[Paleopsych] CHE: 'The Internet and the Madonna: Religious Visionary Experience on the Web'
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'The Internet and the Madonna: Religious Visionary Experience on the Web'
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.5.13
By NINA C. AYOUB
Minutes after the death of John Paul II, church officials sent a mass
e-mail message to the news media alerting them. The high-tech missive
was fitting for a pope who had embraced the Internet. But while the
Vatican is now virtual, the Catholic devout are even more "wired,"
especially in regard to Marian apparitions.
As Paolo Apolito notes in The Internet and the Madonna: Religious
Visionary Experience on the Web (University of Chicago Press), there
are just a handful of church-approved sightings of the Virgin Mary.
However, beyond Lourdes, Fatima, and other recognized visionary sites,
there have been a string of claimed appearances that have gained
Perhaps the most famous is Medjugorje, a village in Bosnia, where six
children said they saw Mary on a hillside. While pre-World Wide Web,
the Medjugorje sighting in 1981 was the first to take rapid advantage
of a globalized media, says the scholar, an Italian anthropologist at
the University of Salerno and the University of Rome III. Within a
decade, some 10 million pilgrims had descended on the site.
Medjugorje became the reference point for something of an apparition
boom, Mr. Apolito says, creating also a "mechanism of reciprocal
confirmation," kind of an "I'll consider your apparition if you'll
consider mine." Today, he writes, the world of visionaries blends a
neo-Baroque belief in miracles and wonders with elaborate use of the
Yet the technical is moving the epiphanic person to the periphery:
"Technology, by allowing and legitimizing every form of the
extraordinary, winds up imposing the wonder of itself. ... "
To demonstrate some of that usurping, Mr. Apolito turns first to
photography and the urge to document. For example, a visionary
communing with Mary on a hillside may also have to compete with the
whirr of hundreds of cameras, each trying to capture an apparition or
at least a dancing sun.
There are also perils for the worshipful Web surfer, says Mr. Apolito.
Even on Web rings of sites devoted to the Virgin, it can be a short
trip from the devout to the debauched. Four clicks, he found, as he
followed links via generic site banners. There are also parody sites
such as the Miraculous Winking Jesus as well as sites that use
apparition-talk to express violent anti-Catholicism. But beyond porn,
parody, and bigotry, the horizontal landscape of the Web risks
something else: disconnect. The scholar, who did fieldwork at Oliveto
Citra, the Italian site of a claimed apparition, explores what gets
lost when a visionary experience loses the context of local religious
culture and is fragmented in the ether.
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