On the eve of Orthodox Easter, the post explores how powerful invisible forces – religious narratives – shape our lives with special apps and communities created to deepen one’s spiritual beliefs or expand cultural values.

Developing role models

For most people, the Easter season is the only time of the year to think about the sacred. A visit to a church, consumption of a traditional dish, or simply a Facebook liking of an Easter post is the frequent expressions of that seasonal religiosity.

Connecting with saints through apps (e.g. Online with Saints or iSanti) is another modern opportunity for experiencing spirituality in the digital age. This original idea was the main topic of a series of workshops by CeSPeC and AISSCA I attended in December 2021 and April 2022.

What distinguishes all those saint-focussed digital platforms, is that they offer users to connect with holy people directly and, additionally, find like-minded companions. For instance, Online with Saints (in English, French, Italian and Portuguese) allows interaction with 100+ saints. In the app, subscribers can explore social media profiles and videos of the saints and take a selfie with them.

Behind those somewhat weird actions, there are the irresistible but unconscious desires to develop one’s role models and with the newly-created narratives improve one’s life. That’s why it was very interesting for me to explore these ideas with the seminars by CeSPeC e AISSCA.

Developed at the intersection of semiotics, philosophy and social sciences, the events explore the concept of a person in its relations with moral and religious role models.

Engaging in collective narratives

connecting with saints through apps1

During the events, different researchers shared information on their studies devoted to various aspects of the topic. The most insightful for me were the sessions of Jenny Ponzo, the Principal Investigator of the research project NeMoSanctI and Professor of Semiotics at the University of Turin (Italy).

It studies how models of sanctity have changed in Italy. In the presentations based on her book “Le culture della persona” she presented critical insights into the mutual influence of role models and society.

“Nobody becomes a saint by their own choice, – states Jenny Ponzo. – By exploring biographies of holy people, we select certain qualities that resonate with our values. We collectively develop or exclude some features; gradually, those constructed characters start influencing our values. This process is multidimensional and dynamic. It is how we construct our identity with such complex narratives’.

Although the scholars apply the lenses of Catholicism to their studies, their results offer food for thought also to those who favour the orthodox or atheistic points of view. Indeed, as remarks Italian philosopher Umberto Galimberti, modern Christianity is not about religion; it has to do with culture, the collective unconscious.

Whatever your religious beliefs, the book “Le culture della persona” by Jenny Ponzo is a good starting point to broaden your horizons and challenge the outdated stereotypes.

The secret lives of digital spirits of the deceased expressed in grief bots and ologrammes (e.g. Eter9), seasonal online services by Santa Claus, the temporary vision of role models in the image of the Italian Rap Diva Myss Keta, the long-lasting effects of Marian apparitions or the apparition of the Virgin Mary (1933) in Banneux… These are just some thought-provoking case studies the book presents.

Enjoy the reading!