Religions Consuming Surveillance

Faith communities use surveillance technologies to protect themselves and to perform their commitment to loving care. Surveillance technologies are shaping those who use and encounter these digital systems. Using and being shaped by technologies means religions are consuming surveillance.

The Surveillance and Religion Network, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, aims to advance understanding in faith communities and the public sphere, including the academy. We are convening a workshop in central Edinburgh, Scotland, 20 – 22 March 2017 to bring together faith practitioners, theologians and surveillance studies scholars. (More details here.)

Faith communities understand the importance of freedom of worship. In some places this has to be done under the threat of harm. At one end of a spectrum there might be low-level vandalism and occasional harassment. Some religious believers, however, face physical intimidation and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, loss of life and destruction of cherished sacred buildings. Using surveillance equipment to protect, detect and deter is legitimated in different ways depending on the severity of the threat.

Faith communities appreciate the value of caring for people. Knowing who needs care, when, and in what ways is a challenge that looks very different in a group of 30 than one of 3,000 worshippers. Keeping track of individual or family needs can be made easier using software to gather and analyse personal information

Core questions of this workshop, the second in a series of three, are: (1) How are religious groups using surveillance? (2) In what ways are they legitimating their use of surveillance? (3) In what ways are religious groups being sold surveillance by commercial companies? (4) How are religious groups being shaped by surveillance? (5) What might religious groups contribute to public discussions around the ethics of surveillance?

Participation in the workshop

The workshop takes place during the afternoon of Monday 20th March 2017, all day Tuesday 21st, and the morning of Wednesday 22ndThere is no workshop registration fee: the facilities as well as light refreshments at the workshop, including lunch on Wednesday, are funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council grant. Participants from outside Edinburgh will, however, need to make their own accommodation and travel arrangements.

There are two ways to participate in the workshop:

  1. We invite leaders in faith communities and theologians to propose a short talk (10 minutes) or a more substantial academic paper (30 minutes) they would like to give at the workshop in March 2017.  (Where a tradition distinguishes between ‘lay’ and ‘ordained’ we welcome proposals from both. ‘Theologians’ may, or may not, have a formal academic affiliation.)  Talks should focus on the core questions but we welcome contributions that open up new areas.
  2. We invite leaders in faith communities to join in the workshop discussions without themselves making a presentation.

Next step

If you would like to give a short talk or a more substantial paper to the workshop please send a short proposal (not more than 300 words) to the workshop organiser, Dr Eric Stoddart, not later than 10th January 2017. Please indicate your position within a particular faith tradition and whether you would like to attend the whole, or just part, of the workshop.

If you would like attend the workshop – but not give a talk  – please write to the workshop organiser, Dr Eric Stoddart, not later than 10th January 2017. Please explain (in no more than 500 words) your reason for applying, including some details about your encounter with surveillance and religion. Places are limited, and priority will be given to those offering a short talk or more substantial paper, but we welcome those who will have contributions to make to the extensive discussions during the workshop.

The audio recording of the public lecture that was part of the first workshop in Birmingham in October 2016 is now available online. ‘Why is everyday surveillance a religious issue?’ – Prof. David Lyon.