As faith communities raced to adopt technology more than ever to provide pastoral outreach during the coronavirus pandemic, Fr Anthony Le Duc SVD was exploring the underpinnings of such activity in an international roundtable on religion and social communication in Thailand.
The 11th International Roundtable of the Asian Research Centre for Religion and Social Communication (ARC) was held last month at St Louis College in Bangkok.
The Roundtable, which was interreligious and international, took the theme: Religion and Social Communication Research in Asia: Basic and Practical Considerations in a Digital World.
Fr Anthony, who is a member of the SVD AUS Province, based in Bangkok where he teaches at Lux Mundi National Seminary of Thailand, has a strong practical and academic interest in the use of social communications in religion, and organised the event with the St Louis College for the ARC.
“The conference is a Roundtable format in which scholars in the field of religion and social communication present their research and discuss their work in sessions of 90 minutes each,” he says.
“This year we had a total of 45 participants by invitation, coming from various countries of Asia and from multiple religious traditions.
“A number of participants took part online due to coronavirus-related restrictions in travel at the time the conference took place.”
Fr Anthony says most of the participants were lay scholars, researchers and doctoral students, along with some priests and some scholar monks.
Some of the questions considered included: How are age-old religious and philosophical worldviews being challenged or re-envisioned in the digital milieu? What are the main communicative possibilities and challenges for religion in a new and digital world? And what is the impact of intercultural/religious communication on local cultures and communities?
The Roundtable also looked at practical questions such as how religious leaders can employ modern means of communication to appeal to new generations of faith seekers and adherents.
“This Roundtable shows that digital technology affects a vast spectrum of human life and society, and religion is undoubtedly affected and even transformed by technological progress in very profound ways,” he says.
“The research presented in the conference indicates that all the religious traditions must deal with the challenges presented by the digital milieu as well as take advantage of its benefits.
“Even though there has been a lot of research related to this theme and there have been many conferences organised, it seems that the topics for investigation remain unexhausted.
“Because information and communication technology is changing so fast, religions are barely keeping up with reflections on ICT’s implications for religion and for interreligious relations.
“I suspect topics and themes related to ICT and religion and social communication will continue to occupy the minds of religion scholars far into the future.”