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Digital faith: social media and the enactment of religious identity in Pakistan

Schoemaker, Emrys (2016) Digital faith: social media and the enactment of religious identity in Pakistan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.66aarylh6lqi


This thesis is a theoretically framed and historically informed sociological analysis of how digital technology usage shapes religious identity in Pakistan. The development literature is dominated by assumptions of technologically driven progress towards secularisation and studies of technology projects, yet there are few empirical studies of everyday ICT day use, and religion remains significant in Pakistan. To explain this, I draw on theoretical literature, the Pakistan religious identity literature and twelve months of fieldwork (2014-2015) to present an analysis of how Facebook shapes the enactment of religious identity by young people in three cities in the Punjab, Pakistan. I conceptualise identity as the performative enactment of subject positions constituted by discursive regimes of knowledge and power, and technologies as assemblages of discursive and material elements that in their arrangement create possibilities for action. The entanglement of actors and assemblages in performative enactment produces phenomena, such as religious identity. Methodologically I adopt an agential realist perspective and utilise a mixed methods approach that includes a survey, document collection and in-depth interviews and observation of young Facebook users. My empirical findings show that the new technologies of social media, mobile phones and mobile internet interact with public discourse and everyday practice to shape religious identity. First, I show this by describing how Facebook’s construction as a blasphemous technology strengthens existing discourses of religious nationalism. Second, I show how Facebook’s technological discourses of singular authenticity shape the enactment of religious identity with implications for religious minorities. My final analysis theorises how the use of Facebook shapes religious identity through the emergence of what I call ‘digital secularisation’. Together this thesis makes the following contributions. First, it provides a much-needed empirical account of the adoption of a new communication technology being rapidly adopted. Second, it makes a theoretical contribution through showing how conceptualising identity as performative and technology as assemblage helps explain the resurgence of religion in processes of development and social change. This explanation is presented as a theory of ‘digital secularisation’.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Emrys Schoemaker
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Madon, Shirin and Allen, Tim

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