Last summer, Rhee-Soo Lee wrestled with the divisive effects of technology upon our society in her blog post “Interfaith in a Technological World.” Admittedly, she is not anti-technology. Yet she questions, “How can technology be utilized to further pluralism, rather than as another tool of discrimination and segregation?” Lee is not the first (nor will she be the last) to speculate on the subject of technology’s advantages and disadvantages.
Closely related to a discussion contemplating the benefit of technology on our social cohesion is Robert Putnam’s momentous work Bowling Alone in which he proposes a decline in American social connectivity. His work outlines an across-the-board reduction in avenues for building social capital including political activity, civic organizational membership, and religious participation. This decline, according to Putnam, leads to political polarization, poorer educational systems, and even a reduction in the quality of personal health, and Putnam includes technology as a contributing factor of these negative consequences. Bowling Alone has been the impetus for many attempts across our nation to revive social engagement. An interesting, and often overlooked, point of Bowling Alone is that much of the social capital lost in the American community today is naturally and organically cultivated. Putnam’s famous metaphor for this natural cultivation is participation in bowling leagues.
I was pondering the organic, relational social capital developed in a relaxed atmosphere this past academic year while I was planning a program for interfaith dialogue. For those practitioners attempting to cultivate interfaith dialogue in their community or on their university campuses, the goal of preparing a space for interfaith dialogue is fairly simple: create a safe space in which all members of all religious traditions or no religious tradition feel comfortable to share their backgrounds, narratives, and ideas. Those of us who labor in thinking through these logistics tend to stress over the details of these events – for good reason. Interfaith conversations are usually serious dialogues regarding what many participants hold dear, and the space is an important aspect of developing the atmosphere for such discussions.
But, rarely do interfaith workers place an emphasis on providing a relaxed, engaging context for interfaith dialogues while also incorporating technology. While thinking through Putnam’s work, it occurred to me that the organization for which I work, the Institute for Citizenship & Social Responsibility at Western Kentucky University, was already equipped to offer an organic space for interfaith dialogue. All we needed was…a Nintendo Wii™. You read that last part correctly, a Wii™.
At our university, we developed a Wii™ bowling league to bring together people of diverse faith traditions to break down the barriers of religious affiliations. Teams included students of the Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions, from the Islamic tradition, a team called The Big Three (which included Islamic, Christian, and Jewish teammates), and a team with no religious affiliations (appropriately called The Nones). The teams gathered together weekly to play a game of Wii™ bowling, but were also given starter questions to initiate conversation stemming from their religious ideas. The conversations were serious at times when students discussed how their religious thoughts influenced their political decisions, but also lighthearted as students discussed embarrassing religious moments.
The interfaith bowling league, called Wii™ the People, created a relaxed, engaging context for the university students to meet others outside of their own faith tradition, learn about other religious ideas, develop new friendships, and have fun. During a survey conducted with the participants of the league, the top five words used to express the interfaith experience were ‘belief, community, love, good works, and service,’ reflecting the idea that interfaith members do not have to bowl alone.
Do not assume that I am advocating a position that technology broadly develops positive effects upon our society. I believe that technology has its benefits and drawbacks. However, I believe that the example provided by the Wii™ the People league is simply one way that technology can be incorporated into our interfaith planning and work.
For more information regarding our Wii™ the People bowling league, click here.