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The influence of visual culture on religion and spirituality

The pictorial turn has also a especially affected sphere of religious communication, both in its intra- and extra-system dimension. The first of those dimensions concerns image as a form of communicating content, values, opinions, religious lifestyles within the religious subsystem – that is the way in which religion presents itself to those who function within the system – in different roles: as representatives of religious institutions, the faithful or people interested in religion or spirituality in a broader sense of the word.

The other dimension is the way in which religion manifests itself – in this case through an image – towards other subsystems of social reality. Where religious communication takes place on a general social level, not limited to certain groups or circles, religious institutions must use the media as an important channel of communication.

While both roles in pre-modern society were played by traditional visual representations (painting, sculpture, architecture, traditional rituals), the principal role in the new media era is played by media visual presentations. Among them, the Internet has gained the greatest importance as a sort of Agora of the social life, the place of symbolic expression as a forum where debates on the problems of modern life take place.

The visual forms of presenting religion on the Internet cannot be disregarded in an analysis of contemporary forms of religious life and religious communication, as was shown by a study entitled “Using religious websites and web portals”, which was conducted by CBOS [Public Opinion Research Centre] in June 2014. The survey results show that they are used by approx. 3 million Poles, i.e. 14% of all the Internet users.

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They mainly seek information on current events from their parish, their religious community or general information on the life of the Church, discussions and articles on religious matters. Websites devoted to religion allow Internet users to take part in discussion forums and religious services broadcast online, to use literature on different forms of spirituality and to watch evangelization programmers of different denominations. This is the context of progressing virtualization of religious practices4

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