Just bodies

Posted Jun 15, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Kathryn Reklis


What have we learned so far? With more than a year of study and reflection under our belts, the New Media Project research fellows have put together a set of recommendations for using social media. Our blog posts for June 2012 will focus on suggestions for everything from “why use social media?” to “how to know if what you’re doing is working.”

On Monday, June 4, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Notification regarding the award-winning book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum, 2006), by Sister of Mercy and Yale Divinity School Professor Emerita Margaret Farley.

The Notification was made public at noon Vatican-time. Within an hour, I had received multiple emails from colleagues and scholars with pertinent details for bloggers, news writers, and academics who might wish to respond. Almost as quickly, the National Catholic Reporter provided a "round-up" of theological voices speaking in support of Sister Margaret. Other bloggers and online journalists picked up the story that same day, and over the past week pundits and news outlets all over the country have written about the case, including Maureen Dowd in the New York Times and Cindy Ok and Jeffrey Bloomer on Slate.com.

As I collected these stories through Google-alerts and traffic on Facebook, I was struck by the now commonplace truism of how quickly information travels. And by how comforting it was to share my outrage and sorrow (and even worse, my gloomy sense that this was, in so many ways, to be expected from the Church hierarchy) with other Catholics, academic theologians, and pastors and chaplains of all denominations who had the privilege of studying with Margaret at Yale.

We donned our “Just Margaret” t-shirts (printed a few years ago to celebrate Margaret’s book winning the Grawemeyer Award in Religion) and posted pictures of ourselves wearing them on Facebook. We posted and reposted, shared and re-shared all the voices we could find who spoke the truth about Margaret’s work: her wisdom, pastoral care, scholarship, and graciousness. We used whatever outlets we had at our disposal (just as I am doing now) to spread the word about her good work and to counter the idea that faithful Catholics could not learn and grow by reading it. And we laughed at the pleasing reversal all this “social media” publicity had on Margaret’s book sales: her book went from relative obscurity outside of the small world of academic Christian ethics to number 16 on the Amazon book list!

Social media would allow for this rapid-fire exchange of information and sense of solidarity around any controversial or disheartening occurrence. But the more I thought about it, the more fitting it seemed that this new media would be an avenue to support Margaret’s work, which urges us so wisely to make justice the criterion for our all our embodied ways of being in the world.

As the New Media Project progresses, we are searching for ways to describe these new ways our real selves are mediated in digital technology and to arrive at some criteria for adjudicating between wise and unwise, flourishing and harmful engagements with technology. We’ve tried to cull some the wisdom we’ve learned in our research, and you can find some of this advice for best practices in the "How to use social media well" section of our recommendations. We encourage openness to new ideas, as well as careful attention to boundaries; allowing new media practices to arise organically, but also thinking critically about the ends and aims of those practices. In other words, we encourage love and justice as a framework for online relationships, as much as they would be a framework for all Christian relationships.

While Margaret’s work does not address new media practices directly, her work has something to teach us here as well. As we strive to embrace our embodiment in the world of new media, perhaps justice too can be our guide: online and off, may we seek to be just bodies in relation to one another.

Kathryn Reklis, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of Modern Protestant Theology at Fordham University (starting Fall 2012) and the Co-Director of the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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