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"Digital Theology" in plain language

In this volume's installment of our "theology in plain language" series, Jonas Kurlberg explains what digital theology is about.

Published onJul 17, 2020
"Digital Theology" in plain language

The digital revolution unfolding before us has manifold and far-reaching implications. Digital theology (DT) has become a term describe theological engagement with these developments. As the impact of digitality is increasingly being felt in our societies, such reflection has become an imperative for the Church.

DT is explorative in nature. It is inherently inter-disciplinary and draws upon a range of texts, methodologies and theoretical perspectives. In much of the literature to date, there has been a particularly strong affinity with the socio-scientifically orientated research of ‘digital religion’, as well as media studies, and more broadly, computer science and digital humanities.

DT can be divided into several distinct, but overlapping areas of interest. At a basic level, DT reflects on how digital technologies impact theological education. This can be seen in online learning, but also as theological texts become more readily available through digital dissemination. Secondly, digital technology provides new tools and new research methodologies for theological enquiry that demand considering. The very fact that theologians use computers, for example, bears on how theological texts are produced. More importantly, it also influences their final form and content. Thirdly, Christianity is digitally mediated today in many forms: through websites, prayer apps, live-streamed services or religious video games, and so forth. DT reflects on the implications of different forms and media. For instance, how does reading the bible digitally impact readers’ interpretations of the text? Fourthly, we are witnessing seismic cultural shifts in the wake of the digitalisation of all spheres of life. DT is in this sense theological reflection on the emerging cultural condition we find ourselves in. It involves creative and reflexive conversation between Christian doctrines and ideas on the one hand, and digital discourses on the other. Finally, there has been extensive engagement with the socio-political questions surfacing in the wake of the digital revolution. This ethical or prophetic aspect of DT has sought to participate in wider public conversations about the development, use and impact of technology.

Given the speed of digital innovation and the constant changes that it brings, it is to be expected that DT will continue to evolve. In doing so, DT seeks to resource the Church, critique and inspire the tech industry and be a prophetic voice in society.

Matt Batten:

This is such a brilliant summary of DT and a clear ethical call to action to be responsible with our use and advocacy of tech within church community.

Frederike van Oorschot:

Thank you very much for this reflection, Jonas! I like your typology, because it includes this very important areas which for me stands at the very beginning of DT. It overcomes a limited view of DT, which on the one hand focuses on an instrumental understanding of digital technologies - referring to the digital as tools and instruments for theological work - and on the other hand thinks of “digitization” as an object of theology in need of theological reflection.

At the same time, it leads to a massive expansion of the term “digital theology” - so hanna and I decided to talk about “theologies of the digital” in this regard: It deals with the question of how digitization changes theology not only in terms of tools and instruments, but leads to constitutive shifts of and new questions for theological work.

We tried to think about it in our third volume…

Thomas Renkert:

#CursorAdventskalender 2020