Material History of American Religion Project

The Vatican web site

The home page of the Vatican web site

With millions of businesses, organizations, and individuals producing their own web pages, it was almost inevitable that churches would follow. The Vatican (at http://www.vatican.va) probably wasn't the first, but it is perhaps the most significant. It is available in six languages (the home page of the English version is shown here) to accomodate the Roman Catholic Church's global membership. Its sophisticated look reflects the church's long tradition and its heritage as a patron of the arts (although this sophistication comes at a cost--the pages are full of graphics and thus take a long time to download). Most importantly, the broad spread of the church's interests gives the site something missing on many web sites--substantial content. There are links to the church's administrative as well as spiritual side, connections to the church's well-known art collections, and most importantly, information on the church's most visible representative, the Pope. Despite its sophistication, however, the web site's existence and content do not reflect radical changes in the Vatican's message.

From debates over biblical translations through televangelist scandals, the public image of religious organizations have been shaped by their media presence. On occasion this presence has been independent of a religious organization, as in the case of many radio and television preachers. At other times, the presence has been a central part of a church's purpose and structure; the Watchtower Tract Society of the Jehovah's Witnesses is a key example. In these cases, media often serve as the crystallizing point for creating a religious organization. Like this Vatican web page, on the other hand, some media are simply new ways to market the messages of old organizations. The next few decades will show how new media such as computers and the Internet will produce new religious organizations and change old ones.

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