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Consumption of the internet and its effect on the religious identities of people.

The introduction of new media in the world has broadened the horizon of religious discourse all around the globe. The contemporary media platforms were initially looked at as platforms to enhance mutual understanding between varied religions and people. The interplay of new media, especially the internet, with people’s lives is an ever-expanding horizon due to its ease to access. Two major tools of this very internet are used to attack its users; redundancy and repetition. Religious practices are no longer confined to physical spaces or to those who wish to practice with their physical presence. The acceptance and rather extensive usage of new media by religious practitioners has reshaped the perception and practice of religion, rather than giving a direction to a contemporary religion. As contemporary media is resulting in the constant change in religious identities of people, practicing a religion can no longer be restricted to lighting a candle or worshipping the sun by offering water; rather, an in-depth study of the role of media in these shifts of identities is required to analyse the relevance of these identities. When we talk about the correlation between the new media and the religious identities of the people of India, the impact is a major one. The agenda setting role of the media in the Indian society should be looked at along with the extent to which a belief, in terms of a religion, can be influenced, changed, or even destroyed merely by exposing oneself to a differing and ever-changing online stand. India is a land of religions and ethnicities and most of these religions strictly abide by their variant rules and regulations which are usually very distinct from each other. Most of the religions that India houses are conservative in nature and are relatively inflexible in terms of their practices. Even so, there have been minimal studies to show how media moulds individuals into professing these religions and in turn leading to either abandoning or propagating them. Since the introduction of New Media is relatively recent in a country like India, there is a bare minimum of literature available which is relevant to the topic. However, the readings available are quite varied and opinionated. As per the renowned Television anchor Ravish Kumar, the weapon of New Media is being more than just efficiently being utilised by the religious practitioners of the country, and, the government of India. The journalist fearlessly questions the religious ideologies being broadcasted amongst the citizens and imprisoning the minds of the citizens of India by blindfolding them. In his book, The Free Voice, Ravish Kumar looks at the citizens as ‘Robo-Public’ and various new media platforms as universities where the government and religious leaders profess their religions and attract people to make them blindly follow their religion’s ideals. Hindu fundamentalists hold the social networking platform WhatsApp and its increasing popularity with the youth responsible for what they call ‘Love Jihad’, or the process by which Muslim men lure young Hindu women into marriage and subsequently

conversion to Islam, there is a window of opportunity to study how far the media’s role goes in facilitating the occurrence of these speculated phenomena. People that follow a certain religious faith usually are fed with content that further seeks to solidify their allegiance with that particular faith and belief system. But one important thing to be understood while studying this phenomenon is that there is heavy reliance on previous experience that tells them what leads to gratification. While there have been studies aimed at understanding the impact of media consumption on religious trends, these have largely been restricted to the American and European contexts, drawing inferences mainly from Christian and Islamic trends. I believe that a study in the Indian context could add significantly to the academia in this specific field, seeing as India is some of the most religiously diverse nations and is also home to one of the world’s largest and fastest growing youth populations which are constantly engaging with various forms of media.

-Manasvi Nag.

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