile, so that the values of radicalism can be internalized more easily," explained Felice.
To prevent the spread of these ideologies in cyberspace, there are two approaches that can be taken, namely the top-down approach, where all stakeholders (government, private companies and other institutions) share roles in handling cases of radicalism and extremism in cyberspace, specifically the involvement of social media companies in the decision-making process of the formulation of effective social media policies. The second approach is the bottom-up approach, where family units and religious leaders have a crucial role in counteracting the spread of radicalism. Education at the family level is important because there are many cases where children are exposed to radicalism because they follow in the footsteps of their parents. Religious leaders and their influences are also expected to be more focused in spreading more moderate religious teaching to counter radicalism. "These two approaches must complement each other in order to achieve a more effective outcome of the countering process of radicalism and extremism," concluded Felice.