Christians live in a world of digital culture and technological advancement. We are all involved in some form of digitality, whether in our daily lives or in our academic pursuits. This is true in both the Global North and the Global South. Recognising this reality, a few theologians are developing what is known as “digital theology.”
Digital theology is a new field of study that looks at how digital culture affects the study of theology and how the study of theology affects the study of digital culture (cf. Philips 2020). Currently, most works on digital theology are written from the perspective of the Global North. Voices from the Global South are not heard enough in this field of study.
What is Digital Theology?
Peter Philips, a key contributor to the discussion of this field, suggests that digital theology is concerned with bringing together “both the digitalization of theology… and the historical and contemporary processes of theological reflection” (Philips 2020). It can also be viewed as a developing field concerned with how Christians attempt to understand their faith and faith practices in a context where communities are being shaped and captivated by technology (Garner 2020).
Waves of Digital Theology
Peter Phillips, Kyle Schiefelbein-Guerrero, and Jonas Kurlberg (2019) have found that there have been four waves of digital theology.
In the first wave, theological educators and proponents of the Christian faith used digital tools to express their theological viewpoints or faith. They use digital tools to mediate what they want to communicate or teach. For example, using technology or digital tools to teach, tell stories, or teach theological truths falls under this category.
The second wave was concerned with theological research conducted using digital tools and resources. It may entail analysing data to interpret texts, develop conceptual frameworks, or identify best practices. For example, I understood the various ways in which God’s names were adapted and used in Tangkhul Naga while reading William Pettigrew’s digitised text of The Gospel of John (1904).
The third wave was about how theology is practised in a digital culture. This criterion recognises that digital culture and theology have a “reflexive” relationship with each other. This implies that engagement with digital culture is facilitated by theology, and vice versa. It is related to a view of theology as an ongoing process in which the understanding of the past as perceived in the Bible and tradition interacts with the experience of the present context (Bevans, 2002).
The fourth wave expands on the third wave’s critique of digital culture by combining ethics and theology. It recognises the impact of technological advancement on individuals and society. It acknowledges the significance of maintaining a moral compass as the faith community engages with digital culture. In other words, it considers how technology or digital culture affects human society (Phillips, Schiefelbein-Guerrero, and Kurlberg 2019).
Doing Digital Theology in South Asia
Given this glocal reality, practising digital theology in South Asia would involve taking into account these various digital contexts in an effort to comprehend not only who God is and what God has done as recorded in Scripture, but also asking, “What is God doing in the contemporary context of digital culture?”
Finding our voice
As previously stated, contributors from the Global South continue to be underrepresented in discussions of digital theology. Indeed, Stephen Garner is concerned about the need for the inclusion of voices from “Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and other” regions (Garner 2020).
When discussing the context of South Asian digital culture, one must consider its diversity. The context of South Asian digital culture is diverse; my suggestion is to recognise the digital divide between men and women, young and old, rural and urban, and rich and poor. Even though digitality is felt in most cultures, it has different effects and finds acceptance at different levels. Digital culture in South Asia is not uniform.
Digital Theologizing and the needs of the faith community
It takes more than just a moral compass to participate in a digital-theological discourse. It entails adopting the Creator’s very nature, which involves using one’s creativity to serve others (i.e., as co-creators). Specifically, this might require expressing one’s creativity in the service of the Christian community (and beyond).
For example, a group of young men and women created a mobile app to store all Tangkhul indigenous Christian songs. This mobile app is now used in all Tangkhul churches in Northeast India and the diaspora churches. This is an excellent example of digital theologising with an understanding of the needs of the faith community.
Digitality: The Challenges and Opportunities
As technology develops, digital tools and resources are being used to plant and realise capitalistic ideologies (Betancourt 2016). Even if it is not always obvious, this advancement is part of our everyday lives and academic work. On the one hand, having access to digital tools and resources simplifies our lives; on the other hand, social connections and markets are being reclaimed.
Digital culture is spreading across borders. This dynamic is described as “global reality intersecting with local reality.” In theory, local worldviews and experiences should impact global thinking and vice versa. But the dominant or popular culture shapes the terms of digital culture.
Given this reality, my suggestion is to consider the context of digital culture, the growing presence of capitalism, and the practice of expansionism in a glocal context. If this reality is not discussed, it is akin to ignoring “the elephant in the room” in South Asia.
There have been waves of digital theologising in the Global North. However, in the Global South, we are only now entering the debate. In this brief piece, I have proposed that we consider the multiple contexts of digitality and function as co-creators of God to serve the faith community, particularly when engaging in digital theology.