Interactive History of Religion Map

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world’s most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go!

Tip: the “print” version breaks down the process stage by stage.


Articles added to the site on December 3, 2013

How churches and nonprofits are using the cloud

How churches and nonprofits are using the cloudChurches don’t appear to be as afraid of jumping into cloud technology as their enterprise counterparts, perhaps out of necessity — or simply a leap of faith? Cloud service providers are offering service levels and security that rival that of many in-house IT departments, making the cloud a less frightening place for enterprise data centers and applications.

Regardless of size, churches are utilizing cloud computing to handle financial transactions and update membership rolls. A recent Intacct survey found that 80 percent of large churches (with at least 1,000 people in weekly attendance) and 55 percent of smaller churches use at least one cloud-based system. Churches also frequently use the capabilities of the cloud to ease the processes around donations, notably with mobility applications.

Read full article on Dell’s TechPageOne

Articles added to the site on November 26, 2013

Articles added to the site on November 19, 2013

Center for the Study of Information and Religion

I just learned today about a new organization via email.  Daniel Roland, an Assistant Professor at the School of Library and Information Science, Kent State University informed an email list about the newly formed Center for the Study of Information and Religion. He is seeking grant funding for a project to create a digital repository of religious messages for an open access resource for research. The repository currently consists of

“less than one hundred sermons prepared by Christian clergy members, but the goal is to collect religious messages from all faiths.  The small sample of records are available for demonstration purposes as CSIR is in the process of applying for grant funding to finance the development and expansion of the Religious Messages Repository.”

Professor Roland is inviting scholars you to visit the repository and take a brief survey. The data gathered from the survey will be collated as supporting documentation for the grant proposal.

A few words about the Center for the Study of Information and Religion (CSIR) itself

The mission of the CSIR is to facilitate research within the LIS field that is focused on the various institutions and agents of religion and their affect on social knowledge through the use, dissemination, and diffusion of information. The CSIR utilizes an interdisciplinary approach with other fields in the Social Sciences and collaborative partnerships with various representatives of religious faiths and denominations.


1. To investigate the importance and use of information in the religious world.
2. To understand the relationship between the information-seeking behavior of clergy and the body of knowledge which exists to serve their information needs.
3. To advance our understanding of the role of information in religious practice especially in the contextual realms of belief, faith, knowledge, and wisdom.
4. To investigate the role and influence of religious communication forms, i.e., sermons, in the social construction of knowledge.

I wish the Center and the project good luck and will keep following their work.

Pros and cons of being a heretic on Faceboook

In the November 13 issue of USA Today there was an article about “A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.”

Below is a longish excerpt form the article that summarizes of what he is accused of (using the internet to spread his views on religion) and how he was caught (by monitoring his online behavior) . This little piece covers both the advantages of internet use, how it enables intellectual freedom and the power it gives to law enforcement to break down on those who violate the local law.

Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favor of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”

If that wasn’t enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Muslim holy book, the Quran. At its peak, Husayin’s Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries.

His Facebook groups elicited hundreds of angry comments, detailed death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups against him, including once called “Fight the blasphemer who said ‘I am God.’”

The outburst of anger reflects the feeling in the Muslim world that their faith is under mounting attack by the West. This sensitivity has periodically turned violent, such as the street protests that erupted in 2005 after cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad were published in Denmark or after Pope Benedict XVI suggested the Prophet Muhammad was evil the following year. The pope later retracted his comment.

Husayin used a fake name on his English and Arabic-language blogs and Facebook pages. After his mother discovered articles on atheism on his computer, she canceled his Internet connection in hopes that he would change his mind.

Instead, he began going to an Internet cafe — a move that turned out to be a costly mistake. The owner, Ahmed Abu-Asal, said the blogger aroused suspicion by spending up to seven hours a day in a corner booth. After several months, a cafe worker supplied captured snapshots of his Facebook pages to Palestinian intelligence officials.

Drash: Vayetze – Interwebz literacy

This week’s parasha*, Vayetze (Genesis 28:10–32:3), starts with these lines

Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it

Commentators asked lots of questions, but I want to focus on the significance of why the angels were going both up and down. Mordecai Kaplan, one of the founders of Reconstructionist Judaism, suggested that as Jacob was entering a new phase of his journey one set of guiding angels had to leave him and a new set had to come to protect him at his upcoming adventures.

I found this image a useful metaphor for our transition from a life where our interconnectedness was non-digital to a lifestyle that incorporates the channels and medium of the interwebz. We need to reevaluate which of our principles and guiding values are applicable to our online life and how, and which has no relevance there. Or if you wish, which protecting angels can work with us online and which are delegated to the physical world only.

I have been online long enough (starting 1992) to remember when the meaning of the phrase “netiquette” entered the public discourse. It referred to a list of dos and don’ts, what you can/should do online and what is inappropriate. There were lots of variations, depending on who, with what kind of offline value system, wanted to define the meme. All the versions of netiquette I encountered in the mid/late 1990′s intended to be universal, i.e. one set of rules of the whole internet. This worked to some extent before the advent of the social web/Web 2.0.

Nowadays I rarely encounter “netiquette”, as the concept has been superseded by digital literacy. Wikipedia suggest that it is “the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology.” I think it is important to add to it, that the various digital platforms require the users a unique set of skills to use them. There are overlaps in the skillsets, but what one works at one place may not work at another one. E.g. Howard Rheingold wrote up last year the essential of Twitter Literacy for the San Francisco Chronicle. Facebook Literacy is discussed elsewhere, for example in Jeff Verbeem’s slides.

You can find best practices and principles of information use for each major platform. To put it in Biblical terms, you will need a different angel at each digital platform to watch over you, not just for protecting you from committing a faux pas, but also to guide you in your usage of the domain. Jacob “only” needed guiding angels at his real life, but we all need them in our digital ones.

*For what a parasha and a drash is  see the  first paragraph of the first entry in this series.

Is Facebook God?

On November 7 I led a group discussion at my synagogue with a group of teenagers talking under the purposefully provocative title “Is Facebook God?“  We took Maimonides13 attributes of God and attempted to compare it to Facebook or at least discover connections to it. Most of the nine teens and their group leader seemed to enjoy the conversation which lasted about 45 minutes. At the end they were all keen to take home a copy of the handout (PDF, 105 kb) that listed the attributes and provided one Facebook related idea and a suggestion for each. Here is the content of the handout:

There is a Creator who is perfect and put into motion all that exists.

Facebook (FB) and the internet is not perfect but it can put into motion good tendencies. FB is a tool that amplifies what you put into it.
Suggestion: Be proactive in the issues you support.

God is One.

FB is a huge website and you may feel, because of its market dominance, that it is all encompassing and the only one. But other sites exist, that are dominant elsewhere on the planet: Orkut/Brazil, Wiw/Hungary, Bebo/Ireland…
Suggestion: Explore other sites to find exactly what meet your needs.

God has no body, cannot be affected by any physical force.

FB and the internet is non-corporeal and is certainly designed not to be affected by physical force (to withstand a nuclear attack.). But it can be hurt, it is just a complex network of machines and code. See how desperate you feel when Twitter is down. Imagine if FB would be down.
Suggestion: Keep a healthy independence.

God is Eternal.

There were plenty of popular sites before FB. E.g. MySpace was the market leader up to a few years ago. If Google makes a social networking site, it can take FB over. Don’t think that FB is eternal, that it will be there for you forever.
Suggestion: Make periodic backups of your FB profile
(Account->Settings->Download your information)

A Jew must worship God exclusively and no foreign or false gods.

With half a billion users you can encounter all kind of person on FB. It is a great place to connect to other cultures and recognize the value in all. It is also a great place to connect to fellow Jews in your own town, county, state, country and Israel
Suggestion: Support your local Jewish organizations on FB.

God communicates with humanity through prophecy.

Your favorite musician, politician, rabbi, artist, company, team, celebrity … communicates through status updates. You “like” them and follow their activities and words online. However following too many entities may fragment your attention and may bury you into an avalanche of unimportant information.
Suggestion: Fight the tyranny of recency over relevancy.

The prophecy of Moses is the greatest there is and ever will be.

There are people who seem credible online who really are not. There are forms of false prophecy on and offline, often looking like spam. Maimonides’ 12 modes of prophecies, organized by degree of clarity is helpful to identify them.
Suggestion: Read more about the levels of prophecies:

The Torah comes from God.

But what you read on FB does not. People say and write lots of things, motivated by a wide variety of reasons. They may lie about who they are and what they say. Check your sources of information before your trust them.
Suggestion: Think critically about what you read on FB.

The Torah cannot be changed.

FB is changing all the time. Not just the constantly growing content, but the framework, i.e. the features. It is important to follow the terms of service changes to adjust it to your own preferred privacy level.
Suggestion: Use

God knows and sees all.

FB was partially funded by Accel Partners, a company that has several people from venture capital firm established by the CIA. Law enforcement is using FB in its detective work to enforce the law.
Suggestion: Watch this video

God rewards and punishes people.

Your social network can reward and punish your actions. Coming through a single interface, it may feel as if it would be a single, depersonalized community. Don’t be mistaken by it. It consists of individuals.
Suggestion: Being mean on FB will haunt you.

The Messiah and the messianic era will arrive, some day.

Global Brain: Society as a living system, a universal knowledge network, a higher level of evolution.
Messianic Age: “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)
Suggestion: Think about how you see the Messianic Age and whether the developing Global Brain is bringing it?

God will resurrect the dead.

FB serves as memorial of deceased people. Friend and families leave messages for the dead to keep memories alive. “Memorialized” profiles are frozen with no login, not showing up in searches, only accessible to friends.
Suggestion: Memorialize your deceased friend’s account.