Inculturation, Evangelization, and the Digital Continent

Last month I attended the 2016 Liturgy Symposium hosted by the Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. The theme of the conference was “Liturgy and the New Evangelization” and featured a great presentation by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome on digital culture and the liturgical capacity of persons.

Daniella’s keynote has me reflecting on the work of inculturation in evangelization and catechesis — and the implications for how the church should approach the emerging digital culture. Echoing Catechesi Tradendae, the National Directory for Catechesis states that

Inculturation is a requirement for evangelization, a path toward full evangelization. It is the process by which “catechesis ‘takes flesh’ in the various cultures.

This is just as true for the digital culture as it is for Hispanic, youth, and other types of culture. While still young, the “digital continent” is already exhibiting a variety of arts, behaviors, and values that could rightly be called a unique culture. Understanding and responding to this culture will mean more than just understanding the mechanics of specific technologies.

For instance, one of the pitfalls I see many parishes falling into is trying to use digital tools without understanding their context in the digital culture. For instance, Facebook is a highly interactive medium which allows for comments and dialog between people. And yet many parishes simple use it as a broadcast medium — in effect making it an electronic bulletin — and never solicit or respond to comments from parishioners or seekers. They are using the tool but in a way out of step with the cultural value of interactivity in digital spaces. As a result their efforts fail to reach people immersed in that culture because they are speaking to a different set of cultural beliefs and practices.

As pastoral ministers continue to adopt new media technologies we must keep in mind that they are not culturally neutral. They embody and speak to specific values and beliefs that have arisen as the internet continues to grow. Discerning what technologies to adopt — and how — will be ongoing work on the digital continent and in the Church.


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