Monday, November 4, 2013

Christian Memes: Research Summary

Christian Memes is a Facebook page where users can submit and consume Christian internet memes. This case study used participant observation and online analysis to explore 13 religious memes collected from the site between August 30 and September 17, 2013.  It is important to look at this collection of memes because it provides insight into how Christians make sense of their everyday, lived religious lives (Ammerman, 2006) and how that sense-making process takes places within participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006). One distinct attribute of participatory culture is that it allows for collective knowledge to emerge. This collective knowledge can be negotiated through multiple and sometimes conflicting meanings.
Findings include that the meaning making process surrounding internet memes is a communal one. Meanings are contested and defended even on what some may see as the most simplistic of memes. This underscores the layered nature of memes, not only in the images and text used, but also in the decoding of meaning by different individuals. All memes contain layers of meaning and researchers must be cognizant of that fact throughout the research project. The image, text, context, and audiences’ collective knowledge – all contribute to the production and consumption of internet memes.Researchers need to attend not only to the meme itself, and the layers of text and image, but also to the audiences discussion about the meme as well as how they may take different layers and remix it into a new artifact.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Memes, Mormonism, and Mitt Romney - Final Synopsis

This collection of memes involved religious themes surrounding Mitt Romney’s faith and popular perceptions of Mormonism during the 2012 Presidential election. This study revealed two notable findings: first, religious memes are necessarily reductive in nature and second, memes at the intersection of faith and politics use humor to critique religion. Memes that featured Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs tended to be reductionist in nature, meaning that they essentialized Romney’s religious belief to its most simplistic terms. This created a caricature of Mormonism that its practitioners would neither recognize nor agree with. This was seen in all of the memes as both sacred items and aspects of LDS doctrine were mischaracterized or oversimplified. The truncated nature of the meme does not allow for development or discussion, rather offering a pithy or humorous caricature of Mormonism. This leads to a second issue, the use of humor for the purpose of critique.  All of the memes in this case study invoked humor by superiority, which features “people who are unintentionally, or at least not clearly intentionally, funny” (Shifman 2012, 196). Romney was cast as humorous through text highlighting decontextualized and seemingly ridiculous aspects of his faith. Another example showed Romney and Obama during the debate with the text, “Mitt Romney’s policies are like Joseph Smith’s golden plates; No one else has ever seen them and only stupid people buy that bull crap.” Disbelief in a key tenet of Mormon doctrine is expressed, illustrating how memes combining religion and political frames often simultaneously essentialized and critiqued using humor.

The above meme playfully captures the essence of Mitt Romney memes, which reduced complex religious discourse to simplistic concepts using humor.

The Buddy Christ: A Case Study Summary

Buddy Christ memes are inspired by the film Dogma (1999).  For this case study, examples of the Buddy Christ meme that expressly questioned or affirmed religious authority were selected for investigation.  The Buddy Christ meme case study revealed the importance of intertextuality in religious memes and how intertextuality can frame the communicative usage of religious memes online.  Buddy Christ memes juxtapose religious texts that assert authority with popular culture texts that question religious authority claims. Despite this contradictory message offered by the meme’s creators, seeming to undermine religious authority, memes about religion can also be framed to affirm the authority of religious leaders.  In this study, a religious leader’s choice to embrace the intertextuality of the Buddy Christ meme on a church blog generated reflexive discourse and an affirmation of religious authority.  Thus, this case study illustrates that religious memes can employ intertextuality that may either affirm or provoke religious authority, and represents a departure from traditional framings of religious authority online.

The Buddy Christ meme posted above was created specifically for this blog in order to illustrate the findings of this case study.  This meme exemplifies both the visual and intertextual characteristics of the body of Buddy Christ memes online.  Here, the colorful and parodic image of the Buddy Christ serves as the background, with a superimposed textual message.  Like many Buddy Christ memes, the text included here references biblical text – specifically, the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in John 14:6 – and modifies them in a way that does not acknowledge their original authoritative intent.  Moreover, this Buddy Christ meme acknowledges the intertextual and reflexive nature of the meme as a communicative unit by noting its usability in discursive contexts online, namely blogs.  This Buddy Christ meme is a newly generated and representative example of the memes investigated by this case study.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Advice God" - Key Finding

"Advice god" meme series is a collection of memes featuring the image of the Judo-Christian god, as depicted in Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam centered in the background used for the meme series "advice animals" (colorful triangles). During this study, 12 memes were chosen from meme websites (Such as:,, as well as a Facebook group and a blog which featured the meme.  The sampling strategy was focused on representing two aspects: The memes' construction process and memes which had audience reactions (that is, memes published in the blog and Facebook page). The focus was to explore the presentation of religion in these anti-religious memes.
As noted, these memes present god as an ethically questionable entity and of religion as contradictory and ridiculous. One clear example of that is the title of the page presenting the memes: "God is an Epic Troll: The Best of the Advice God Meme".
Through the process of spreading, creating and commenting on these memes, users take part in embedding meaning to religion – albeit, a negative one. Therefore, one of the key findings of this study is the need to distinguish between memes about religion and religious memes. The above added meme tries to tackle this understanding by asking if any meme with a religious symbol, is necessary a religious meme.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Twitting Orthodoxies Memes - A summary

"TwittingOrthodoxies"  is an Israeli-Jewish Facebook page, which features posting on Israeli-Jewish religious practices, community and cultural topics including memes. A sampling of memes appearing from September 2012 to August 2013, one meme per month, was taken to create a representation of memes focused around Jewish holidays and religious events, but also day-to-day routines. Selected memes employed images and texts drawing on international popular culture content (i.e. content related to movies, celebrities and organizations) combined with expressions of Jewish commandments, rituals and sacred texts. These memes are produced in Hebrew and were translated to English for this study.
This case study stresses that digital culture creates a space for lived religious practice, so religion can function as an exegetical frame that can engages secular, popular culture and religious Jewish people within a shared contemporary discourse. Rather than being seen as purely outside popular culture, religion can be understood as able to engage with through such intertextual communication in Internet memes. Memes allow religious groups to attach new meanings to cultural artifacts, and religious ideal practices can become tool for culture jamming in meme culture. These breaks the construction of the religious meta-narrative into fragmented, smaller understandings of religion that at the same time affirm the larger meta-narrative.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Religious Memes in Election 2012: Mitt Romney and the Mormon Faith

The memes which circulated during the 2012 presidential cycle took on a variety of different forms, especially when religious issues were considered. As the challenging candidate from a religious background unfamiliar to a number of people, Mitt Romney faced a significant challenge. As a Mormon candidate, Romney was tasked with making his religion understandable and reasonable to the public. However, as we will see in the analysis of memes that focused on his faith, it seems as though he did not familiarize the public with his beliefs sufficiently. This post will focus on three memes regarding Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith that were posted on three blogs. I will briefly discuss the content of the blog in which each meme was posted, and then review the reader comments (when applicable) in order to explicate how the blog readers attempted to shape the meaning of the memes as well as  the messages the audiences took from the memes. I will conclude by discussing how the way religion was treated in these memes was either effective or problematic. Understanding how these memes are used to communicate and/or interrogate religious belief in a political context will further our knowledge of how politics and religious beliefs intersect in meaningful ways.

The first meme was posted on June 24, 2012 to the blog, “a voice from the rustbelt” in a post entitled, “Appraising presidential candidates.” The author of the blog is a Catholic individual who, while not intending his blog as a religious or political forum, nonetheless acknowledges the importance of these two issues and includes them among the topics of his “essays.” The blog in which this meme appeared criticizes Romney for his Mormon faith, calling Mormonism “a fraud . . . secretive and deceptive” (Rustbelt, 2012). He further states that while “one cannot blame one for being born into a religion,” is is important to note that Catholic theology “is open, and fully academic, and viewable,”
while Mormon theology is n

The author then goes on to evaluate the critical thinking capacity of LDS members, who he argues, “are taught not to answer direct questions on their beliefs . . . Romney lies . . . with nonchalance” (Rustbelt, 2012: Appraising presidential candidates). He later goes on to describe Obama’s church attending record (at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago), but fails to provide any evaluation of Obama’s faith or veracity.

The meme featured in this blog post seems to underscore the notion that Mormon theology does not encourage critical thinking, using as a case-in-point the fact that Romney has defended marriage as between one man and one woman, but had a great-grandfather who was a polygamist. In this context, then, the meme is intended to underscore the idea that Romney must be a poor choice as a president because his religious upbringing discouraged critical thinking. This lack of critical thinking becomes even more problematic when we consider the author’s assertion that LDS theology is “highly secretive.” Being brought up in a secretive theology, in the author’s explanation, also leads to being secretive and deceptive, both qualities that it are undesirable in a president. While there are no comments posted to the blog, it is interesting to consider the way in which this meme was used to reinforce a discussion of Mitt Romney’s faith in a political context.

The second meme entitled, “Mitt Romney is a Mormon,” was posted on the “Atheist Revolution” blog in July 2012. The goal of the blog, according to the author, is “breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism” (Atheist Revolution, 2012: About). The author, as the title of the blog implies, is an Atheist who blogs about political and religious issues in order to promote Atheist thought and activism.

This blog post focuses not on evaluating Romney’s faith, but rather to discuss the strategies employed by the GOP to deal with the fact that “roughly 18% of Americans polled say they would not vote for a Mormon candidate” (Atheist Revolution, 2012: Romney is a Mormon). The author then goes on to surmise that in places where Obama is extremely unpopular (such as Mississippi), Romney will likely win. The author wonders why it is that the media have not more thoroughly covered the fact that Romney is a Mormon and contrasts Romney’s faith with Atheism and Scientology. The author closes by predicting that, in the event that an Atheist or Scientologist ran for the presidency, “everyone would accept the need to inform the public” (Atheist Revolution, 2012: Mitt Romney is a Mormon).

The meme used included in the blog post, as shown above, seems to challenge the reasonableness of LDS theology. However, the content of the meme does not appear in the blog post, leaving the reader to his or her own interpretation of how the meme should be read. This blog post had eighteen comments, a number of which reflect on the nature of religious belief in the political sphere, while a few mock Mitt Romney’s faith. Interestingly, none of the responses interact with the content of the meme, suggesting that in this case the actual content of the blog is more meaningful to the readers than the pithy meme. For this meme, then, the interpretation remains open: neither the blogger nor the readers attempt to negotiate its meaning, instead preferring to discuss how the role of religion in politics could change in the future.

The final meme was posted in a blog from “Religious poisons” entitled, “This is what Mitt Romney believes” during June 2012. The goal of the blog is “to show how religion poisons the mind,” characterizing religion as harmful and unnecessary, and “a direct threat to the survival of humankind (Religious Poisons, 2013: About). The post is brief, stating:

This man is close to becoming the most powerful man on the planet. He is the
Republican Party’s main contender to challenge Obama for the presidency of the USA. He is a man of faith and an active follower of the church of mormonism. Among other things, mormons believe in Kolub. They also believe in magic underwear. Are you feeling safer now (Religion Poisons, 2012: This is what Mitt Romney believes)?

Clearly, the point of this blog entry is to mock Romney’s faith, essentializing it down to two issues (Kolob and sacred undergarments) in order to discredit Romney as a candidate. The meme here reinforces the author’s interpretation of Mormon faith as irrational, further referencing Mormon belief in “Kolub.”

This blog had a number of responses that included the topics of correcting the blog’s author, and discussing the racism in the church’s past. The first commenter (Eldoon Feeb) corrects the blogger’s spelling of Kolob, provides the correct definition of Kolob as a star rather than a planet, and brings up the significance of skin color to Mormon theology. This Feeb is then corrected by another commenter (Christian) who refutes the importance of skin color, citing information from the LDS website as support that race is no longer a factor in LDS theology. Another commenter, (RP) criticizes Christian’s use of “pick-n-mix” theology, and Feeb jumps back into the conversation, arguing that by Christian’s logic, the founders of the LDS church could not be considered disciples of Christ. The comment thread ends with Feeb’s critique.

In this blog, the author’s comments, combined with the blog, served as a jumping-off point for discussion LDS beliefs. While the blog author and meme essentialized the Mormon faith, the commenters (some who appeared to be Mormon, or at least very familiar with Mormonism), were quick to jump in and make sure that the Mormon faith was being represented correctly. The meme content was thus described as correct by the blog author, but reshaped by the commenters to provide a fuller understanding of Romney’s faith (although Romney was not mentioned at all in the comments).

The memes highlighted here reveal a few important things: first, the way that the religious meaning is negotiated in memes is highly contextual. The nature of the outlet in many ways determines the readership, thus affecting what type of people will interact with the meme. In the case of the first meme, there were no readers, leaving the meaning supplied by the author unchallenged. In the second meme, the audience chose to address a different issue than that referenced by the meme, subordinating its meaning to the larger claims of the blog author. In the final meme, a number of people with religious knowledge were among the readership of the blog and provided their understanding as a means of reshaping our understanding of Mormonism by using the incorrect information of the meme as point of departure for a larger discussion. Memes, then, can be both problematic or effective depending on the audience that they reach. If the meme demonstrates an incorrect or incomplete understanding of a particular religious perspective it becomes the task of the audience to enhance or reshape that understanding. Where the audience is well informed and robust, memes can serve as a catalyst for effective dialogue; where the audience is absent or ill-informed, the meme will serve to reinforce the meme’s necessarily reductionist view.

Reading Memes in an Internet Public: Christian Memes

I chose two seemingly simplistic memes in order to reflect on how they can communicate multiple and conflicting messages.


One might not think there could be many different readings of this meme given its nature of “playfulness” as described by Shifman (2011). Basically it is a word game for the users of Christian Memes to figure out. In this case, the word “John” both refers to the slang for “toilet” and for John, the disciple of Jesus. Thus, 1 John refers to the first “john” or toilet in the U.S., which is pictured, and also the book of the Bible believed to be written by John the disciple.
However, during this decoding process it becomes evident that people can construct their own meanings and share those meanings with others, thus creating “spreadable media,” (Jenkins, 2006) and generating shared knowledge.
For instance, some people found the meme offensive. Relating the word of God with a toilet was defiling. However, the community rallied around the meme and created different meanings about the nature of God. One user wrote, “oh dear, too funny, God does have a sense of humor ya’ll.” Another chimes in, “In case everybody didn’t know, Jesus had to use the restroom at times. Fully human, yet fully God.” We can see from these comments that they reject the notion that a play on words including a toilet is offensive and even reconcile it by reflecting on the nature of Jesus, as the son of God, being both human and divine.

Church Potlucks

This meme provides a way for users to reflect on the culture of the Christian church potluck. Some churches get together for a community meal, with individuals and families bringing their favorite dish to share. The meme reflects on the nature of the church potluck, and the religious practice of fellowship through the breaking of break, by showing a woman in a kayak paddling her way through mounds of potatoes.
What is interesting about the different messages associated with this meme is the way people interject their own potluck experiences. For instance, one user reflects on the difference in an international church: “Filipino churches does it x10 more food than American churches!” Another user relates it to the promised land for the Israelites: “Is this the Southern version of ‘The land flowing with mild and honey?’” This is interesting because it reflects on the fact that God takes care of his people by providing good food for them to share, such as He did with the Israelites.
Another user relates how he feels about potlucks: “How I feel at church potlucks: ‘Oh my gosh I don’t know what to do!!!! I can’t tell if that’s chicken or pork! Who knows what went into that macaroni...’ #IEatKosher. So this experience refers to the fact that the food is not always the best at potlucks and one may never know what they are about to put into their mouths. Another interesting aspect is the hashtag supplied at the end, “#IEatKosher.” Is this person Jewish and commenting on the Christian Meme site? Are they relating the way we eat back to Biblical times and saying Christians should eat kosher as well?

What the brief examination of these two memes reflects is that meaning making is a communal process for users on Christian Memes. Meanings are contested and defended even on what some may see as the most simplistic of memes. This underscores the layered nature of memes, not only in the images and texts used, but also in the decoding of meaning by different individuals.