A religious app for that
Grad students probe purpose of mobile apps rooted in faith
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 23:09
In today’s society, there seems to be an app for everything. While some of the most pointless apps seem to garner the most attention, three communication graduate students are researching apps that carry a different meaning.
Wendi Bellar, Brian Altenhofen and James Cho have spent the last year gathering and organizing 472 religion-themed smartphone apps to evaluate the purpose of the apps and how they are utilized.
“It’s important to look at these apps in general and to see how society uses them in daily life,” Bellar said. “It allows us to get a sense of how religion is mediated through technology.”
The team spent the first six months of the project of gathering all the apps they could find on the market.
“We just went to iTunes and Google, searching key words to find apps,” Bellar said.
Altenhofen said iTunes does not have a categorization process for religious apps like it does for music and books, which made the gathering process significantly more difficult.
The students were awarded a grant from the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media and Culture, which provided them with around $100 to purchase the apps for either an iPad or iTouch.
The apps were taken from the five major religions of the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The first three had roughly 100 apps each, while Hinduism and Buddhism had about 50 each.
“Most of the apps were free,” Bellar said. “But we did come across a $200 one for Judaism where the user could project images onto a screen. That was very unusual.”
Now that the research team has finished gathering the apps, the project is now focused on organizing and analyzing the data they have.
The project, which will end in late 2014, is under the supervision of Heidi Campbell, an associate professor of communication.
Campbell started the project to further her own research on the role of media within religion.
Campbell is currently the director for an online forum — Network for New Media, Religion, and Digital Culture Studies — where scholars can share research and converse with each other on similar subjects of study.
Bellar said this research comes at a time when technology and religion are not studied in partnership with each other.
Campbell said the research will answer questions about the current usage of technology and the implications for future usage in the religious worlds.
“One of the top apps downloaded worldwide is the U-Verse Bible app,” Campbell said. “We wanted to know the why and how.”
After analysis of the data, articles will be put on Campbell’s forum. Beyond that, the students plan to continue to study the apps.