WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 28-March 6, 2011)

http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_17498091

“Religious apps grow in availability, popularity.” By Lisa Fernandez. San Jose Mercury-News. February 27, 2011. Just before sundown Friday, a group of plugged-in Jews released a custom-made app to alert their Facebook friends and Twitter followers that they were checking out, logging off and generally not answering their e-mails for the next 25 hours. Then, with iPhones tucked away in a cutesy sleeping bag, these frenetic, high-tech Jews met — in real time — at an organic ranch in Los Altos Hills to drink wine, break bread and honor the Jewish mandate of not using technology on Shabbat. This just-off-the-shelf smartphone application, the Sabbath Manifesto, was designed by members of a Jewish nonprofit called Reboot. And it’s just one of a plethora of religious apps bombarding the online landscape as each faith tries to stake its claim. Many see these electronic forms of religion as an extension of age-old concepts of study, prayer and evangelism. Others see the apps as potentially controversial, or confusing at best, when a Buddhist meditation timer or the teachings of Jesus are juxtaposed next to “Angry Birds” and a Netflix account. What’s clear, however, is that the number of religious apps is growing at a pace impossible to count. “Everyone wants their religious presence on that space,” said Rachel Wagner, an assistant professor of religion at Ithaca College, author of “Sacred Texting” and an upcoming book, “Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality.” “They want the online world to be colonized by their apps.” A Roman Catholic app, Confession, generated international buzz earlier this month when the creator, Little iApps, invited users for $1.99 to confess and keep track of their sins online, even though to receive absolution, believers still would have to physically see a priest at church. Other religions, and different branches within them, offer apps too. Hindu apps present virtual incense and coconut offerings to the elephant-headed god Ganesh. The Gurbani World app allows Sikhs to listen and watch morning and evening Sikh prayers. Buddhists can download the Ultimate Buddhist Library, and numerous mobile Koans, or riddles. Bible Shaker offers Bible verses at the touch of the screen, with the option to e-mail Romans 5:11, for example, to all your friends.

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