Major Articles Available Online
(in .pdf format)

Enacting a Virtual 'Ekklesia': Online Christian Fundamentalism as Vernacular Religion
   (in New Media & Society , Volume 12 Number 5, August 2010: 729-744.)

Based on the interactive features of websites, researchers have distinguished between religion online and online religion. Approaching online religious expression as "vernacular religion" can transcend the distinction by focusing on the lived experience of believers. In this study, qualitative interviews and close textual analysis are deployed to locate four traits that define the vernacular ideology of Christian fundamentalism. Tracing these traits in public discourse, they are seen to emerge as a set in the early 20th century. Collecting a sample of 40 sites, the traits are located in association with biblical prophecy. Based on qualitative interviews conducted with four individuals in the sample, linked websites connect individuals in a virtual ‘"ekklesia" based on their shared interest. Locating religion in lived experience instead of media artifacts, this research suggests that a limiting tendency found in this form of fundamentalism is the result of individual choices facilitated by network media.

 

The Vernacular Mode: Locating the Non-Institutional in the Practice of Citizenship
   (in Public Modalities: Rhetoric, Culture, Media, and Shape of Public Life, Daniel C. Brouwer and Robert Asen Eds. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press. 2010. 240-261)

This chapter argues that conceptualizing the vernacular as a dialectical modality of discourse can help researchers of communication and rhetoric account for the blurring of the distinction between vernacular and institutional agencies and agents occurring in online participatory media. The first section explores the two primary theories of the vernacular in communication research. While one relies on a distinction between vernacular and institutional agents, the other relies on a distinction between vernacular and institutional agencies. Participatory media, however, blur the distinction in both agents and agencies. A third conception of the vernacular is needed to account for this blurring. The next section deploys the ancient meanings of the term to imagine the vernacular as a dialectical mode of discourse hybridizing not just texts but also discursive agents and the agencies they deploy. Finally, the chapter demonstrate how this conception can account for the complex confluence of agents and agencies occurring on and around the example of The Official Kerry-Edwards Blog. The institutional agents on the site successfully initiated a vernacular dialectic that expressed support for Kerry. However, when Democratic Party officials where perceived by their audience to be reducing the alternate views expressed on the site by moderating its collaborative mechanisms, their ability to deploy a vernacular modality was called into question. Across an emergent web of network locations, the blogging community asserted a redefined alterity beyond the reach of The Official Kerry-Edwards Blog.

 

Vernacular Media, Vernacular Belief: Locating Christian Fundamentalism in the Vernacular Web
   (in Western Folklore, Volume 68 Number 4, Fall 2009: 729-744.)

New communication technologies allow individuals to express and consume a greater diversity of religions ideas. With the rise of vernacularizing media, religious expression is becoming more vernacular. In this situation, the unique perspective and methods of Folklore Studies help document a vernacular ideology that emerges in a network of websites when individuals express a specific set of conservative evangelical beliefs.

 

Crusading on the Vernacular Web: The Folk Beliefs and Practices of Online Spiritual Warfare
  
(in Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World, Trevor J. Blank, editor. Logan Utah 2009. 159-174.)

This chapter documents the online vernacular web of expression that has emerged among fundamentalist Christians who believe they are engaged in an ongoing war against demon spirits. In the case of this particular vernacular web, the access to others it creates functions to encourage particular forms of intolerance. Out of a perceived need to share strategies for combating evil spirits, many educated and skilled amateur Web site builders see themselves as crusaders in a world led astray by the homosexual rights movement, government conspiracies against Christians, New Age spirituality, and other belief systems. Creating a vernacular web of online discourse, these individuals can communicate within a discursive enclave that reinforces their extreme views. At the same time, access to the diversity of people and ideas that are possible online has led some of these individuals to engage a spiritual warfare tactic of aggressive “witnessing.” When their divine experiences are frequent and ongoing, both certainty and intolerance are tempered into the most extreme forms. For them, alternate views are not merely wrong—they are Satanic and needed to be actively combated. For these individuals, the Internet serves as an active battleground.

 

An End Times Virtual 'Ekklesisa': Ritual Deliberation in Participatory Media
   (in The End is All Around Us: Apocalyptic Texts and Popular Culture , John Walliss and Kenneth G.C. Newport, editors,
  London: Equinox Publishing 2009. 198-218.)

With access to mass media, individuals have had an expanding array of ideas to engage and incorporate into their systems of religious belief. With network communication technologies, this access has gone beyond just the consumption of centrally produced mass media content to include the ability to express their ideas to each other in ongoing communication processes. Creating their own vernacular webs of discourse, this chapter documents the practice of “ritual deliberation.” Connecting with each other through online participatory media, these individuals form a sort of ekklesia or “church” that emerges from everyday Internet discourse about the popular apocalyptic narrative of the “End Times.” Because this church is only virtual, however, its existence raises important questions about individuals' ability to limit diversity in Internet-based religious discourse.

 

The Vernacular Ideology of Christian Fundamentalism on the World Wide Web
  (in Fundamentalisms and the Media , Stewart M. Hoover and Nadia Kaneva, editors, New York: Continnum Publishing, 2009. 126-141.)

This article documents a virtual ekklesia as it emerges from a network of websites where individuals express a specific set of conservative evangelical beliefs. Not unified by any institutional ties, this web of belief exists only in individual expressive behaviors. I have termed this web ‘vernacular Christian fundamentalism. To document this phenomenon, ethnographic data were collected and examined to locate four specific defining traits of the interactions on the sites within this web: Biblical literalism, evangelicalism, spiritual rebirth, and apocalypticism.

 

The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media
   (in Critical Studies in Media Communication , Volume 25, Number 5, December 2008: 490-513.)
  (If you have trouble accessing this copy-protected location, please email me at rgh@rghoward.com.)

From wikis to blogs, new participatory forms of web-based communication are increasingly common ways for institutions and individuals to communicate. The content these forms produce incorporates elements of both institutional and non-institutional discourse. More than a syncretic pastiche, this content is the product of hybrid agencies made possible by these new forms. Terming this content vernacular acknowledges that this hybridity frustrates any reified conception of pure or authentic non-institutional discourse. At the same time, the theory of a vernacular web attends to the complex new transformational possibilities of participatory media seem to offer individuals.

 

Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web
   (in Journal of American Folklore. Volume 121, Number 480, Spring 2008: 192-218.)

Through the example of a specific blog, this article locates a category of online discourse termed the “vernacular web.” Because the definitive trait of the vernacular is its distinction from the institutional, the vernacular web emerges in specific network locations as a communal invocation of alternate authority. Imagining those invocations as located communication processes, the concept of a vernacular web provides the theoretical language necessary for speaking about the complex hybridity that new communication technologies make possible.

 

Rhetoric of the Rejected Body at ‘Heaven’s Gate’”
   (in Gender and Apocalyptic Desire, Lee Quinby and Brenda Brasher, editors. London: Equinox Press, 2006. 145-164.)

This article explores the possibility that the leader of the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ or Human Individual Metamorphosis religious group known by its acronym ‘HIM’ committed ritual suicide with his followers in 1997 as a result of his own rejection of the mainstream Protestant ideology with which he was raised. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Applewhite confronted what he considered the overly worldly and materialistic social norms of his mainstream Protestantism through performing an identity that completely rejected his own human selfhood. Coming to believe that he was actually a multidimensional spiritual being named ‘Do’ that was only incarnated in the human body of Applewhite, he validated that belief by creating a community of followers who also rejected their humanity, believing that they too were possessed by non-physical beings. This community sought to minimize gender roles and the sexuality that those roles imply. In the end, this rejection became so radicalized that it led them all into the choice to negate their human identities completely through suicide.

 

Sustainability and Narrative Plasticity in Online Apocalyptic Discourse After September 11, 2001
  
(in Journal of Media and Religion, Volume 5, Number 1, March 2006: 25-47.)

It has been suggested that one avenue for critically assessing online discourses is in their ability to sustain themselves. In this article, I argue that apocalyptic Christian discourse is highly sustainable in the online environment precisely because its argumentative norms are grounded in a profound narrative plasticity. Because the authorizing biblical texts and interpretive narrative that define this discourse exhibit a profound flexibility, new events are immediately assimilated into the narrative structure, making the discourse highly sustainable in the online environment. However, a case study analysis suggests that precisely the same qualities that allow this sustainability also allow this discourse to insulate itself from the necessarily divergent ideas that might generate more constructive public deliberation.

 

Toward a Theory of the Worldwide Web Vernacular: The Case for Pet Cloning
   (in Journal of Folklore Research, Volume 42, Number 3, December 2005: 323-360.)

This article demonstrates that a “Worldwide Web vernacular” has now emerged. The “vanity” or “home page” in general and the “pet vanity page” in particular exist as recognizable emic genres. The distinguishing features of these genres are in their personal content. However, as a result of the technologies that arose to satisfy growing commercial interests in Web-based communication during the 1990s, that content has come to be associated with particular formal features. It becomes clear that these features are emically recognized as vernacular in the example of a professional WWW designer who deploys this aesthetic in an effort to render his marketing of pet-cloning services more palatable to pet-lovers. By using these features rhetorically, this Web designer offers evidence that the vernacular gives voice to meaning not available from inside institutional norms and forms. By comparing features of the commercial cloning Web pages with a 42-site sample of pet pages, the defining elements of this vernacular are located. In the end, this article finds that the vernacular is now recognizable on the World Wide Web precisely because the emergence of the “institutional” gave the vernacular its power to enact meaning.

 

A Theory of Vernacular Rhetoric: The Case of the 'Sinner's Prayer' Online
  
(in Folklore, Volume 116, Number 2, August 2005: 175-191)

This paper seeks to rigorously define and illustrate the analytic category of “vernacular rhetoric” through an examination of the “Sinner’s Prayer” as it appears on an amateur web page. In the online environment, this invitation to a traditional prayer performance seems to be a strategy for converting non-Christians. Through the application of the concept of vernacular rhetoric, however, it becomes clear that the deployment of the prayer can also function as an invitation for the already-converted to “testify” to their faith. In this way, the apparently evangelic prayer form also functions as an invitation for the already-converted to perform previously held values. By applying the concept of vernacular rhetoric to this example of online discourse, its value as an analytic category becomes clear because it can address the performative nature of World Wide Web-based documents.

 

Who Posts DeCSS and Why?: A Content Analysis of Web Sites Posting DVD Circumvention Software,”
   with Kristin R. Eschenfelder and Anuj C. Desai
  
(in Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Volume 56, Number 13, November 2005: 1405-1418)

This study explored why web authors post the DVD decryption software known as “DeCSS” --specifically whether authors post DeCSS to protest changes in copyright law. Data are drawn from content analysis of websites posting the software. Most DeCSS posters did not include any content explaining why they posted DeCSS; however, no authors presented DeCSS as a piracy tool. Of sites containing explanatory content, many argued that DeCSS is legitimate tool to play DVDs on free/open source computers. Other sites asserted that current copyright law is unjust, and that DVD related corporations are engaging in undesirable behaviors. Based on the data, and theorizing from rhetoric and the collective action literatures, we assert that much DeCSS posting is protest, but it may not be copyright protest -- numerous posters protest related issues such as freedom of speech. More research is needed to determine the significance of DeCSS posting to broader copyright policy debates including its relation to off-line protest, and the development of shared identities and cognitive frames. Also, the complexities of circumvention issues raise concerns about whether policy debate will be limited to elites. Finally, data point to the need to understand both international and local laws, norms, and events when studying copyright protest activity.

 

Sustainability and Radical Rhetorical Closure: The Case of the 1996 ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Newsgroup Campaign
  (in Journal of Communication and Religion, Volume 28, Number 1, March 2005: 99-130)

Because of its multilateral structure, Usenet newsgroups offer their users the benefit of rich audience feedback. When sustainable, feedback dramatically expands an individual communicator’s audience. In the summer of 1996, the H.I.M. religious group used multiple posts to Usenet newsgroups to try to locate individuals who might join their spiritual community. However, H.I.M. failed to garner a large audience and, as a result, failed to locate new members through Internet newsgroups. This occurred because the group’s posts did not conform to the “negotiative” rhetorical tactics typical of newsgroup discourse. Negotiative rhetorical tactics encourage feedback and imply a pluralist attitude. As a negative case, the H.I.M. newsgroup posts of 1996 indicate that individuals who believe they have attained certain knowledge can disregard the influences of a pluralistic medium because their beliefs allow them to value benefits that differ from those most obviously associated with that medium. This level of rhetorical closure may imply the potential for dangerous antisocial behavior.

 

The Double Bind of the Protestant Reformation: The Birth of Fundamentalism and the Necessity of Pluralism
  (in Journal of Church and State, Volume 47, Number 1, Winter 2005: 91-108)

Martin Luther’s Reformation shifted the authority for divine truth away from the Catholic Church and to the individual. This shift created a double bind. While it made the ideology of fundamentalism possible, it also made necessary the political pluralism fundamentalism withholds. For a society to judge and act on values, it must share a conception of truth. As becomes clear in Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s well-known debate about the freedom of the will, individually authorized truths had no recourse to a shared method of mediation through state or religious institutions. When individually experienced truths conflicted, there was no longer any governing authority to resolve those conflicts. As a result, post-Reformation governments caught in this double bind sought to maintain pluralist policies regarding divine authority in the face of growing popular affinities for fundamentalism.

 

“On-Line Ethnography of Dispensationalist Discourse: Revealed versus Negotiated Truth”
  (in Religion on the Internet, Douglas Cowan and Jeffery K. Hadden, editors. New York: Elsevier Press, 2000: 225-246)

This article discusses and applies a mixture of rhetorical and ethnographic analytical methods to document and analyze a small Internet community. Providing an easily identifiable and wide-spread discourse, engaging in both on-line and face-to-face discourse with American Evangelical dispensationalists create a window on the evolving modes of Internet expression. Developing out of informal electronic expression, dispensationalist debaters utilize complex vernacular rhetorical techniques. In 1999, this community’s debates were a feverish rush. In this rush, a rhetorical tension emerges between the desire to negotiate about truth and the desire to express an experienced or revelatory Truth. This article explores the possibilities and limits of the hypothesis that the medium of the Internet encourages and privileges more negotiative rhetorical techniques based on the methods it has developed for this purpose.

 

“Apocalypse in your In-Box: End-Times Communication on the Internet,”
   (in Western Folklore Volume 56, Number 3/4, Summer/Fall 1997: 295-315)

Historically, apocalyptic Christians have been portrayed with wild eyes. Even in the 1970 revision of his 1957 classic The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn, maybe the most well-known scholar of millennialism, kept them fearfully hanging on the periphery. In recent press coverage, it seems that the average Christian millennialist is dangerously devoted to a single malevolent leader. This article argues that, on the Internet at least, this image does not hold true. Most Christian millennialists who are highly involved in electronic discourse seem, by the very nature of the electronic media themselves, less likely to be devoted to a single religious authority.

 

Minor Articles Available Online (in .pdf format)

"Cults"
   (in American Countercultures, Gina Misiroglu editor. New York: Sharp Reference. 2009. 189-192.)
"Fundamentalism"
   (in Encyclopedia of Religion, Communication, and Media, Daniel Stout editor. New York: Berkshire Publishing. 2006. 155-160.)
“Technology Takes Folklore into Future”
   (in Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin: Sunday, April 10, 2005: B2)
Entries for “Final Judgment,” “Myth,” and “Second Coming”
  (in Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism,edited by Brenda Brasher. London: Berkshire/Routledge, 2001: 179-181, 326-7, and 437-9)
“Toward a Folk Rhetorical Approach to Emerging Myth: The Case of Apocalyptic Techno-Gaianism on the World-Wide-Web”
   (in Folklore Forum. Volume 29, Number 2, Fall 1998: 53-73)

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