Czech Churches and Religious Groups on the Internet

Iglesias y grupos religiosos checos en internet

Karim Sidibe (Institute of Technology and Business in ńĆesk√© Budńõjovice)

Artículo recibido: 21-12-2016 | Artículo aceptado: 22-03-2017

RESUMEN: El art√≠culo tiene como objetivo el an√°lisis de las iglesias y grupos religiosos en la Rep√ļblica Checa presentados en l√≠nea. La cibersociedad checa es muy grande y desarrollada. La iglesia oficial de la Rep√ļblica Checa es la Iglesia Cat√≥lica Romana. Su presentaci√≥n en Internet est√° dirigida tanto a sus miembros como al p√ļblico. Su sitio web es comprensible y bien mantenido por sus administradores. Uno de los desaf√≠os para la iglesia oficial checa lo representa uno de los nuevos grupos religiosos, la controvertida Asociaci√≥n Religiosa de los Testigos de Jehov√°. Su sitio web es global y funciona en la misma manera en cientos de idiomas. Es profesional, atractivo e interactivo. La Asociaci√≥n Internacional para la Conciencia de Krishna en la Rep√ļblica Checa y atrae ante todo al p√ļblico m√°s intelectual que busca el estilo de vida alternativo, ofreciendo ense√Īanza y una amplia gama de actividades.
ABSTRACT: The objective of this article is to analyze the churches and religious groups which are present online in the Czech Republic. Czech cybersociety is very large and advanced. The established church is the Roman Catholic Church. Its online presence is aimed at both the members and the general public. The website is well-maintained and comprehensive. One of the new religious groups which challenge the established church is controversial Religious Society of the Witnesses of Jehovah. Their website is essentially global and operates in the same form in several hundred languages. It is professional, attractive and interactive. The International Society of Krishna Consciousness in the Czech Republic appeal to a more intellectual and alternative life-style seeking audience by providing education and a wide range of activities.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Iglesia Católica Romana, Testigos de Jehová, Hare Krishna, cibersociedad, sitio web
KEY WORDS: Roman Catholic Church, Jehovah Witnesses, Hare Krishna, cybersociety, website


The scientific study was created during the project No. 201609 of the Internal Grant Competition at the Institute of Technology and Business in ńĆesk√© Budńõjovice.


1. Introduction

The use of the Internet in the Czech Republic has become widespread. According to the official records more than 73 % of the households have an Internet access, which is above average in the European context (CSU, 2015). Therefore, churches and religious groups appear in an advanced cybersociety which enables online communication on a large scale.

1.1. Religion on the Internet

As a rule, computer mediated communication in the cyberspace is diverse in religious context. While the established churches tend to build an online community within an existing church with the intention to keep the existing members and to supply them with information, new religious groups tend to attract new members. Considering the fact that most people are not well informed about the groups, they try to attract people by providing positive and stimulating image of their community (Nastuta, 2012). Some religious groups are considered rather controversial. They are often called sects. These groups tend to challenge and criticize the established churches by describing them as corrupt and deviated. Such groups often use pop culture audio and video images to attract their audience, which is one of the features of hyper-religion (Nastuta, 2012).

2. Catholics

In the Czech context the established church is the Roman Catholic Church. Over the long period of time there has been developed a lasting narrative which is very critical of Catholicism. It started with the Husite reformation in the 15th century and went on through the Reformation era of the 16th century and the Thirty-year War to be finally stifled in the era of Baroque Catholic restauration only to reappear in the Enlightenment era. The criticism reached its peak in the times of national emancipation movement of the 19th century and it was accomplished in the independent state of Czechoslovakia when the Roman Catholic Church became the symbol of defeated Austro ‚Äď Hungarian Monarchy. After World War II the Communists openly discriminated the Catholics, banned all orders and congregations, closed monasteries, nationalized its properties and imprisoned significant numbers of the Catholic elite. The church was paralyzed and has never fully recovered to its formal size and social status (Balik & Hanus, 2007: 130-190).

2.1. Established Churches in the Communist Era

Generally, the Communist era meant a fatal blow to religious life in Czechoslovakia. Religion was regarded as Karl Marx once put it – opium. The only church which was slightly respected was a small Orthodox Church, which had been decimated by the Nazis for its support of the resistance movement. Generally all churches were discriminated, their worship was allowed but their social and pastoral work was banned. As a consequence the population became largely indifferent in terms of religion. Religious people were seen as eccentric and rebels. The census of 2001 showed that 68 % of the population did not belong to any religious group or church (CSU, 2015).

2.2. Post-Communist Era

The collapse of Communism meant a new freedom for churches and religious groups. Czechoslovakia became a missionary area for many of them. Western countries became a basis which supplied the existing remaining adherents who became active to spread their message to population. At the same time new alternative religious movements, such as New Age or Hare Krishna arrived to compete with Christian churches (Ashton, 2007).

In 1993, the Czech Republic was established and the new country was on the break of the digital revolution. The Internet was successfully implemented on a large scale. At the end of the 1990’s the Internet access became affordable for the general public and the population went gradually online. The cyberspace became open for the churches and religious groups to spread their message to Czech cybersociety.

2.3. Online Church

Roman Catholic Church in the Czech Republic has developed an elaborate online presentation. The Episcopal’s Conference runs a well-presented website Cirkev.cz. The website provides the news of both the universal and national Church. It gives a comprehensive guide of the Church, describes its structures and organization, it presents the orders and congregations.  There is a basic doctrine presented in a comprehensive manner and a range of pastoral and social activities. There are more sections such as liturgy, ecclesiastical calendar and links to other Catholic national and international websites.

Cirkev.cz is aimed both at the outsiders and the insiders. Therefore it needs to be comprehensive, attractive and informative. The news and other texts need to be accessible for both groups. For this purpose the writing style is clear and serious. The website does not seek to engage in virtual communication and does not try to establish a face to face contact with a potential convert. There are links for asynchronous communication, such as email addresses, but the overall impression is that there is no genuine wish to engage in any computer mediated communication (Riva & Galimberti, 1997), e.g. for the purpose of seeking possible converts. However, the website contains certain videos and audio recordings for the users. Obviously, the Church attempts to build a friendly image with the best use of computer graphics, which makes the visual images rather idealized and more attractive. Nevertheless, the website avoids hyper-religious images which are based on popular culture images and aim at believers-consumers (Nastuta, 2012).

Imagen1

Figure 1: Screenshot of the Roman Catholic Church website (www.cirkev.cz ‚Äď 24.11.2016)

Roman Catholic Church is less active on Facebook. There are several newsgroups such as Jsem katolik and Katolicka cirkev ‚Äď jedina spasitelna, the followers of which seem fairly limited in numbers and seem to hold more radical views.

3. Jehovah Witnesses

One of the challenging religious groups for the Roman Catholic Church in the Czech Republic is Religious Society of the Witnesses of Jehovah. They appeared at the end of the 19th century in the territory of the present day Czech Republic. As the national attitudes were quite hostile towards Catholicism, the religious group was positively accepted by the general public. When Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, the movement which was called the International Bible Students Association took a strong base in the capital of Prague and the city of Brno. However, the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the following Communist rule meant a devastating blow for the community. They were imprisoned and executed, the rest went underground (Spacek, 2009).

3.1. Internet Era

The fall of Communism meant new opportunities for the group. Their situation resembled to some extend the one of the Roman Catholic Church (Spacek, 2009). Thanks to the support and funding from the West the existing networks of religious communities became the base for new activities, especially missionary ones. The spread of the Internet and the establishment of cybersociety meant new challenges and opportunities for the movement.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses operate a centralized global website. Its format is identical for the users of several hundred languages and dialects. The global religious cybercommunity follow the same texts and images. Professional visual content is accompanied with a number of audio and video recordings provided in a high quality manner. At this point the image of the website seems pop-religious. However, there is no effort to establish a synchronous or asynchronous communication with a potential convert.

Imagen2

Figure 2: Screenshot of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website (www.jw.org/cs/ Р25.11.2016)

4. Hare Krishna Society

In contrast to relatively well-established Jehovah’s Witnesses the Hare Krishna Society started its activities in 1989 when Communism collapsed. Based on Hindu religion the movement appealed to intellectuals and those who inclined to an alternative life-style. As the movement had been firmly based in the USA and Western Europe, its followers easily spread their message in Czechoslovakia and later in the Czech Republic.

4.1. Education and Community

The website of the International Society for Hare Krishna Consciousness in the Czech Republic is well-operated. It is more educational and appeals to spiritual and intellectual audience. It contains a lot of links to philosophical and spiritual texts. Indian philosophy is at the core of the movement. The links enable to access many philosophical texts and lectures online. Moreover, it provides information how to get literature in online bookshop or in libraries.

Although the community does not seek to communicate online in a synchronous or asynchronous manner, it invites the public to many social activities and tries to establish a personal contact for potential converts. The movement runs several vegetarian restaurants, holds festivals and concerts. It offers cultural events. Although their main focus of attention is on education in the forms of lectures, they provide a wide range of activities from diet to music or farming.

Imagen3

Figure 3: Screenshot of the Hare Krishna Society (http://www.harekrsna.cz/cvs/ – 25.11.2016)

5. Conclusion

The Czech cybersociety is very advanced and most citizens have an Internet access. Churches and religious movements have successfully adapted to the new situation and have been present in the cyberspace. The established church is the Roman Catholic Church.  Its website is well-operated and is created for both internal community and for general public. The religious movement which challenges the established church is Jehovah Witnesses. Their website is centrally operated. Its content is identical for the users of several hundred languages all over the world and it is very interactive, it is on the verge of hyper-religion. Hare Krishna website appeals to intellectuals and alternative lifestyle seekers. It is mainly educational in Indian philosophy and offers a wide range of social and cultural activities. As a rule, the above mentioned religious groups use the cyberspace as a tool to engage into a personal contact with potential converts.

6. References

Ashton, Peter (2007). ‚ÄúNew Age a kŇôesŇ•anstv√≠, ńć√°st 2/2‚ÄĚ. Theofil. <http://revue.theofil.cz/revue-clanek.php?clanek=139>. (30.11.2016).

Bal√≠k, Stanislav & J. HanuŇ° (2007). Katolick√° c√≠rkev v ńĆeskoslovensku 1945‚Äď1989. Brno: CDK.

ńĆesk√Ĺ Statistick√Ĺ √öŇôad, ńĆS√ö (2015). ‚ÄúN√°boŇĺensk√© vyzn√°n√≠ obyvatel ńĆesk√© republiky‚ÄĚ. CZSO. <https://www.czso.cz/csu/czso/nabozenske_vyznani_obyvatelstva_ceske_republiky_23_12_04>. (30.11.2016).

ńĆesk√Ĺ Statistick√Ĺ √öŇôad – ńĆS√ö (2015). ‚ÄúPońćtem uŇĺivatelŇĮ internetu jsme pŇôeskońćili Evropu‚ÄĚ. <https://www.czso.cz/csu/czso/poctem-uzivatelu-internetu-jsme-preskocili-evropu> (30.11.2016).

Nastuta, Sebastian (2012). ‚ÄúThe Impact of the Internet on New Religious Movements‚Äô Discourse‚ÄĚ. Sociologie Romaneasca X (4): pp. 63-64 . <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1565806475/fulltextPDF/B610506C61344E78PQ/4?accountid=133446>. (30-11-2016).

Riva, Giuseppe & C. Galimberti (1997). ‚ÄúThe Psychology of Cyberspace: A Socio-Cognitive Framework to Computer-Mediated Communication‚ÄĚ. New Ideas in Psychol. 15 (2): pp. 141-158. <https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Giuseppe_Riva/publication/223332689_The_psychology_of_cyberspace_A_socio-cognitive_framework_to_computer-mediated_communication/links/09e4150ec53414c8ac000000.pdf>. (30-11-2016).

҆pańćek, Ladislav (2009). N√°boŇĺensk√© skupiny na okraji spoleńćnosti. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. Univerzita Pardubice.

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