Name: Dr. Heinz Scheifinger
Affliliation: Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Project Title: The relationship between Hinduism and the Internet in Singapore with Particular Reference to the Glocalization Processes Occurring as a Result of Temples’ Engagement with the Internet
The project builds upon the findings that ‘religion is a critical ingredient of globalisation’ (Robertson 1992: 87) and investigate the relationship between Hinduism and the Internet. The project explores issues arising from the Internet allowing devotees the opportunity to worship deities without physically travelling to the temples in which they reside (by way of online pujas, darshan of deities on websites, and through ordering pujas to be performed on a devotee’s behalf). The situation was considered in the light of the related sociological theories of globalisation and embodiment. This is because the Internet is a key ingredient of globalisation (Beck 2000; Giddens 2002) and, furthermore, it allows worship to be performed with minimal reference to the body and without a physical presence at traditional sacred sites. The main conclusion was that despite globalisation and the Internet’s pre-eminent role in this, contrary to the assertions of some globalisation theorists (e.g. Castells 2000; Apolito 2005), local sites do not decline in importance. Instead, there is an interpenetration of the local and the global – ‘glocalization’ (Robertson 1992). The situation at temples partly determined what could be made available online, and what was made available online affected the situation at temples. However, others unconnected to temples were also a factor as they are able to offer services online.
The research project will investigate the glocalization processes that are occurring as a result of Hindu temples’ engagement with the Internet. Research will be carried out at temples in Singapore. This will allow a comparison to be made between India and Singapore. The situation in Singapore provides an especially good contrast because, in addition to there being a relatively high percentage of the country’s approximately 24 main Hindu temples with an online presence, Singapore has an extremely high level of Internet penetration. This strongly suggests that for many of Singapore’s approximately 158,000 Hindus, the Internet is an integral part of their everyday life. This can be compared to India where, despite increasing Internet use, there is a relatively low level of Internet penetration. Because Singapore is such a technologically sophisticated society, it also constitutes an ideal case study which promises to throw considerable light on the relationship between temples and the Internet and the process of glocalization. It could also indicate trends which may occur elsewhere in the future.
Despite this, the field of Hinduism and the Internet in Singapore is a neglected area of study. Kluver et al’s (2005) The Internet and Religion in Singapore: A National Survey, which they claim is ‘the first study of its kind in examining the use of the Internet for religious purposes in any Asian country’ (p. 5), sought to identify religious Internet use by Singaporeans. However, they proceeded to omit Hindus because of a small sample size. Kluver and Cheong’s (2007) study concerns the opinions of authorities representing diverse religions in Singapore regarding the use of the Internet for religious purposes. They interviewed a small number of Hindu leaders but they do not go beyond an analysis of the authorities’ views and the impact of computer-mediated worship is not explored. In the light of the neglect of the study of Hinduism and the Internet in Singapore, such a study is long overdue – especially since it is highly likely that ‘religious use of the Internet [in Singapore] will develop more fully as the Internet matures’ (Kluver et al 2005: 12).
An online puja features an image of a deity (which may be a deity specific to a certain temple) on the screen. Icons will also be present, and a worshipper clicks on these icons in turn in order to produce corresponding effects which simulate the processes which occur in a traditional offline puja.
Darshan is a religious practice in its own right that also forms part of a puja. It involves ‘seeing the divine in an image’ (Eck 1985: Foreword).
For example, the following temples all have an online presence: Shree Lakshminarayan, Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar, Sri Thendayuthapani, Sri Muneeswam, Sri Ruthra Kaliamman, the Mariamman, Sri Sivan, Sri Srinivasa Perumal and Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman.
In May 2012 there were 9,533,200 Broadband Internet subscriptions in Singapore and a household Broadband penetration rate of over 100% (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore 2012).
This figure refers to Hindus aged 15 and over in 2010 (Singapore Department of Statistics 2010).
A fact also appreciated by Kluver and Cheong (2007) in their article ‘Technological Modernization, the Internet, and Religion in Singapore’.
The fourth nation-wide survey conducted by the Singapore Internet Research Project is concerned with Internet usage and impact but does not consider religion (see Choi, Kuo and Lee 2003).