About the discipline
Advances in technology have long been tied to religious uses, from the printing press disseminating copies of the Bible, to the Internet, where information and discussions about religion pervade. As we advance into the 21st century, technology will offer more tests to religion and ethical beliefs, as well as more ways people can express religious beliefs through technology.
Today’s technology: Today’s computer science, engineering and manufacturing include multimedia communication and networking, human-machine-computer interfaces, scientific visualization, intelligent information management and systems, electronics, robotics, semi-conductors, biomedical engineering, and more. Designers and implementers in these fields have exciting opportunities for increasing human capability and learning more about the world.
Historically, religion has adapted to changing world-views and technologies, both influencing and being affected by them. For example, religious themes are a growing market in the video game industry. “Al-Quraysh,” a strategy game, tells the story of Islam’s first 100 years from the viewpoint of four nations, Bedouins, Arabs, Persians and Romans. A video game based on the “Left Behind” series of Christian novels has drawn criticism for allowing players to be virtually tempted by forces of evil, convert others to Christianity, or kill them.
Web sites devoted to information and discussion of religions are pervasive, with a popular feature asking people to fill out virtual surveys to discover which “faith,” “biblical character” or “faith leader” they are. Advances in technology have also been useful in preserving and disseminating religious texts. Today, people can read the entire Bible, Koran and other texts on-line, and many sites are searchable by chapter, phrase or keyword, even on hand-held electronic devices. Advances in virtual visualization could also address the challenge of translating religious experience.
Language: Computer technology and engineering can create a universal language. Technology draws on expertise based around the world. It is not uncommon to have engineers from various languages, cultures and nationalities working together on projects, as well as designing for markets different from their own backgrounds. However, one should not assume there is not religious/cultural/ethnic diversity among them because they function in the universal language of technology. By understanding different religions and cultures, engineers can be sensitive to other markets’ cultural norms, as well as those of fellow colleagues.
Religion and technology have in common the ways they can define and direct the course of human life, for positive or negative. Today, some people talk of computers becoming “their religion,” because they inspire such devotion. Anyone debating pro-Mac or pro-PC might see as potential a deadlock as those declaring the superiority of their religious faith over another.
Religion has indirectly influenced the language of computing as well. An example is the popular “avatar,” the representation of a user of virtual reality such as a computer role-playing game, virtual community, Internet forum, instant messaging or e-mail profile. In Hindu philosophy, an avatar (from Sanskrit “avatara,” meaning “descent”), commonly refers to the incarnation of a higher being or the Supreme Being onto planet Earth. The term is used primarily in Hinduism for incarnations of Vishnu, whom many Hindus worship as God. In Vedanta, a school of philosophy within Hinduism, and non-theistic schools of Vedic thought, an avatar is the supreme perfection of a human yogic practitioner. Today the word has gone from meaning a bodily manifestation of a god to the bodily manifestation, or incarnation, of an entity not oneself.
Issues today: Programmers and engineers can find job opportunities amid the growing industry and market for religiously themed goods, from video games to electronic religious references. As places of worship become more high-tech, including PowerPoint sermons, digital recording, podcasting, and integrated lighting, visuals and sound, there are increased opportunities in system design.
Advances in technology also invite ethical discussion. Are there pros and cons to designing video games focused on killing or oppressing, or that depict one religion as superior to others? Does blending human and machine improve quality of life or replace human life? Is it ethical to displace human workers by employing computers and machines? Movies such as “The Matrix” examined whether a computer can have a soul, and whether computers would be concerned with spiritual or religious issues. One could ask, does our ability to create virtual “life” make us virtual “gods?” Those working in technological fields will be at the forefront of these advances and debates.
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Codes of ethics
- Association of Information Technology Professionals – Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct
- Association for Computing Machinery – Code of Ethics
- Microsoft Standards of Business Conduct – Microsoft Values
- Internet Society – Principles and Goals
- Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility – Mission
- Online database of Social Media Policies
- “When computers address the Almighty.” France24.com, March 21, 2009
- “Cyberfaith: How Americans pursue religion online.” PewResearchCenter Study Dec. 2001
Professional associations and faith groups
- Affiliation of Christian Engineers
- American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin
- Association of Christians in Mathematical Sciences
- Christian Engineering Society
- International Muslim Association of Scientists & Engineers
- Jewish High Tech Community
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- Campbell, Heidi. “Religion and the Internet in the Israeli Orthodox context.” Israel Affairs. Vol. 17, No. 3 (July 2011): 364-83.
- Cheong, Pauline Hope; Jessie P.H. Poon; Shirlena Huang and Irene Casas. “The Internet Highway and Religious Communities: Mapping and Contesting Spaces in Religion-Online.” The Information Society. Vol. 25, no. 5 (Sept. 2009): 291-302.