Religion and technology seem unlikely bedfellows. However, during the pandemic, religious organisations were compelled to embrace technology to create virtual assemblies through live streaming and video conferencing. Since then, we have seen more and more case studies of religion intersecting with technology. Robots are now performing Hindu rituals, Buddhist monks are going viral on TikTok, and congregants in Japan are being preached to by robo-priests. “This is how we propagate [the dharma]. We don’t need to go anywhere—people just open their smartphones… It’s a different era and a different time, but the same intention,” says Hak Sienghai, a 38-year-old TikTok monk. It’s a changing world, and religion is keeping pace.
Why is it important?
According to the Survey Center on American Life, more than a third of Gen Z identifies as religiously unaffiliated. So it’s possible the use of technolgy in religious ceremonies will appeal to this youth segment.This would be a positive step as some research indicates there’s a connection between regular religious participation and broader community involvement. In twenty-first century China, according to academic publisher Brill, Buddhists have adopted social and digital media and even robotics not only to attract new followers, but also to redefine their public image in wider Chinese society. So for some religious organisations, AI clearly has made a difference. Not everyone endorses this approach though. Critics fear that machines can alienate people and make them neglect contacts with others offline.
What can businesses do about it?
Fears of being replaced are echoed in the world of work where employees worry that they will be replaced by artificial intelligence or robots. If age-old institutions like religious institutions are embracing technology, businesses have no reason not to modernise. They should also take steps to assuage the fears about job losses of employees and offer opportunities for upskilling. Now, to take it a step further, we are beginning to see examples of bots talking to bots – HR departments using algorithms to screen CVs written by ChatGPT. Could we see the same thing in religion whereby robot priests preach to robot worshippers and humans are cut out of the loop?
By Faeeza Khan
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