Why RE Needs The Internet
RE needs the Internet to understand what is going on in religions. RE involves the study of religions and religious groups have been amongst the most enthusiastic users of the Internet: From the greatest religious institutions, to the smallest of local groups; they almost all have a presence on the web. From the most technologically enthusiastic cyber-religious to the most technologically isolated, all are making use of the Internet. This includes groups like the Hutterites who, I am told, communicate with the world via the Internet precisely because they wish to remain relatively free from daily contact with the 'outside world'. If just about every group, from local to international, mainstream to marginal, well-resourced to impoverished, has a computer presence, RE needs the Internet to understand what is going on in religions.
RE needs the Internet to make and understand communities. Much of our value as humans lies in the quality of our relationships with other human beings. Humans build communities; the nature of those communities is changing. In the US and the UK, people write more emails than letters. I've heard from several young students who say that they managed to 'survive' their first year away from home by being part of on-line communities. And it is not just young people. The greatest proportion of users and those with Internet access are over 60 years old. There are also communities of RE teachers, of pupils and so on. We need communities to be human, and RE explores humanity. When communities are being made with the Internet, RE needs the Internet to make and understand communities.
RE and the Environment needs the Internet because it is exploring interconnectedness, ecology and difficult questions with international implications. The Web is in itself a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all life. There is always more out there that we do not - and cannot - know, there are actions that can be taken which affect others we have never met (initiating computer viruses, or playing a false identity in Internet chats for example), there are other considerations being taken seriously beyond our own immediate concern. These are all challenges to the user's world-view and integrity as part of a wider community. In terms of ecology, spreading information via the Internet should lead to less waste of fossil fuels in both paper, printing and distribution, for example. It is also easier to access information via websites than by traditional means. And for the discussion of difficult or sensitive issues, there are circumstances where pupils may find it easier - either from embarrassment or inarticulateness - to discuss things on the Internet than face to face.
The Internet has the potential for extending our horizons and bringing us into contact with one another. I am not a fan of the word 'virtual' when used to refer to anything happening on computers. An on-line Bible or an email discussion is still a 'real' text or a 'real' discussion - the word 'virtual' suggests it is not quite happening; not quite there. The 'Virtual Memorial Garden' may be unreal as a garden but it is real as a memorial.
RE needs the Internet when it helps us to make ourselves a little more real than we are.
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