Surfing the Sacred

Cyberspace has become somewhat crowded since 1993’s introduction of the World Wide Web initiated a new form of acronym-based Esperanto and the kind of mindless technological stampede best choreographed by lemmings and marketing consultants. Observers of the Internet can be forgiven if a survey of webworld, with its megalomalls, marketing wormholes, and porno-driven technology spurts, suggests nothing more auspicious than the latest incarnation of Newton Minnow’s vast wasteland.

But when David Batstone and Brett Greider look out over that electronic cyberscape, they come to more positive conclusions. Batstone is an assistant professor of religion and ethics at the University of San Francisco and Greider is a professor of religion at Virginia’s Sweet Briar College. Together with USF’s Michael Benedict, they’ve created a unique experiment in online learning, a religious ethics program they have housed in the cozy Global Ethics Cafe.

The first semester’s online study, "Women, Ecology, and Religion," has just concluded. Batstone can’t wait for September to roll around. "We’ve really just scratched the surface of how communication is going to take place in the future," he says.

Greider’s mostly Southern, East Coast students have been "meeting" their cyberclassmates, Batstone’s West Coasters, in the semester-long online collaboration. The regional differences are only the beginning of the cultural divides Batstone and Greider hope to cross through the cafe. The current class connects men and women from different ethnic and regional cultures within the United States. Future efforts at Internet cross-cultural pollination will be more ambitious. Next year Batstone’s students connect with a class in Beijing.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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