Sunday, October 27, 2013

Final Thoughts

Through my research over the last several weeks, I have enjoyed observing how Christians use Instagram to perform their religion in their daily lives. I have discovered many different ways that they go about doing this. The three most common ways that I have encountered in my research were through the posting of bible verses, posting pictures with captions asking for prayer, and through pictures of users interacting with religion through their hobbies, namely art. From my observations throughout this case study, my research question has been edited, refined, and has ended up here:

"This case study will explore how Christians create or act out religion in their daily lives in the context of Instagram through the use of symbols and images measured by the examination of their posts and how others respond to them."

            Through my focus on Christian users, one of the things I have noticed is that when they post something, it is aimed towards others Christians; their audience is intended to be other believers. With posts of bible verses, prayer requests, and their art, it is evident that they believe the importance of what they have posted will resonate greatest with other Christians. Other believers will be able to relate to or be encouraged by the post. They may even respond, or in the case of the users asking for prayer, interact with the user and take action to pray for them. While a non-Christian would probably not look at the post and be confused or offended by it, they may just not regard it as significant.
            Another trend I have noticed through the examples I have chosen is that each post is a reflection of the user’s personal interaction with the Lord. Through a bible verse, it is a display of what that user has been reading or a verse that they have come across that they have found particular helpful for their life at that time. By asking for prayer, it displays that they have a faith in something that goes beyond themselves and have acknowledged the need for God’s power to intervene. And lastly, by posting pictures of art created the user it illustrates how they are spending their time and the hobbies that they choose to take part in and how they relate that to their relationship with God. They are choosing to incorporate their identity as a Christian into other aspects of their lives.
            I have discussed before how Instagram allows for geographical barriers to be crossed and can connect people from all over the world. I believe that in some form, Christians that use Instagram to perform their daily religion are seeking or giving encouragement from others believers. Through posting bible verses, prayer requests, pictures of art, and interacting with other believers through them, they are sending the message to others that they believe in the importance of Christian community. Whether they are sharing a bible verse that has helped them or are asking for prayer in a specific situation, they are communicating with other Christians. Through “likes” and comments on the photos, users can be encouraged that they are not alone and have that community surrounding them.

In summary, the results of this case study illustrate that Instagram serves as a forum for Christians to engage in community and give and receive encouragement to one another. 

Friday, October 11, 2013


For the last couple of weeks, my examples have been displays of how Christianity is performed through Instagram with a focus on words either in the photo or in the caption. But one of the benefits of Instagram is that it allows for broader freedom not restricting their users to only speech. While my three examples this week still follow the trends I mentioned in last week’s blog, they illustrate them in a different way than what I have found in the past. I found that a lot of Christian users live out their religious devotion through some of their hobbies, and in particular this week, through art.
The first example is a picture of an abstract painting, and painted in the corner, it says, “Father, let my heart be after you.” Through the caption we discover that the user painted it herself, but even without it, its reflection of her daily interaction with Christianity is very apparent.

The second example is a framed craft that says in fancy writing “Choose joy.” Just by looking at the picture it is hard to tell whether or not it is a painting or just colored on a paper, but through the caption we discover that it was given to the user by a friend, and it was meant as a means of encouragement.

The third example is a crafted canvas surrounded by paper plates with paint colors and brushes in a park with the words “darkness even in light” painted in the corner. This picture actually displays the process of it being painted and illustrates clearly the hobby in action.

The messages sent from these three examples are transmitted more through the image than the words. They are all still a reflection of the user’s personal time with God, but the image represents that they are accomplishing it through a specific hobby. These posts are also aimed towards other Christians because it is other Christians that can relate and be encouraged by them. Incorporating their personal relationship with the Lord into their everyday lives is something that Christ-followers have in common, and these posts are meant to express that. The primary message being sent here is that being a Christian seeps into many aspects of the simple, everyday life, including our hobbies. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Now Trending

Through my observations these past couple weeks, I have noticed a trend in the examples that I have chosen- all are a reflection of their personal time with the Lord. In the three examples displaying bible verses, all the posts revealed either what they had been reading, something that made them stop and think, or something that they were looking forward to; but in all instances, their post was a reflection, however small, of their personal interaction with the Bible. In the three examples that had captions asking for prayer, their posts revealed what was going on in their personal lives right at that moment and that they were thinking of God in the midst of it. The fact that they were asking for prayer displayed their belief in the power of prayer and their trust in God to answer it.
Another trend I have noticed is that the user’s audience seems to be other Christians. In posting bible verses and asking for prayer, both are aimed at their Christian followers. Bible verses were posted in hopes to encourage other believers, and followers that do not hold the words of the Bible to be true may not find the same amount of encouragement from a verse from the Bible that a Christian follower would. In the postings asking for prayer, their intention was to engage their fellow believers in praying for them and their situation. Through this common trend, I can summarize that there is a strong sense of community between Christians, and Instagram is one of the ways that they choose to interact and display that community.
            After a couple weeks of observing and taking notice of certain trends, I have come to a final research question that will help me focus as I dig deeper into this study of user-generated religion in social media:

“This case study is exploring how Christians perform and live out religion in their daily lives through Instagram measured through examination of their posts and how people respond to them.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Putting the Instant in Instagram

           One of the biggest draws to social media is its instantaneous feature. With Instagram, a photo can be seen by hundreds of people just within seconds of taking it; people can respond and comment online about something that literally happened within the minute. The instant part of Instagram has many benefits that can also be seen as downsides depending on the situation. However, within the Christian community when it comes to prayer, there are many upsides to this feature. Instagram knows no geographical barrier, and it serves as a way to connect people over a span of continents. It also can spread information very quickly, allowing instant feedback.
In my observations this week, I came upon three examples of religion being lived out through Instagram. One post was a picture of a women getting ready to go into the delivery room. Another was a picture of a girl sitting on an airplane. The last one was a picture of papers and books surrounding a laptop and a cup of coffee. What do these three pictures have in common? Prayer.
In the first picture, a very pregnant woman is laying in a hospital bed with sweat dripping down her forehead. The caption reads, “IT’S TIME. Please be praying!” Within just a few minutes, multitudes of people had liked this picture and were commenting with encouraging words. People all over the country had been following this woman’s story: she was about to give birth to her baby girl that was going to be born without a fully developed brain and was not expected to live longer than a few hours. Through this post, her followers were able to know that she was about to enter the delivery room and pray for her instantly and continually throughout the process.
In the second picture, a girl in her lower twenty’s was sitting in her airplane seat. The caption read, “Shameless selfie- Africa, here I come! Prayers would be appreciated.” Once again, it took only minutes for the likes and comments to come flooding in. Encouraging words were posted as this girl embarked on her journey to the Middle East during a time when there had been Al-Qaida threats surrounding her destination. In just minutes, people worldwide were covering this user in immediate prayer as she was stepping into a dangerous situation.
The third picture displayed a mess of papers and books all sitting next to a laptop and cup of coffee with a caption that said, “LSAT today! Pray for a miracle.” Within just a few minutes, many comments were made wishing this user luck and saying that they were praying. This is another example of how a user used Instagram in hopes to involve his followers in praying for him as he struggled through last minute studying for a make-it-or-break-it exam.  
In all three instances, the user is about to enter into a vulnerable position where they feel they need help beyond themselves. By posting something and asking for prayer on Instagram, their established online community was able to instantly respond and engage in praying over that person and situation. The users were able to inform their followers of what was going on in their lives at that moment and allowed them to be encouraged by the responses of prayer. Being able to share information instantly is a benefit when you are in need of prayer. This is yet another way that Christians use Instagram as a part of their daily devotional. Having now seen and analyzed examples dealing with bible verses and prayer, and I am looking forward to observing other ways that Christians live out their religion via Instagram. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

            I have chosen to study how individuals that claim themselves as Christians use Instagram in their daily religious devotion through observing pictures that are posted and the captions associated with them. This past week, I observed many examples of this. Instagram allows its users a unique opportunity to express their creativity through pictures. While sharing pictures allows the user to get their point across without necessarily having to use words, some users choose to post pictures of words, but how those words are displayed has more significance than you may think. In my observations this week, I came across three examples that were all pictures of bible verses in some form. One picture was of a passage from a daily devotional book called Jesus Calling. Another picture was a handwritten bible verse in a journal. The last picture was a typed bible verse that was part of a computer-generated image. All of these pictures expressed a bible verse or passage. While the common similarity between the three posts is very apparent, there are some contrasts in the contexts of which they were posted.
In the first example, the passage from the book was a repost from an Instagram user actually called Jesus Calling who solely posts the daily passages from the book. The user reposted this image in order to encourage other believers to slow down for a minute and remember that God is in control. The passage talked about giving your plans to the Lord, and the caption read, “A little glimpse of peace in the midst of your unknown.” In this example, the user took a translated passage and, through the use of a caption, gave a hint of how it had affected her while also making it relatable to her followers.
            The second example was a handwritten bible verse written on a page in an open journal. With a caption that reads, “My morning in a nutshell,” we can tell that this picture illustrates the user’s personal interaction with the bible verse. She took a simple verse and chose to write it out in fancy handwriting. The specific significance this verse had on the user is not clarified, but a follower can easily see that this verse must have impacted the user that morning and she was sharing it in hopes that it might encourage someone else.
            The third example is a typed verse that is placed in front of a computer-generated background. The caption says, “Coming this Sunday- YOU do not want to miss it.” This particular verse was posted to foreshadow a largely anticipated upcoming sermon series at a church. It was meant to encourage the church members in their daily walk leading up to Sunday so that they would be excited about what was to come. The user selected a verse and applied it to a selected audience, and through Instagram, so many more people beyond the church’s membership were able to see the photo.
            All three of the previous examples involve the use of bible verses in the users’ Instagram posts. All three are an illustration of religion being played out in their daily lives as part of their daily religious devotional. All were meant to encourage fellow believers in some way. This upcoming week I am interested to observe more examples of how Christians interact and use Instagram and explore, once again, their purpose.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Insta-Inspiration

About a year ago, sparked by acquiring my first iPhone, I became one of the many to join the world of Instagram. Over the last couple of years, Instagram’s popularity has certainly increased and has kept up with other popular social medias like Facebook and Twitter. Being someone who is drawn to pictures rather than words, I have enjoyed keeping up with friends and family near and far in a fun, artsy way. Since my entrance into the Insta-world, I have come to notice that many of the people I follow who closely relate themselves to a certain religion, use Instagram as a space to display that association with their followers and the rest of us Insta-people. My fascination first started with my church back home when they got an Instagram, and I became very interested in the kinds of pictures they were posting and what pictures they liked; it was a fun, easy way to keep up with what was happening. This made me aware of the many other people and organizations I was following, and how they used Instagram in their daily religious reflection, whether they chose to do it through the picture itself or if the significance of the photo is found in its related caption. I have also enjoyed observing what other pictures those people have liked and how they comment on others’ photos.
For this specific case study, I will observe people who publicly express their association with Christianity and focus on how they use Instagram in their expression of religious devotion in their daily life. I will do this by observing the pictures that they post and the caption associated with them along with the pictures that they like and their comments on them. I will pay close attention to their purpose in posting whether it be apparent in the caption or the picture itself. I will choose people that have openly proclaimed that they are a Christian and closely monitor their activities on Instagram: their pictures, captions, and comments. I will then make connections on how their interaction with Instagram illustrates Christianity in their daily activities. I am excited to observe and research about how Christians use Instagram and gain some insight into how their religious association is played out into their everyday lives.