Gender, Religion, and Virtual Diasporas

The rise of web-based social spaces has expanded the political sphere beyond the boundaries of the nation state, while also disseminating and shaping religious ideologies. Minority groups in diasporas use their increasing online representation to challenge mainstream perceptions about them and to create transnational virtual communities. The gendered constructions of Hindu identities in the virtual sphere are analysed here, examining the discourses of Hindu conservative groups and post-immigrant progressive groups.

As critical aspects of diasporic life have migrated into virtual spaces, a number of scholars (Diamandaki 2003; Kissau and Hunger 2010) have been tracking the ways in which cultural practices are made and remade via these spaces. Some scholars (Bennett and Iyengar 2008; McDonald 2015; Mitra 2001, 2005; Mitra and Gajjala 2008) note that the open and decentralised nature of the internet makes it an important tool for marginalised communities to bypass mainstream media networks and create their own spaces to challenge the constraints and hierarchies they face in the offline world. Others (Elias and Zeltser-Shorer 2006; Georgiou and Silverstone 2007; Ignacio 2005; Mandaville 2003) highlight the power of the internet to create transnational networks and virtual communities, connecting diasporic groups not only within their homeland, but also with members in different parts of the world. Finally, scholars contend that the internet, social media, and other digital tools have enabled diasporic groups to construct and articulate ethnic and political identities, disseminate information, and mobilise global support for issues important to them (Bernal 2006; Georgiou 2006; Georgiou and Silverstone 2007).

In contrast, sceptics (Hargiittai 2008) claim that while the internet can challenge the restrictions minority groups face offline, it can also reinforce existing inequalities online. Scholars argue that, just like offline environments, virtual spheres are dominated by powerful groups who can control both information production and its representation (Friedman 2017; Morozov 2011). Furthermore, given the lack of regulation and availability of broad audiences, cyberspace has emerged as an unprecedented platform for the proliferation of ideological websites to shape conversations and enhance the reach of their propaganda within and across nations (Awan 2017; Howard 2006; Lal 1999; Narayan and Purkayastha 2011). Thus, despite the promise of diversity and heterogeneity, scholars claim that the architecture of the internet with its use of algorithms and news filters has facilitated the spread of homogenised and simplistic messages, creating echo chambers that limit our exposure to views that do not conform to our own cultural and traditional attitudes and beliefs.

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Updated On : 26th Apr, 2019

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