Almost all the case studies on the Storebox could be seen as fostering conversation. After all, this is what we are taught the Internet is for – to create spaces for people to talk to each other. For this exhibit we chose to focus on case studies that have a clear goal of fostering conversation among people who most likely do not get a voice in their traditional religious communities. We focused on sites by and for groups that are often marginalized in Christianity or in broader culture, such as the LGBTQ community, women, and racial minority groups. These online communities help people find others with similar life experiences and give them outlets to speak truth in their own voices. The case studies that we chose to highlight are ones of open and accepting spaces, ones that do more than just provide support on an online platform, and finally ones that can specifically serve marginalized groups of different needs. This exhibit focuses on case studies that specifically help marginalized groups of people find community and solace through online mediums.
Several of our case studies feature open discussion platforms that were created to help people find and converse with each other. These online spaces are not closed, but they do tend to be geared toward a certain type of group with a specific kind of conversation. These communities also tend to involve typically marginalized communities who might not have a physical space to openly discuss personal topics. Registered Runaway, which was started by Benjamin Moberg, a gay Christian, exemplifies this kind of conversation fostering. Moberg created his blog to be a safe place to talk for those who feel left out from the institution of Christianity. A similar online space is created at Women in Theology, which provides a platform for women whose voices are not often present in the hierarchy of institutional Christianity.
Some case studies seek to transcend the screen, such as Call to Action and Believe Out Loud. While these websites value the ideal of creating a supportive online community for marginalized groups, they also have goals that extend beyond the confines of the Internet. Their online presence is both a means to foster conversation, as well as a catalyst for achieving their offline goals of creating a religious community that is both accepting and supportive of marginalized Christians. Highlighting the dissatisfaction felt by progressive Christians regarding how marginalized groups are treated in their communities, these sites call those same Christians to act to transform their faith communities until ignored voices are finally heard. Call to Actionseeks to inspire all Catholics to do exactly as the name implies: to act for justice for LGBTQ Catholics through website-sponsored offline volunteer groups, coordinated by administrators of the website. One of the main aspects of this website’s offline goals is to form a dialogue between Catholics and groups marginalized within their own church communities. Believe Out Loudalso focuses on justice for LGBTQ Christians. This website speaks out against against systematic oppression through blog posts from website administrators, which readers can share their views on or voice their concerns through a comment section.
Some online projects foster conversation less through outreach and dialogue offline than in creating closed spaces online. Projects like Catholic Women Speak, the Mudroom, and NALT Christian require registration or have administrative oversite on who can access or contribute to their content. Some might argue that these controlled environmnets might make people more closed-minded or prevent people from speaking to each other across controversial issues. For many, however, these closed formats are an important stepping-stone to fully discussing these topics in a safe environment, both for participants and passive readers. Catholic Women Speak is a discussion-based site, organized in blog form, that allows women to discuss their faith and their place in the community of faith. The site requires registration before new members can participate, which means that participants have more assurance that everyone in the online space shares common goals. The Mudroom is a place for artistic and creative expression through story submissions, often dealing with controversial topics or experiences by women, the LGBTQ community, and people otherwise feeling silenced. While any person can submit a story, there is a board of editors and authority figures that decide final content, who also serve as regular contributors to the site. The NALT Christian’s project operates in a similar fashion. Potential contributors submit YouTube videos of themselves to the blog site, discussing what being in both the LGBTQ community and the Christian faith means to them. Due to the nature of video, there’s no level of anonymity with this particular platform. However, like The Mudroom, the site allows submissions from any person but is selective in what appears on the site, likely to avoid any aggressive or hateful content from representing the mission. Perhaps not immediately intuitive, we feel that closed or protected conversations are an important aspect to fostering conversations within religious communities, particularly within marginalized communities.
The increasing presence of technology in traditionally non-technological spheres has created new opportunities to foster conversations about religion, especially for those who are often left out of official spaces. Whether the goal is to foster conversation online or offline, publically or privately, new media presents marginalized communities with the resources to participate in constructive and safe conversation and to challenge all people to think more about religion and faith.