Religion on Social Media - #ROSM15

ICWSM 2015 Workshop
May 26, 2015 Oxford, UK

Missed the workshop? Or just want to remember something? Have a look at the following:

* Slides from the opening presentation here.

* Slides from invited talks by Robin Dunbar, Yasmine Hafiz and Peter Webster are now online.

* The abstracts resulting from the brainstorming session are now online here.

* The titles from the ice-breaking session are here.

* Some pictures from the event, including most of the posters.

And these are the Twitter handles of the people who were there and who we could find:


Welcome to the First Workshop on Religion on Social Media. A one-day ICWSM 2015 ( workshop, it will include guest speakers -- Robin Dunbar, Yasmine Hafiz, and Peter Webster -- as well as an interactive poster mini-session and guided brainstorming designed to address the theoretical and methodological frontiers in the study of religious communities in social media.

Religion is one of the major forces in both personal and social life of a great number of people across the world. In a 2012 Gallup study, 59% of the world said that they think of themselves as religious. As any cultural force of this scale, it has found expression in various forms on social media. In a time of growing communication between cultural and religious locales, social media has played an important role in religious expression, interfaith discussion, and contextualization of current events. Online religious communities reflect established cultural norms and organizations, while simultaneously presenting a new venue for religious expression and networking. The aim of this workshop is to outline the research questions, methodologies, and collaborations to foster the use of computational methods -- especially applied to social media -- to support the study of religious and cultural phenomena. 


Room C6, Mathematics Building

09:00 - 09:20   Welcome

09:20 - 11:40   Invited talks
09:20   Robin Dunbar
Religion's Origins as a Small Scale Phenomenon: Implications for the Internet Age
10:00   Peter Webster
Religion, Social Media and the Web Archive
10:40   Coffee break
11:00   Yasmine Hafiz
Tales From The Digital Wild: Religion in the Age of Social Media and Viral Content

11:40 - 12:20   Ice-breaking
Activity to create professional connections and inter-disciplinary collaboration

12:20 - 14:00   Lunch and poster setup

14:00 - 15:00   Poster session
Lightning talks introduce the research at the workshop room
Poster session takes place in the mezzanine level of Mathematics Institute

15:00 - 16:30   Structured brainstorming
Group elaboration on presented work
15:30   Coffee available

16:30   Closing remarks

Call For Abstracts


The focus of this workshop is the study of religious communities in social media, providing a venue for social and religious studies scholars to interact with researchers employing web mining, information extraction, network science, and other computational methods. Both qualitative and quantitative studies are welcome from both religious studies and computer science scholars. The topics may include, but will not be limited to, the following:
  • religious communities & support structures
  • social media as an alternative space for faith
  • network properties of religious communities
  • connectedness between different religions
  • sentiment analysis of religious expression
  • religious authority
  • ritual online
  • religious conflicts and their ramifications online
  • religious contextualization of news
  • quotation of religious texts and figures

The workshop will take a form of a poster mini-session, which then will drive brainstorming activities. Thus, each participant should submit either an extended abstract of an ongoing (or completed) research which will then be presented as a poster (and a lightning talk), or a short abstract outlining an idea or question for discussion. 


To ensure active, engaged participation, all participants wishing to attend must submit one of the following:
  • Extended Abstract - a 2-page single-column description of a research project on religious communities in social media, presenting at least one quantitative result. These abstracts will be reviewed by a PC and if accepted, presented as a poster.
  • Short Abstract - a single paragraph outlining a research or methodological question for discussion. These will also be considered for discussion during the workshop, but only checked for relevance.
The submission site is There will be no formal, archived proceedings and abstracts can describe previously published work. However, with the authors' consent, we will post all (accepted) abstracts, both short and extended, on the website together with the outcome of the guided brainstorming activities. 

Accepted Poster Abstracts

Stairway to Heaven: Longitudinal Social Network Analysis of Religious Communities on Twitter
Spyros Angelopoulos

Potential of Hetki Social Media App in Promoting Interfaith Dialogue: Work in Progress
Ilkka Jormanainen and Erkki Sutinen

Cyber Hate Speech on Twitter: An Application of Machine Classification and Statistical Modeling for Policy and Decision Making
Peter Burnap and Matthew Williams

An Online Answer to "What does it Mean to be Jewish Online?" Measuring Religious BAK (Behavior, Attitudes and Knowledge) through Tracking Social Media
Romi Mikulinsky and Sheizaf Rafaeli

The Sacred Under Transformation Online
Meri-Anna Hintsala

An Ethnographic Study on the Influence of Emerging Digital-social Trends and their Impact on Spiritual Engagement
Drew Dickens

Resources and Datasets

To encourage data-driven exploration of the topic, we have prepared a few easy-to-use datasets. Other public data is available on The Association of Religion Data Archives (

For further reading on religious studies, interested attendees may consult the following resources:
As a live example of social media data, here are recent tweets in English containing one of a number of religion-related keywords. Please force a browser refresh in case you do not see the Twitter widget below. To see the results (and the query string) directly on Twitter, click here.

Important Dates

March 20, 2015 - Extended abstract submission deadline
April 10, 2015 - Extended abstract notification
April 26, 2015 - Input for keynote speakers deadline (see below)
May 15, 2015 - Short abstracts deadline
May 26, 2015 - Workshop date


Robin Dunbar, Oxford University

Title: Religion's Origins as a Small Scale Phenomenon: Implications for the Internet Age

Abstract: I shall review evidence for the claim that religion evolved originally as a small scale phenomenon as a bottom-up mechanism for bonding communities in the face of external threats. The Neolithic introduced major social stresses as a result of the creation of settled villages and cities, and introduced new top-down dimensions to religion as a mechanism for mitigating these stresses so as to allow large settled communities. These two ancestral components have left us with structural stresses that continue to bedevil all major religions. I will explore the consequences of these historical elements for religion in the internet age.

Bio: Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist and a specialist in primate behaviour. He is currently head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and is best known for formulating Dunbar's number, a measurement of the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships".

Yasmine Hafiz, London School of Economics, @yasminehafiz

Title: Tales From The Digital Wild: Religion in the Age of Social Media and Viral Content

Abstract: I will draw on my experiences as Associate Editor of Huffington Post Religion to discuss emerging trends from the digital study of religion and the way it is examined in online media. These patterns include the deployment of viral videos to spark greater conversations, instances of social media solidarity, the use of technology to counter stereotypes, and the direct digital transmission of religion by influencers. I will also investigate the challenges involved in covering religion from the perspective of the media, as well as the opportunities that social media provides to share a diverse set of perspectives on faith.

Bio: Yasmine Hafiz is the former Associate Editor of the Huffington Post's Religion section. Currently an MSc. candidate in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, she holds a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University. She co-authored The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook and was a 2008 U.S. Presidential Scholar. Hafiz has interned at the U.S. Department of State and was a founding member of the Arizona Youth Interfaith Movement.

Peter Webster, Webster Research and Consulting Ltd, @pj_webster

Title: Religion, Social Media and the Web Archive

Abstract: There has been an increased scholarly interest in the ways in which religious people and organizations represent themselves and communicate on social media, but this research has been conducted largely independently from the emerging body of scholarship on the archived web. The reasons for this divide are mixed and include both (i) a tendency to obtain subsets of social media data directly, “to order”, to match the particular research questions in view, and (ii) the fact that traditional web archiving has had limited success in archiving social media content. However, social media usage is integrally tied in with existing websites of religious organizations, both in directing users to social media channels and in driving traffic back to the website, and so studying it in isolation is problematic. This talk presents some exploratory case studies of a reintegration of the two sources in the setting of local Christian churches and national church bodies in England and Ireland. Drawing on data made available by the British Library, covering 1996 until 2013, we will look at how, and how quickly, churches integrated their social media channels with their websites.

Bio: Peter Webster is a historian of contemporary British religious history, with particular interests in the digital turn for history and the archived web. After working for the Institute of Historical Research (University of London), the UK Web Archive team at the British Library, and the International Internet Preservation Consortium, he is now managing director of Webster Research and Consulting.

Input for Keynotes

To make sure that the keynote presentations are as relevant as possible to the audience we invite you to submit short questions or comments to our keynote speakers using this Google Form. We will then collect and forward this input. Please send your thoughts by April 26, 2015 so that the speakers have ample time to take it into account.


Yelena Mejova
Qatar Computing
Research Institute

Ingmar Weber
Qatar Computing
Research Institute

Nathan Matias
MIT Media Lab

Lu Chen
Kno.e.sis Center
Wright State University

Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn
Rutgers University

Program Committee

Ee-Ping Lim, Singapore Management University
Jun Liu, University of Copenhagen
Christopher Kyriakides, Cyprus University of Technology
Eric Atwell, University of Leeds, UK  
Rosemary Avance, University of Pennsylvania
Gary Bunt, University of Wales Trinity Saint David
A. K. M. Adam, University of Oxford
Michele Rosenthal, University of Haifa
Mohammad T. Abbasi Shavazi, Shiraz University, Iran

For more information, please contact Yelena at