Religious and Spiritual Apps on the Rise

The use of religious and spiritual apps is on the rise. This trend is sometimes called “Techno-spirituality.” It refers to the use of computer technologies to enhance a religious and spiritual lifestyle.

For example, religious groups often use new technologies to reach out to their members and attract new ones. In 2010, 69% of American religious congregations had websites and 90% used email. There are at least 6000 iPhone and iPad apps for religion and spirituality (Buine and Blythe, 2316). But according to a recent study Spirituality: There’s an App for That (2013),  spirituality is one of the most understudied areas in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) research.

This is curious given that many individuals now use religious and spiritual apps to help with their spiritual practices. For instance there are religious and spiritual apps that alert Muslims when to pray. Christians can find help learning the Bible, finding other Christians  to pray with, and even discovering clean jokes. Jews can take advantage of apps like KosherMe to help stay kosher, Jewish Days to remember all the important holidays, and Jewish Mother to hear “hysterical, guilt-ridden phrases.” The list goes on and on.

On the spiritual but not religious side of things, there are apps to help with things like timing a meditation, balancing the chakras, and reciting daily affirmations. In contrast to the notion that SBNRs just want to go it alone, the AltarNation app provides an interactive environment to help physically isolated people meditate with others online.

So why the shortage of research?

According to to Buie and Blythe, the reason why the HCI community is reluctant to explore techno-spirituality are not clear. They think part of the problem is that the research community is not open to it. They find religion unscientific–something good scientists should steer clear of. I agree with Buie and Blythe that a non-scientific subject can be studied scientifically. So more likely, the problem has to do with bias. As they note, “What gets studied…depends on what gets funded and by whom” (2321).  The bias originates in the secular climate of many universities and government agencies.

It is incredible that we are caught up denying the religious vitality of our culture. There are two problems here. First., organized religion which is very visible is seen as passe. Second, the robust spirituality movement is hard to see, and its scope and influence are often underestimated.

As far as religious and spiritual apps go, I think the research climate will change when some bright entrepreneur notices how much money is being left on the table.