#Ilovehashtags

In a moment of serendipitous coincidence I had just decided to write something about hashtags and Twitter when my cousin posted this video on Facebook of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake showing us how dumb we sound when we use hashtags.

To some extent I agree with my good friends J and J, using too many hashtags is perhaps a sign of including one’s self in a peer led trend of hashtagging rather than actually using a hashtag to join in with a conversation.  By which I mean a hashtag that is so unique that you are the only one using it means that you are in a community of one. But the reverse does apply, using a hashtag can be a  means of community affiliation.

Take this example from my own social media use.  And I use social media… a lot.  My favourite hashtag is #PhDchat where other PhDs in numerous fields post their queries, thoughts, links to blogs and statements about how their day has been.  When I talk to non-Twitter users about Twitter the most common reason they give for not using it is that they dont care what Joe Public had for his lunch.  Fine, I say, dont follow Joe Public, follow Joe *insert your interest here* and find out what he’s being doing lately that is relevant to YOUR interests. So when a PhD posts on #PhDchat about having a crappy writing day I know that there are others in the same boat. Or even better when  a PhD posts about how they managed to work their way out of a crappy writing day I have some tips and tricks to try for myself.

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And of course, I use social media for research on New Religious Movements online. And its important to note that hashtagging a post with a religion’s name can be a way of affiliating to that community and the conversation around it.

I obviously keep track of anything #indigochildren.  But I also follow #jediism, #scientology, and search for others as and when.  By doing this I have come across several interesting trends I would not have noticed otherwise, one of which is informing a paper and the other will most likely have to take up most of a chapter in my thesis.  By following the worldwide conversation I am getting to hear what people think about these topics.  I am also noticing HOW they use the social media form.  For example, Twitter allows space for 140 characters, but I have noticed a large number of people JUST posting “Indigo Children” (only 14 characters).  Why is this?  Is it a form of shout out, a way of getting attention for the idea that they are exploring?  Is it a way of identifying themselves publically as Indigos? Is it a way of starting a conversation? I am contacting people who have done this to see what they say, and this will be an interesting area of social media use to explore further.

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So J and J, yes I enjoyed your video, but there is more to hastagging than just following a trend.  But it was #lol. #sofunny. #andIlikedhowyoumadethehashtagswithyourhands.

In Which the Author Does Some MORE Fieldwork

I attended another Mind Body ‘Soul’ Fair this weekend in Peterborough and did the same freelisting exercise as in my last fieldwork post.  Here are some of my thoughts and initial findings from this work:

1. This event was held in a conference hall on a showground and was a good ten to fifteen minutes taxi ride from the station, unlike the Kings Lynn event where the Corn Exchange was in the centre of town. This was bound to mean that less casual footfall could be expected, but that the people who made their way to this event were much more intentional and interested in the topic than casual shoppers or gawkers.  Talking to the stall holders the previous day, the Saturday, had been quieter, but the day I went, Sunday, did not seem as busy as the one day Fayre in Kings Lynn.

Interestingly the marketing called it a Mind Body Soul Event, and I am more used to seeing Mind Body and Spirit. As Spiritual is one of my terms on my freelisting leaflet I was particularly interested to see what words came out of that section.  One person I spoke to said that they were considering taking Spiritual off of their branding for their therapies.  That’s just one anecdote and hardly indicative of a general change in attitude but something of interest.

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2.  Again at this fair there was a mix of stalls, both those selling items and those selling treatments or readings.  There was very little privacy for the latter, and I had to make sure I wasnt interupting a client when I approached the stall holder with my freelisting leaflet.  Only one reader, a tarot reader, had an enclosed curtained off space.  I chose stallholders again as they were relatively stationary and I prefered leaving the leaflet with them to fill out rather than standing over them.  There were about 40 stalls and some of those I recognised from Kings Lynn.  In  total I got 19 returned leaflets, slightly less than at Kings Lynn.  But my method of approach was quite chatty and time consuming so I didnt expect to hand out many.  Doing this also meant that I had a chance to make new contacts and I have two possible interviewees lined up.

3.  Like Kings Lynn the stallholders and visitors were primarily white.  There was one black stallholder selling Egyptian items such as Ankhs, bookmarks, statues and oils, two Indian stallholders jointly representing the Brahma Kumaris and another Asian looking gentleman offering massage and reiki treatments.

4. As for my word results… I got more words in response to the words “Indigo Children” this time round, though again some were not specific to the category and might have been guesses, e.g. Blue, Purple, Heart, Soul.  Several people asked me what they were.  Some answers made it clear that the writer HAD heard of them before: autism, disabled, pioneers, or the very specific “More evolved children coming into incarnation to deal with the new age”.  When it came to the words “New Age”, there were some very negative responses again:  losers, slackers, misfits, hippies, needy, sloppy and fluffy.  The worst being “smells”.  The most popular response was again Hippy/Hippies. The 1960s and travellers popped up again.  It is definitely worth bearing in mind this reaction to the term New Age as I will still probably have to use it in my descriptions of the milieu I am looking at.

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Under Parenting, the word Love stormed home with by far the most responses.  But interestingly, again, words around hard work and duty appeared frequently as well as teaching and guiding.

Under Spiritual the word ‘Higher’ appeared in conjunction with other words, as in Higher Good, Higher Consciousness, Higher Power, Higher Self, suggesting a location for the spiritual at least in a metaphorical sense.  My favourite response to Spiritual was “Me ;)”

5. Someone suggested I look at the order in which the words were written down, but I cant guarantee that people followed the numbering I put on my leaflets.  But, assuming that people write left to right, I might collate all the words in the first position as they should be people most immediate responses to the terms. 

This was another very useful exercise even if my sampling is quite small.  I hope to run it another couple of times depending on what fairs I can get to. 

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In Which the Author Does Some Fieldwork…

I went to a ‘Mind Body Spirit Fayre’ on Saturday in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. I’m going to use this space to write up some thoughts and issues with this bit of fieldwork.  This is a bit stream of consciousness-y but bear with me!

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1. This wasnt an ‘Indigo event’ but a more general holistic/New Age/Spiritual fayre.  There were about fifty stalls (or ‘over sixty’ according to the marketing) including trinket-y ones with small angel statues and artwork, crystal stalls, therapist and psychic reader stalls, and remedy stalls selling products based on herbs and new technologies etc (such as a Neal’s Yard stall, an Aloe Vera stall, a waist-loss wrap system etc etc).

2. The stall holders and attendees varied in background, some seemed more middle to upper class, others had tattoos, multiple piercings etc.  Age range was wide, from small children to retirees, and I’d say that the majority of people I spoke to were women. I only saw two black people, a father and a female toddler.  No other ethnic minorities as far as I saw.

3.  I had to take the Toddler with me (the other half was sick) which presented a few issues.  First, I intended to spend much more time at the fayre than I managed to, working around the Toddler’s lunch, nappy changes etc. Second, the Toddler  needed to be set free from his buggy at one point to burn off excess energy after a nap.  This meant I spent a good half an hour to an hour walking fast in laps of the hall following a speedy little human.  I didnt get much fieldwork/survey work done in this time apart from smiling at the people I had already spoken to and bonding with those who had children too.  There were a few children at the fayre but most were older than the Toddler.  Two little girls were handing out business cards for their mother’s crystal business.  I tried to get the Toddler to hand out my free-listing forms (more on this below) but he ran off with the plastic envelope they were in.  When he was tied down he was a pretty good ice-breaker, even when pretending to be shy!

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4.  Free-listing.  I tried a research method I had seen Knut Melvaer and Margrethe Loov talk about during their presentation on fayres in Norway at BASR.  I dont think I did it in quite the same way as I left my forms with people to fill out rather than recording their immediate responses.  I chose four terms and left space for four responses.  These terms were, in this order: New Age, Spiritual, Indigo Children and Parenting.  I made it clear I was a PhD researcher but didnt tell them that Indigo Children are the focus of my thesis until after they had filled in the forms.  I emphasized that they could fill as much or as little as they wanted to/could.  Many admitted that they didnt know what Indigos were and were going to google it, but I had impressed on them that I wanted their immediate responses.

5.  This morning I systematised the responses I received and I am very interested in the particulars of the responses, and the patterns I can see that a full on statistical breakdown (with 23 responses the sample is too small for any major statistical work!).  So for instance, under New Age I can see that the most common responses are (in descending order): ‘Hippy’, ‘Music’, and then in joint position: ‘1960s’, ‘Alternative’, ‘Futuristic’, ‘Modern’ and ‘Traveller’.  Negative words are also very interesting, with New Age receiving ‘Rubbish’, ‘Silly’ and ‘False’, while parenting was dominated by words around ‘hard work’ such as ‘Tough’, ‘Stress’ and ‘Regret’.  The term New Age is not particularly liked by what academics refer to AS the New Age Movement!

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6. I received the least responses for ‘Indigo Children’, and many of the responses were more like impressions of the term (‘Blue’, ‘Moon’, ‘Colour’) and suggest that the respondents arent all that familiar with the term.  Certainly many of them said as much when they handed the forms back and I really had to emphasis it wasnt a test with right or wrong answers! This supports (to a small degre given the sample size!) my impression that the Indigo Child phenomena is more widespread online than offline where it is so geographically widespread that it hasnt as yet made a large impression on the New Age Movement.  It was really useful to speak with people from the general holistic milieu to get this perspective: just talking to Indigos could give the impression that its a paradigm shifting idea that is overwhelming held by many.

6.  Some of the responses were hard to read due to spelling errors or handwriting, and I am tempted to speculate on educational background, but I dont have biographical evidence for that.

In all I am pretty pleased with how things went and I am planning to go to another fayre this Saturday/Sunday where I will repeat these research methods… but hopefully leave the toddler at home!

I’d Like to Thank the Academy….

I’m cheating a little bit today and posting the report on the BASR/EASR I wrote for my college funding but I’ve added a few bits here and there, especially in the gratuitous thank you section… but I did genuinely have a lovely time and there are a lot of people who made that possible…

WARNING: You are entering a link heavy zone!

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BASR/EASR Conference, RELIGION, MIGRATION, MUTATION.

I arrived in Liverpool on Tuesday 3rd September after a four hour journey involving two taxis, two trains and a tube, knowing full well that 1) the journey back would involve yet another train and 2) that the British Association for the Study of Religion (BASR) conference is well worth the effort.

This year the conference was hosting their European sister organisation, the EASR, and the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). That alone promised a wide variety of papers and scholars, but having attended the two previous BASR conferences I knew that the conference attracted the very best in British scholars already.

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On the Tuesday my main priority was registering and meeting up with a local interviewee for my PhD research on the Indigo Children and the New Age. The first of the papers would be the next day, apart from Maya Berger’s (President – EASR) keynote on the Ramayana’s migrations and mutations, as per the theme of the conference. Linda Woodhead also presented in the evening on the findings from the UK’s Religion and Society Programme.

On the Wednesday I started the day with a panel on Scientology and the Freezone, featuring James R.Lewis of Tromso University. As I am working on a book chapter investigating online conflict using Scientology and its schisms as a case study this was particularly useful. After a tea break, I chose a panel on contemporary Paganism, another research interest, but nine other panels were also available on such disparate subjects as Orthodox Nationalism, Homosexuality, Global Islam, and the Census. In fact, after lunch, I gave the first of my two papers during another panel on the UK Census:   “Blame Sheila: The 2011 UK Census, ‘Other Religion’ and the Rhetoric of Narcissism” which used Jediism as a case study for responses to ‘Other’ religions. As there was also a third panel on the Census, this seems to have been of great interest to religious studies scholars and it will be a shame if the religion question is removed, or the Census abandoned as has been suggested.

That evening we had Graham Harvey’s (President – BASR) key note speech on the mutations that need to take place in our understanding of ‘religion’.    This illuminating speech was followed by the Religious Studies Project’s annual gameshow involving some of the elder statesmen of the BASR, this year based on the TV show, ‘Pointless’. Special mention must be given to the hosts, David Robertson and Chris Cotter for showing up the gaps in knowledge amongst BASR members who answered the questionnaire the game was based on.  I for one completely failed to recognise Dorothy Martin from the small UFO-cult in Festinger’s study, When Prophecy Fails, something I have done quite a bit of work and teaching on… and my supervisor has just published a book on.  Oops!

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On the Thursday I decided to start my morning with some Heavy Metal , as you do, and went to a panel called “God Listens (to Slayer)”.  Interestingly enough, Drone Metal (discussed by Owen Coggins, OU) was actually quite soporific… After this I went to a panel based around the new book on Non-Religion and Secularity.  This was a very popular panel, with people willing to sit on the floor to attend, which goes to show the level of interest in the developing field of Non-religion and Secularity studies, represented at Cambridge and Kent by Lois Lee.  Amusingly, I asked a question about respondents to a survey who had put Jedi as a satirical answer, and I was pleased to have my own research on the subjects cited back to me!  Kim Knott’s keynote that evening on ‘Religion, Migration and Integration’ introduced a more spatial approach to the study of religion I had not considered as my research is more a-spatial and internet based. And then of course there was the Gala Dinner and some academics dancing to a Beatles tribute band… perhaps the less said about that the better!

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On the last day I attended a panel on New Religious Movements and was very interested to hear about the ‘Jesus of Siberia’ who is leading a religious community in the wilderness. And then after more tea came the final panels of the conference.  These included one on Religion and Conspiracy Theories were I presented my second paper, this time on my thesis research: “Big Bad Pharma: New Age Biomedical Conspiracy Narratives and their Expression in the Concept of the Indigo Child”.  Ethan Quillen’s (conjurer of atheist conceptions) use of Donald’s Rumsfeld’s categories of knowledge to define atheism was amusing and illuminating.  Thanks to David Robertson of Edinburgh (Professor of archaeology, expert in the occult and acquirer of rare antiquities…) for organising this panel and asking me to be on it, and to Stef Aupers of Erasmus for chairing.

Thanks also to ‘Tylor Guy’ and ‘Phenomenology Guy’ (Liam Sutherland and J.D.F.Tuckett) for being so entertaining… to Knut Malvaer and Margrethe Loov for inspiring new research methodologies for my own PhD… to David Wilson for responding to my research requests via Twitter…  to Stephen Gregg and his floral shirt for organising the whole shindig… to Eileen Barker of INFORM, Jim Cox, Dawn Llewellyn, Wee Beth, Jaspreet Kaur, Suzanne Owen (The Doctor), Teemu Taira, George Chryssides, Abby Day and many many others for some really interesting conversations over the course of the conference…

Looking forward to next year!