RELIGION IN THE DIGITAL AGE II: Mediating ‘The Human’ in a Globalizing Asia


Cinema Studies, Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6th Floor (Map)

Please see below for full schedule.

Co-sponsors : Asian Film and Media Initiative (AFMI), Cinema Studies at NYU Tisch.

With generous support from the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion & International Affairs.


This conference explores religious and ethically-driven digital mediations shaping and shaped by globalization in Asia, from documentary and feature film, to innovations in digital storytelling and online activism.

In ethnically diverse Asian countries, religion and politics are deeply intertwined. We will concentrate upon the question of “the human” in various forms, including political and economic movements to garner “human rights”; discourses on human difference and identity (race, class, sexuality, gender, ethnicity) that play out in the mediation of religious theologies and cosmologies, creating or destroying sense of community and personal agency; and regimes of the mediation of the senses in which the digital has a role. We hope especially to explore the relationship of human embodiment in its vulnerability to violence and its attendant suffering as a kind of liveness that is constantly mediated, especially through various forms of virtual circulation. Ethically engaged work that is not so named as “religious” but takes into account calling out the deeper categories of our humanity would be welcome.

We will include the various “geographical Asias:” East, South and Southeast and their diasporas, that is, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so forth. But we are not tying ourselves necessarily to physical locality. In fact, “Asianess” itself seems to be a problematic and interesting issue in the digitally virtual, yet politically powerful, sense we hope to explore.

Specifically we ask:

*What styles of personhood, of humanity, are encouraged in regimes of mediation through religious practice and training? What contribution does the digital and new media forms make to such disciplines? (including social media, dvd, video, broadcast etc.)

*What roles do religion and digital media play in local political movements? How do digital forms amplify religious influence in volatile political contexts, where the capacity of new technologies renders these processes visible and audible on the political stage? How is religious conflict changed, exacerbated or eased, through use of digital technologies?

*How do digital media transform advocacy and ethics in an era when cell phone uploads can reveal human rights violations while also at times put vulnerable religious subjects at risk?

*In countries where discussing politics and religion is discouraged and could lead to arrest for sedition (such as Malaysia, for example, or China) how can citizens use video media to influence the social and political conversation? What risks do citizen journalists face, particularly in the absence of a critical mass that might afford them some protection through anonymity?

*How are questions of social justice, ethics, and morality taken up/reframed/ introduced by participants who have become involved as members of religious groups, or by people reacting against organized religions?

*Conversely, how does the global visibility of media actually distort the recognition and representation of religious organizations and their particular ways of operating in localities? What sorts of feedback loops become engaged and influence “live” performances on the ground by embodied actors?

*How is knowledge about religion and its implications for international politics, diplomacy and human rights being transformed via online commentary, citizen journalism, and the blogosphere, as well as in the circulation of film and video that offer alternative narratives to hegemonic understandings? Another way of asking this question is to frame it in terms of the relationship of legacy forms of media work and digital technologies and online spaces.

* Finally, we emphasize the importance of paying attention to the mediated, genre-conscious, and aesthetic constructions of “religion” as they circulate socially in various digital media. It is tempting to slip into thinking of ‘religiosity’ as an already-existent reservoir that people simply tap into, when actually self-consciously creative work goes into producing it. We will think about how “religion” generates a range of other social practices and future objects of circulation, particularly at sites of discursive reflexivity. Thus we emphasize the formal and aesthetic qualities that motivate ethical/religious expressions, and the special role that new media and the digital turn play.

Presentation abstracts can be read here.

Presenter biographies can be read here. 


FRIDAY, September 27th


Faye Ginsburg (NYU Center for Religion & Media) and Zhang Zhen (NYU Cinema Studies, AFMI)

Opening Remarks: Angela Zito (NYU)

1:30pm-3:30pm PANEL 1: Authority and Authenticity Online
Moderator: Zhang Zhen (NYU Cinema Studies, AFMI)

Samuel Lengen (Max Plank Institute for the Study of Religious Diversity)
Artistic media production, religion and mediations of “the human” in contemporary Beijing

Pauline Hope Cheong (Arizona State University)
High-tech High-touch authority: Strategic Arbitration and Presentification for environmental justice among humanistic Buddhists

Angela Zito (NYU)
Getting your parents online: remediating filiality in China

3:30-4pm Coffee Break

4-5:30pm – FILM SCREENING: Kumaré (2011, 84 min)

5:30-6:30pm DISCUSSION

Conversation with Patton Burchett (NYU Religious Studies), followed by audience Q&A.



SATURDAY, September 28th

9:30 – 11:30am PANEL 2: Aesthetic starting points for ethical projects

Moderator: Rebecca Karl (NYU History and East Asian Studies)

Boreth Ly (UCSC)
Heterotopias Interrupted: Buddhist Embodiment in the Age of Digital Media and Global Capital

Francesca Tarocco (NYU Shanghai)
An exemplary digital life: Venerable Daoxin (道心) in cyberspace

Natasja Sheriff (NYU)
Reporting Religion in Malaysia: News Making, Art Making, and Advertising after Yasmin Ahmad

11:30-1p PANEL 3: Violence in digital circulation

Moderator: Arvind Rajagopal (NYU Media, Culture and Communication)

Patricia Spyer (Leiden University)
Reel Accidents: Screening the Umma under Siege in Wartime Maluku

Sahana Udupa (Max Plank Institute for the Study of Religious Diversity)
Internet Hindus: ‘Right-wingers’ as new India’s ideological warriors

1-2:15pm LUNCH BREAK

2:15-4:15pm PANEL 4: Doing ritual work digitally: Cyberspace and (the) ‘beyond’

Moderator: Bambi Schieffelin (NYU Anthropology)

Christopher Helland (Dalhousie University)
Co-Locating the Sacred in Cyberspace: Examining the Developing Role of Online Ritual within the Tibetan Diaspora

Gregory Price Grieve (University of North Carolina, Greensboro Religious Studies)
Fashioning an Asian Subject: Second Life “Zen” as Cybernetic Product of and Response to Global Neoliberalism

Janet Hoskins (USC Anthropology and Religion, Center for Visual Anthropology)
Simulating or Summoning the Supernatural? Digitally Enhanced Spirit Medium Videos in Vietnamese Communities

4:15-4:30pm COFFEE BREAK

4:30-6:30pm PANEL 5: Borders of religious activism: Indonesian new media contexts

Moderator: Faye Ginsburg (NYU Anthropology, CRM)

Merlyna Lim, (Princeton, Visiting Research Scholar, Center For Information Technology Policy)
Holy Bandwidth: Race, Religion, & Local Politics in the Social Media Age: an Indonesian case

Laura Coppens (NYU Center for Religion and Media/Center for Media, Culture and History, Fellow)
Fighting “Moral Terrorism”: Mass-mediated Sexual Panics and the Quest for Sexual Citizenship in Indonesia

Intan Paramaditha (NYU Cinema Studies)
Sexuality, religion and politics: The secular framework in contemporary Indonesian cultural practices


Featured image, Teach Your Parents to Go Online, courtesy of