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Houses of Worship Adapt to the Pandemic

Posted at 6:36 AM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 06:36:39-04

LANSING, Mich. — The pandemic is impacting the way many people observe their faith. Ash-Har Quraishi is looking at how technology could play an even greater role in religion in the future.

Ready or not the intersection of machines and religion is already happening in real life in Japan. Monks at an ancient temple hear sermons from a robot avatar of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

In India an automaton performs one of Hinduisms most sacred rituals, and in Germany a robot gives blessings to thousands of protestants.

Teresa Berger - Professor of Catholic Theology at Yale Divinity School shares that "you could punch in the language for example in which you would request the blessing."

Some are now asking whether the next step is an artificially intelligent spirtual leader and whether counsel from AI could ever replace the guidance of a cleric.

Jennifer Herdt - Stark Professor of Christian Ethics, Yale University Divinity School "I think that's a really important question that we need to wrestle with just as we're also wrestling with the hypothetical possibility of encountering intelligent life from other planets." But what about right now?

The pandemic has forced millions around the world out of their churches, synagogues and mosques into virtual congregations.

Hisham Al Qaisi - Imam, Islamic Foundation "we've been recording our sermons we've been posting them online Facebook and Youtube and Instagram a lot of other Islamic centers are doing the same. Trying to keep the community engaged digitally."

Tayreza Beargare - a Professor of Catholic Theology at Yale University Divinity School argues that whether virtually or in-person the physicality of being present remains, and rather than being disembodied - the technology actually allows more connectivity in some cases - such as a chat feature.

Teresa Berger explains that "in this particular digitally mediated community people talked to each other throughout the service much more than we might do in a brick and mortar sanctuary."

In recent years Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has suggested the social network could address declining church attendance, offering the same sense of community traditionally found in brick and mortar houses of worship.

Jennifer Herdt questions this asking "is this about creating profit for Facebook or is this about truly ministering to the spiritual needs of people trying to keep those things separate would be very difficult."

Just how exactly technology will alter manners of worship say experts will undoubtedly continue to evolve. As Herdt explains "I'm sure we're going to see some dramatic transformations in the future."

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