Montreal—_DalaiLama has more than 7,000,000 Twitter followers. A smartphone app provides Muslim worshippers with a customizable prayer alarm and a compass that always points to Mecca. The first Papal “selfie” went viral in minutes. The dawn of the digital age has brought religion and technology together like never before. But this coupling is nothing new: from stone tablets to the printing press, technology has long had a profound effect on religious practice.
For Concordia University communications professor Jeremy Stolow, the intermingling of religion and technology can shed new light on what it means to be human. Stolow explores this intersection in Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between, a new book that takes an interdisciplinary voyage across the many different contexts in which religion and technology meet.
By putting God back into the machine, Stolow and the authors featured in the collection revise the very idea that religion and technology exist as separate areas of action and experience. Stolow hopes that this book will help shake readers free from the idea that there is a clear divide between religion and technology.
“Religion has long been imagined as a domain of faith, belief, symbolism and ritual meaning, somehow detached from the ‘real’ world of technological actions,” he says. “But throughout history, religious actors have always depended on technologies of all sorts, and it is in fact impossible to generate religious knowledge or experience without them.”
It’s not just religion that is affected by technology—it goes both ways. As technology grows more far-reaching in its powers, it is increasingly colored by religious implications. Says Stolow, “Just look at the dazzling retina displays that seem sharper than reality, the surveillance systems that track our every move, the large-scale industrial projects that threaten our planet. As technologies become more powerful and complex, they increasingly invoke longstanding religious themes of miracle, salvation and fate.”
Deus in Machina brings together essays by respected scholars from around the world to reevaluate the philosophical, cosmological and ethical terms on which technology has been imagined as the opposite of religion. Their pieces—on subjects ranging from the development of mechanical clocks in medieval Christian Europe, to the healing power of prayer in pre-modern Buddhist Japan, to Islamic debates about organ transplantation in contemporary Egypt—call attention to what can be created once the division between religion and technology has been done away with.
Edited by Jeremy Stolow. (NY: Fordham University Press, 2012), pp.368, $28.00