Issue 4: Digital and Information Theologies

[Issue 4: Table of Contents]

0 | Introduction: Digital and Information Theologies
1 | Interview of Agana-Nsiire Agana
2 | Profile of Hanna Reichel
3 | On Social Media and Identifying as a Christian
4 | Interview of Matthew Robinson
5 | Review of Restless Devices
6 | Review of Ecclesiology for a Digital Church

| contributing editor Evan Kuehn introduces Issue 4

An inforg is an informational organism—a being whose identity is inseparable from its information. We are inforgs.

This concept, coined by the philosopher of information Luciano Floridi, may sound as disconcerting as the older but related idea of the cyborg. It is, however, embedded in us in very mundane ways. Our genetic identity is informational, and this fact is intertwined with more global identifications that we share. The mRNA translation process on which the vaccination efforts against the Covid pandemic are largely based is informational.

We are also, then, surrounded by our information. To stay with the example of mRNA vaccines, a global network of bioinformatics research, open source projects, and digital communication networks has allowed our human bodies to negotiate a viral crisis over the past two and a half years. These events have also affected the ways that we fellowship, construct our identities, and interpret our neighbor.

The fact that we are informational beings and the ubiquity of digital technologies that are uniquely suited to capture what is informational about us present theological problems and possibilities. This is a relatively new anthropology, and it is developing rapidly.

How does a digital flood change the existing currents and contours of our life together? In what ways, for instance, can faith communities in Africa develop postcolonial and liberatory orientations following the advent of social media? How do American Christian engagements with social media form bonds of political consensus that degrade both possibilities for fellowship across difference and the task of forming one’s own identity in Christ? Agana-Nsiire Agana and Russell Johnson wrestle with these and other questions related to the theology of the digital.

As a democratizing and secularizing force, the digital also opens us up to the idea of theology as a community practice and not just academic gymnastics for the ivory tower or the church. Problems unfold into possibilities. What if, with Hanna Reichel, we approach theology “as a technology that we design and redesign?” What if part of that design is a crowdsourced approach where we recognize the theological citizenship of all the faithful? If we are inforgs, after all, we surely each have relevant information to offer. What if, following the research of Matthew Robinson, we try to find theologies of resilience in the hopes we express on social media? If rocks and stones can cry out, surely it is plausible to think that tweets might as well.

This magazine makes a core assumption that theology functions as an integral part of our all too human communities and not just as a speculative exercise. In this vein, we can recognize that the digital devices that mediate religious life—the “internet of things,” to use a popular term—are probably, in important ways, theological things.

Our issue closes, then, with reviews of two books that wrestle with recent ways that digital technologies have affected churches. And these reviews raise their own questions for future consideration: even in a digitally mediated world, aren’t there, in fact, possibilities for genuine embodiment? How can we be present to our neighbor in new ways? How can the digital expand or reconceive these ways of presence?

As will hopefully become apparent from this issue’s contributions, digital theology is a wide-open field, and its objects of interest are constantly moving targets. If in some future issue Theology & Society revisits digital and information theologies as a theme, this new engagement will probably look completely different from the present issue. Obsolescence, growth, and synthesis continue to make and remake our informational world. The task of theology remains to identify how we, even (and perhaps in particular) as informational organisms, engage with various grounds of meaning that continue to saturate our digital environments.

Evan Kuehn

Contributing editor Evan Kuehn is an assistant professor at North Park University.