Online Religion/Religion Online and Virtual Communitas published in 2000 in Jeffery K. Hadden and Douglas E. Cowan (Eds.), Religion on the Internet: Research Prospects and Promises, p. 205-224. JAI Press: New York.
Helland presented one of the first heuristic devices to help sort through the vast amount of online religious activity that was appearing on the early USENET system and then the World Wide Web. His basic theory recognized two general ways people were using the Internet for religious and spiritual activity. Many people and groups were utilizing the Internet to provide religious information to people that were going online in a one-way form of communication. Much like earlier forms of media (like the TV, radio, and printing press), information about the religion was presented in a one-to-many fashion. In many ways this was a traditional form of “top-down” communication based upon a vertical conception of control, status, and authority. Helland called this “religion online.” Helland viewed the next type of online communication as a new development in religious praxis, reflecting the structure of the Internet system itself, which allows for non-hierarchical, unstructured, and open forms of communication. This form of activity Helland classified as “online-religion.” It is an open form of many-to-many communication that occurs within the online environment itself. This new activity allowed for new spaces to develop online where new levels of interaction and religious engagement could occur.
Helland further developed his theory to recognize new developments and changes that were occurring in the online environment as life online became more common and people felt less of a dichotomy between their “online and offline” selves. This was published in 2005 as “Online Religion as Lived Religion: Methodological Issues in the Study of Religious Participation on the Internet.” Online-Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet. Vol. 1, Issue 1. Special Issue on Theory and Methodology. https://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/5823/
Helland’s most recent theory work is utilizing ritual transfer theory to examine ritual activity in 3DVR environments. In particular, he is working on the Virtual Tibet Project with Professor Gregory Price Grieve from UNC Greensboro. www.virtualtibet.ca
Funding and Research Awards
·2018 Social Science and Research Council of Canada: Insight Grant ($151,409 ): “The Cyberlama and the Virtual Sangha: Assessing the Reach and Impact of Online Religious Authority within the Tibetan Diaspora Tradition”
•2017 The Henry Luce Foundation ($500,000): “Religion in the Digital Age.” Invited Team Member, Professor Stewart Hoover Director of the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture UC Boulder, Project Leader.
•2016 Religion and Diversity Project (MCRI) Innovation Grant: “Mediating the Tibet Resettlement Project in Canada: An Assessment of the Impact of New Media on Religion and Diversity.” ($10,000)
·2010 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded Major Collaborative Research Initiative ($2.5 million): “The Religion and Diversity Project.” Co-Investigator; Dr. Lori Beaman, University of Ottawa, Project Leader.
·2009 Social Science and Research Council of Canada; Individual Research Grant ($79,918): “Far Away—So Close: Assessing the Impact and Implications of Internet and World Wide Web Usage on the Religious Praxis of a Diaspora Tradition in Canada”