There is an explosion in religiously-oriented apps. The Book Bench blog at the New Yorker says that scripture and religious apps are downloaded more often than Angry Birds.
The question of how, exactly, digitized texts will change religious practice has been a pressing one in religious communities for at least a decade. (A recent article in Christianity Today wondered whether the People of the Book shouldn’t be rechristened the People of the Nook.) But the era of digital religion is only now poised to begin in earnest, ushered in by technological advancements—the widespread adoption of tablets and smartphones—and by religious leaders eager to harness the power of that technology to inspire and instruct their flocks.
Last week, I contacted leaders of several religious institutions in New York and asked about how the digital was being used in their communities. Cregan Cooke, the director of communication and media at Redeemer Presbyterian, Manhattan’s best-known megachurch, told me that parishioners use mobile devices during services to look up Bible verses; that pastors like having multiple translations of the Bible on their tablets to refer to “whenever they’re away from their physical libraries”; and that the church has recently developed its own app, which contains a sermon podcast and community news. It’s been downloaded more than twenty-five thousand times.
This isn’t surprising at a church whose senior pastor, Tim Keller, is an Internet video star with his own publishing imprint. But more traditional congregations have also eagerly embraced digital technology. Kevin Gabriel Gillen, a Dominican friar at the Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village, wrote me that iBreviary is in common use in the church. “Walking into a chapel with an iPhone may raise the eyebrow of another friar, because they may think you are about to make a phone call or text, but the iPad seems to be accepted.” The church has an app of its own, and has recently rebuilt its Web site to be “swipeable” on an iPad. Rabbi Zvi Romm, of the Bialystoker Synagogue on the Lower East Side, one of the oldest orthodox Jewish congregations in the city, told me that many members use handheld devices during the week for prayer and study (there is no electricity—and therefore no technology—allowed on the Jewish Sabbath, which falls over the weekend). And according to Amir Ahmad, the founder of the public forum Islam and New Media, apps of the Quran have become so wildly popular that “even traditionalists know and realize their benefits, and don’t categorically reject them.” Islamic apps are both utilitarian (alerting Muslims to prayer times, providing recordings of the Azan or call to prayer, and pointing the direction to Mecca via GPS), Ahmad says, and “the ultimate expression of Muslim religious identity and piety in a ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ way. Not only are they Islamic; they are also cutting-edge.”