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14th ARC International Roundtable Abstracts

ARC Admin
2023-10-18 10:24 UTC+7 751

Asian Research Center for Religion and Social Communication (Saint John’s University, Thailand)

 14th International Roundtable (2-3 November 2023)

@ International Conference on Inter-Asia and Challenges, Thammasat University, Thailand

Theme: “Religious Communication and the Technological Future: Prospects, Concerns, and Responses”



Paper 1

Gnana Pattrick (Centre for Study of Indian Christianity, India): Attribution of Religious Characteristics to AI: A Critical Exploration 

Today we find a number of attributions of religious characteristics to AI. In usages like “apocalyptic AI,” “homo deus,” “AI as Imago Dei,” “virtual immortality,” etc., we find religious characteristics being attributed to AI related processes. It would do well to critically analyse such attributes from the perspective of religious studies to understand their impact upon the dynamics of religions. One such core dynamic, acknowledged invariably in religious and theological studies, is that of the experience of “transcendence.” Several studies on religious transcendence analyse its “vertical” and “horizontal” aspects down through historical epochs. The modern era, in particular, is understood to have induced various shades of immanentism, along with an inability to transcendence. This paper studies some selected religious attributes made to AI and analyse their impact upon the experience of transcendence today.  

Paper 2

Bryan B. Albia (University of Santo Tomas, Philippines), Mariel B. Blanza (University of Santo Tomas, Philippines), and Andrew Joseph S. Chanco (University of Santo Tomas, Philippines): From Icons to AI: Evolution of Imagery in Religious Communication  

Using icons in religious communication is a widespread practice that dates back many centuries. In various religions, icons have been instrumental in conveying religious messages, themes, and beliefs as religious leaders, artists, and craftsmen utilized icons to represent religious stories, rituals, and events visually. One of the main reasons images are used in religious communication is that they can effectively convey complex ideas and emotions that may be difficult to express through words alone. Thus, icons help not only to beautify sacred spaces but to make abstract concepts more tangible and accessible, making it easier for people to engage and understand otherwise lofty and abstract religious teachings. They also serve as powerful and evocative tools for inspiring devotion and promoting practices that can lead to increased participation in religious rituals and a more profound sense of connection to one's faith. This paper aims to present the evolution of icons and understand whether AI-generated icons made possible today by generative AI tools can be employed in religious communication. In presenting the said theme, the following topics are unfolded: first, the use of symbols and icons across religions; second, the evolution of using images in various faiths; and third, the advent of AI-generated icons and the possibility of employing them as mediums of religious communication and education. 

Paper 3

Rey Ty (Department of Peace Studies, International College, Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand): Impact of Technology and AI on Religious Practices and Ethics: The Road Ahead  

This article addressed the time lag problem with which human beings catch up with the speed with which technology in general and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular advance. The purpose of this exploratory research was to examine the impact of A. I. on religious practices and ethics. It explored the ways in which A. I. influences religious practices as well as the manner in which religious institutions may respond to ethical concerns and other challenges. This study will answer the following questions: Considering the ethical implications: 1) What are the potential positive benefits and 2) negative impacts of the use of technology, A. I., and mobile apps on religious practices? 3) What are some ethical considerations? 4) What are the tasks ahead to promote ethical standards in the use of A. I. in religious practices? Some pioneers of ‘thinking machines’ informed this article. This paper used qualitative data collection methods: literature review, ethnography, and anecdotes. Data analysis consisted of thematic analysis of the literature and practices. The research is a case study and unique, neither transferable nor generalizable. The findings of this research included the following: There are both positive and negative impacts of A. I. on religious practices. As there are ethical issues involved, religious institutions can play an active role in promoting ethical practices in the use of A. I. in religious practices. The paper concluded with a discussion of the findings and their implications for religious practices specifically and for society generally. This paper identified areas for further research for those who have access to research grants, using mixed methods approach, including survey questionnaire, interviews, and focus group discussion.  

Paper 4

Tan Meng Yoe (Monash University, Malaysia): Building an Authentic Church Online: Malaysian Church Leaders’ Experiences During the Covid-19 Lockdown 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic reached Malaysian shores, churches in Malaysia spent two years transitioning and adapting to holding church activities exclusively online due to the various Movement Control Orders (MCO) implemented by the Malaysian government. This transition was sudden, and more importantly - total. Within a very short period of time, churches switched from being gathering in physical spaces into entirely online platforms for a sustained period of time. At the forefront of these changes were church leaders - pastors, priests, elders, deacons, and more, who were responsible for ensuring continuity of religious activities and the spiritual well-being of members, while having to navigate the complexities of new digital tools on their own. The wide adoption of digital Christianity has led to the crucial question of whether authentic spirituality can be experienced online. Can online worship and the sacraments be considered authentic? Can authentic spiritual experiences take place online? 

Through semi-structured interviews with Malaysian church leaders from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, this paper explores the different modes of adaptability and survivability of churches during the pandemic. The interviews focused on the experiences of these leaders in three areas: technology, community, and spirituality. The findings will primarily be discussed via the lens of “authenticity”. The interviews reveal that leaders have a mixed experience regarding cultivating a space for authentic spirituality. They are concerned about the quality of members’ engagement, worship and have differing views on the authenticity of spiritual activity in fully online spaces. This paper provides a historical snapshot of a fully online Malaysian church from the institutional perspective; and considers the implications of this immersive digital experience on the future Malaysian church.  

The paper highlights different ways how authenticity is “legitimized” by the church both in online and offline settings. The impossibility of authentic worship online is justified through the benchmarks of “space” and “materiality”, where sacred spaces such as the physical church, and sacred rituals, such as the Holy Communion, cannot be replicated in a digital format. Alternatively, if online spirituality is defined by notions of “spiritual transaction/transformation”, evidenced strongly by conversions to Christianity and dramatically changed lives, then authentic spirituality must have taken place. These different approaches to online authentic spirituality impact how churches view the role of digital technology in a post-lockdown world. How can churches emphasize authentic reverence for God in material spaces (which include engaging with the broader community) without ignoring the affordances of technology in expanding the faith?  

Paper 5

Leo-Martin Angelo R. Ocampo (University of Santo Tomas, Philippines) and Ivan Efreaim A. Gozum (University of Santo Tomas, Philippines): AI in the Academe: Opportunities and Challenges for Religious Education 

The release of the generative pre-trained transformer ChatGPT 3.5 in November 2022 followed shortly by its more advanced premium version, ChatGPT4, again triggered public awareness and interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI). This recent popularity of chatbots like ChatGPT and other AI applications also generated questions and concerns about the opportunities and threats posed by these fast-evolving digital technologies. In his recent address at the science and technology summit "Minerva Dialogues" at the Vatican last March 27, 2023, Pope Francis asserted that the ongoing discussion on the responsible use of this technology is "open to religious values," including ethical and educational concerns. Taking its cue from the Pope's intuition, this study aims to explore the interface of AI with education in general and religious education in particular and how educators, especially religious educators, can respond to these emerging developments without wasting their potential or ignoring their danger. 

Paper 6

Joefrey M. Almazan (Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Philippines): Education and Industrial Revolution 4.0: Prospects and Challenges to ASEAN Education 

ASEAN Education is confronted with the emerging paradigms of 21st Century education brought about by the swiftness of the globalization process and the dawning of the new industrial revolution popularly dubbed “IR. 4.0”. Globalization has been reshaping the way people think about education especially on the latter’s impact to the present and future trends of industry and economy. IR 4.0 is demanding for a new framework of education – one that readies individuals with the appropriate, competent, and highly innovative skills as man-machine collaboration will be intensified in this industrial revolution. Hence, there is now a shift of focus from improving industrial machines into investing on human capital. This is the pathway ASEAN education is traversing right now. ASEAN Education aims primarily at producing highly skilled service providers who are 21st Century ready and who will work effectively and efficiently for industries in the IR 4.0 Nevertheless, education is more than being able to stabilize and improve one’s economic standing in life. There is a more noble purpose towards which one undertakes the tedious process of learning. That is: to be fully human and transform the world. Hence, the modalities and paradigms of 21st Century education. And so with the ongoing innovative progress in ASEAN Education, serious considerations arise: “Will the alignment of man and machine to enable new possibilities cause further alienation for humanity?”; “When real classrooms are substituted by virtual classrooms, will healthy social interaction be maintained?”; “Are the trends of the 21st Century Education truly set towards the furtherance of human depth and breadth? 

Paper 7

Mia B. Eballo (De la Salle University-Integrated School, Philippines): Confronting the Challenges of AI in Teaching Christian Living 

Covid-19 pandemic has led educational institutions to subscribe and utilize Learning Management Systems to continue to facilitate learning to their students. As schools started to embrace the new normal, while recovering from the pandemic, educational institutions have retained the Blended Learning Mode of teaching and learning. In 2022, the university has gradually resumed its face-to-face program with due consideration and compliance with the government’s mandate on health and safety protocols. Thus, the hybrid program called BlendFlex was introduced. This means that curricular offerings were taken by students in a combination of face-to-face encounters and synchronous online classes. Using Zoom applications integrated in the Learning Management System used by the university, students were able to continue their studies. Christian Living Education as core of the curriculum was revisited and results show that students’ need for face-to-face encounters provide helpful and positive impact on the students’ well-being. While this paper attempts to explore the challenges of AI, it is to be noted that AI has indirectly influenced the academic community in the university. With the conscious intention of the school to offer an effective curriculum faithful to the standards set by the institution, technology was highlighted as an aspect to be maximized. Subscriptions of certain applications aiding students to be effective researchers were made available like Turnitin, Grammarly, Canva and Microsoft 365. 

This paper investigates the challenges of AI in teaching Christian Living. Specifically, it asked the questions: 1) how is Christian Living education facilitated in blended mode of learning, and 2) how does utilization of a Learning Management System aided the students’ engagement and willingness to spiritually connect with God? A descriptive method was utilized to gather and analyze data from select Senior High School students who are enrolled in Christian Living subject. Results show that the designed modules in the school’s learning management system allowed them to enrich their religiosity. Having been given the liberty to utilize technology and maximizing it from the standpoint that it is part of their daily life has helped them to express their appreciation of religion and a balanced life. Using their own device and personal accounts to perform online activities helped them fully express themselves on matters of faith. On the other hand, respondents saw an opportunity with AI on the academic aspect of engagement. Also, the use of learning management system has helped the students to access lessons easily because they are already made available before the term commences. AI poses a superficial religious engagement and detached reception and faith witnessing. The independence and privacy elements in one’s praxis aided by technology also results in a lesser communal practice of religion. 

Paper 8

Maria Lourdes Santiago-Antonio (Institute of Religion, University of Santo Tomas, Philippines) and Fred F. Antonio, Jr. (Institute of Religion, University of Santo Tomas, Philippines): Catholic Higher Educational Institutions: Communicators of Truth for a Rehumanized Education Toward Industrial Revolution 5.0 

Society today is faced with rapid scientific advancement and the convergence of digital, biological, and physical technologies that led to unprecedented levels of automation and interconnectedness brought about by the Industrial Revolution 4.0. As such, this poses challenges and opportunities to the educational landscape. The need to “rehumanize education” toward Industrial Revolution 5.0 is an urgent concern to all Catholic Higher Educational Institutions expected to promote ethical and moral principles and be at the forefront of searching for and communicating the Ultimate Truth.

Catholic Higher Education Institutions have a reputation for valuing intellect and the truth. However, the challenge remains as to how they can truly commit as models for meeting societal demands in a humanistic manner without compromising the Truth and downplaying the promotion of the dignity of every human person. In this light, this study explores the role of Catholic Higher Educational Institutions as communicators of truth in the context of Industrial Revolution 5.0. It focuses on the following points:  a) an overview of the Industrial Revolution 5.0, b) the distinctive mission of Catholic Higher Educational Institutions, c) a Humanistic Approach to Communicating Truth, and d) Friendship Paradigm: A Model. 

Paper 9

Chandra Pattanayak (Institute of Knowledge Societies, India): TBA  

Paper 10

Sebastian Periannan (Annai Vailankanni Arts and Science College, Thanjavur, India): Role of Artificial Intelligence in Religious Future: Communications Transformation 

In normal parlance, one encounters the view or opinion that technology highjacks, religion is a ‘opium’. The identification of causal explanations of socio-cultural-political and developmental scenario through the explicit observation and analysis to communication, transgression and transformation. It requires more questions or different research designs than those omnibus surveys, which focus on impact of technology on religion. It is particularly amenable to grounded, generative and analyzed multidisciplinary adoption. However, descriptive or experimental research, about religiosity, religious elite influence and impact of religion often returns than those from observational research. An AI points towards sustainability and adaptation; the study of relevance of religion enables dialogue, tolerance and service, which help to reconcile technological and phenomenological results. This analytical article covers the implications of whole range of trends in technology and social, spiritual and scientific studies that are engaged by technocrats and religious leaders. This paper expounds the relevance of religion from four pillars such as, spiritual awareness, immortal connection, scientific insight, and enlightened purpose. Technology and religion will be viewed from the prism of logical consistency, experimental verifiability, and experiential relevance. In this way the proposed analytical work deal with the role of AI and the relevance of religion are essential to understanding technical advancement, modern development with religious harmony and peace. 

Paper 11

Lee-Shae Salma Scharnick-Udemans (Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice University of the Western Cape, South Africa): Between Promise and Peril: Observations on Moral Panic, Popular Culture and Religion  

The potential of Artificial Intelligence (hereafter referred to as AI), in its seemingly infinite possibilities and transmutations command the attention of contemporary popular culture, news and social media. The landing pages of familiar streaming channels such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV are evidence of the continually growing collection of mediatised content wherein AI, is featured as a central theme. Popular culture’s fascination with AI is, however, not novel. Films like, Blade Runner (1982), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Matrix (1999) and I, Robot (2004), epitomise the creative appeal of AI for the film industry and its audiences within the past four decades. Collectively and within their appropriate generational contexts, these films depicted far-off as well as far-fetched, fantasy worlds. Given the rapidity with which AI technology is developing, more recent film examples such as M3gan (2023) and WifeLike (2023) seem to depict and caution against near-future realities which are more recognisable and of which this current generation is a part. There is more resemblance with the features and functions of AI depicted in these films, and the current state of AI development than previously. The aforementioned films, like many more recent others in the genre, project depictions of AI as threatening and dangerous. 

In addition to films; tech news media sites, offering information and commentary related to AI developments are popular and accessible sources of information. Unfortunately, the features on these sites, like the films are foreboding tone, offering headlines that reflect issues and questions related to AI, as urgent and imminent. Most members of the public do not possess the highly specialized knowledge required to fully comprehend the potential of AI and to a large extent the topic is shrouded in mystery and perturbation. While deep knowledge of the technical and scientific aspects of AI may continue to remain the purview of a small minority of specialists, a sample of the ethical and moral implications and possibilities that AI presents for scholars of religion and religious leaders to consider, can be gleaned from popular culture sites and sources, such as film and tech news. These social actors hold considerable power and have the ability to influence public and official perspectives on and responses to matters of social importance. They have responsibilities, both intellectual and ethical, to offer insights and guidance on paradigm shifting phenomena. 

Against this background, I consider that these mediatised representations contribute to engendering collective public apprehension and concern about AI. The messages are clear, AI will change our world in ways we may not welcome and for which we are not prepared. This article suggests that the agenda-setting function of media, especially it’s imperative to encourage public concern over matters that may or may not constitute threats to social order, can be better understood through the conceptual framework that the concept, moral panic provides. Exploratory in its orientation and approach, this article will provide an explanation of the various stages and attributes of moral panic and its co-constitutive concepts, enlivened by examples from film and tech news media. In doing so it conceptualises the current moment as the embryonic phase of a moral panic. Its advances the idea that we are able, at this stage of the process, to acknowledge and abate growing concerns and fears about AI that may constitute a full blown moral panic. While we should certainly approach AI with critical curiosity, the danger of a moral panic is that it may result in permanent, indiscriminate and harsh admonishment of AI, undermining its potential to serve humanity in positive and life-affirming ways. In conclusion, I draw on the case-study of the pluralist AI and Faith global organization as an example of the kinds of deliberate and visionary initiatives needed for pre-empting and preparing for the ways in which religion may be used as a tool for engaging and managing the anxiety and fears that surround popular, negative depictions of AI. 

Paper 12

Rico Casta Jacoba (Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Philippines): Harmony in the Age of Algorithms: Exploring the Role of Artificial Intelligence in Interreligious Discourse 

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has ushered in a new era of interconnectedness and dialogue across diverse cultures and belief systems. In a world marked by increasing globalization and digitalization, the potential of AI to facilitate interreligious dialogue (IRD) holds significant promise. This qualitative literature review article, titled "Harmony in the Age of Algorithms: Exploring the Role of Artificial Intelligence in Interreligious Discourse", aims to examine the existing body of literature concerning the intersection of AI technology and interreligious dialogue. Drawing from a comprehensive survey of academic literature, this review seeks to shed light on the multifaceted ways in which AI has already influenced and continues to shape conversations between adherents of different religious traditions. It explores the evolving landscape of AI-driven tools, applications, and platforms that are designed to facilitate interreligious dialogue (IRD), promoting understanding, respect, and cooperation. In conclusion, this literature review underscores the potential of AI as a catalyst for promoting harmony and mutual understanding among individuals and communities of different faiths. By critically examining the existing literature, this article aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges that arise at the intersection of AI and interreligious dialogue, offering insights for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers alike. 

Paper 13

Jeramie N. Molino (Saint Louis University, Baguio City, Philippines): Interreligious Views on the Integration of Artificial Intelligence and Indigenous Knowledge for Environmental Preservation 

This paper employs a qualitative narrative analysis to explore interreligious perspectives on integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Indigenous Knowledge (IK) to address environmental challenges. It delves into the viewpoints of three major world religions – Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism – highlighting their distinct yet complementary stances. Christianity, grounded in the principle of stewardship, emphasizes humanity’s divine-given duty to care for the Earth. Within this framework, AI is seen as a promising tool to enhance environmental knowledge, sustainable practices, and conservation. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ lays down principles, stressing the interconnectedness of creation, that can guide AI integration. In Islam, the concept of “Khalifa” signifies human stewardship of the Earth. Though opinions on AI vary, there are those who view it as a means to improve environmental knowledge and resource management. Islamic teachings encourage seeking wisdom from diverse sources, including indigenous knowledge. While recognizing AI’s potential for ecological understanding, Buddhism raises concerns about excessive reliance on AI-generated information. Emphasizing interconnectedness, compassion, and mindfulness, it encourages a balanced approach where AI complements personal connections and mindfulness in experiencing nature. In summary, these religions appear to recognize AI’s potential while emphasizing ethical, cultural, and spiritual aspects. This interplay fosters holistic and sustainable environmental preservation, where technology and Indigenous Knowledge coexist. It invites further collaboration to ensure that technological advancements align with ethical and environmental values, promoting a just, equitable, and harmonious coexistence with our planet. 

Paper 14

Sudeep Paul (Sandesha Foundation for Culture and Education, India): A Study of the Ethical Issues Involved in the Use of Social Media by Religious Organizations

This study, conducted in Delhi within the National Capital Region, explores the use of social media by religious organizations. Existing literature suggests that there's a lack of scientific investigations concerning the ethical aspects of social media use by these organizations in this specific region. This research aims to help social media adopters within religious organizations understand both the advantages and ethical considerations of using these platforms.

The primary objectives of this investigation are to analyze the ethical dilemmas associated with social media use in religious organizations, focusing on the National Capital Region in India. The research employs a systematic survey method and qualitative research. Primary data is gathered through standardized questionnaires distributed to various stakeholders, including religious scholars (62), religious leaders (72), religious organizers (118), and religious followers (192), totaling 444 respondents. Prominent social media platforms among religious organizations include Facebook (100%), WhatsApp (80.18%), YouTube (77.93%), Instagram (54.05%), LinkedIn (54.95%), Telegram (57.66%), and Twitter (59.91%).

The study shows that social media has facilitated participatory communication and management for religious leaders. However, it also highlights ethical concerns, such as information relevance, accuracy, and privacy issues in the religious domain. The study recommends that social media organizers should respect religious freedom as a fundamental right and ensure that social media is used to provide a safe environment for peaceful worship. It emphasizes the responsible use of social media to avoid promoting hatred or anti-religious sentiments in a diverse society like India and underscores the importance of adhering to ethical norms and guidelines in this context.

Paper 15

Anthony Le Duc (Saengtham College, Thailand): Framework of Prophetic Dialogue for Religious Engagement with Stakeholders of the Technological Future

This paper explores the role of religion in the cognitive revolution driven by science and digital technology, and its engagement with stakeholders in technological development. Using qualitative analysis, it proposes a framework of "prophetic dialogue" to effectively engage with stakeholders. Analyzing the framework in the digital context reveals that prophetic dialogue is an appropriate and effective approach for engaging with stakeholders, including innovators, policymakers, and consumers. The framework of prophetic dialogue comprises two interrelated aspects: energizing communication and criticizing communication. By employing these aspects in a prophetic manner, religions can actively participate in shaping the future of technology while also safeguarding itself against potential negative consequences of technological advancements. The central thesis of the paper is that prophetic dialogue empowers religious institutions to adopt a proactive and relevant role in influencing the course of human development. Through engaging in dialogue with various stakeholders, religious institutions can advocate for ethical considerations, the common good, and the preservation of human dignity in the realm of technological progress. The paper contends that religion’s involvement is essential in shaping a future that aligns with its moral principles and fosters the well-being of all individuals and communities.