People of the Nook

Publishers Weekly recently reported that we are in the midst of a "Digital Bible Explosion." Apps of the Bible are now more frequently downloaded than Angry Birds, and the sacred texts of other religions aren’t far behind: there’s an iQuran, iTorah, and a digital Book of Mormon. There are devotional apps of other sorts as well, writes Macy Halford in the New Yorker.

For Catholics there's EZPray, iBreviary (endorsed by the Vatican), and Confession (which leads you through a personalized "examination of conscience" to prepare you for the sacrament); for Muslims, there’s Islamic Compass, which promises to give "the most accurate prayer times".

For Jews, there’s a combination Siddur and Zmanim; for Protestants, there’s Daily Jesus (a daily quote generator), Vible Blocks (a Tetris-like game that rewards players with a Bible verse between levels), and my favourite, Granny's Bible Dojo (Granny cracks boards with karate chops, and helps you learn the order of the books of the Bible).

This list barely scratches the surface: as PW reports, numerous religious publishing and software companies were developing digital platforms well before the advent of the iPad; some have been at it for more than twenty years.

And some of their apps are extremely sophisticated: QR codes embedded throughout the Life Essentials Study Bible link to video and audio sermons; Batoul Apps’ beautiful Koran Reader features audio recitations, commentary, translations, bookmarks, and note-taking capability; YouVersion contains over 150 different Bible translations in 45 languages. It’s free (like many, though not all, of the apps), and has been downloaded more than thirty million times.

The question of how, exactly, digitized texts will change religious practice has been a pressing one in religious communities for at least a decade. (An article in Christianity Today wiondered whether People of the Book should be renamed 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.

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