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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

The Spiritual Navigator website offers a bulletin board system (BBS) for dialogues, weblogs for individual monologues, and a psychological test so the user can determine his/her own mental state. The results of covariance structure analyses, where questions in the psychological test are the independent variable and the number of postings to the BBS/weblog is the dependent variable, suggest that motivations for BBS interaction and for blogging are quite different. The less tolerant a user is of different views, the more often that user posts to the BBS. Some users who initially post actively to the BBS stop posting there (e.g., in response to criticism) but continue to post to their own weblogs (including their responses to criticism). Given this situation, it is suggested that a system such as the Spiritual Navigator that combines online dialogue and monologue, and that is designed to balance conflicts with stability, could bring about the observance of face-saving ritual (in Goffman’s term) or Habermas-like discourse ethics in the public sphere on the Internet.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

Motivation

This research aims to develop a means of describing important commonalities shared among value systems, their crucial differences, and their comparative stages of development, in order to establish the basis for potential dialogue and communicative exchange in public spheres, including the Internet.1 The research method can be adapted to various value-oriented domains, such as politics and public policy, morality and ethical principles in life, religion and spirituality, feminism, and NGO (non-governmental organization) activities. For those purposes, it is important to analyze communication gaps (and thus communication failures) both within a value system (e.g., among practitioners/believers of/in a particular religion), and among value systems (e.g., between different religions, and more generally between religions and individuals, especially those individuals who do not think of themselves as “religious”).

Understanding these gaps or failures will then enable us to propose a general model of Habermas-like (1992) discourse ethics (including rules for discourse) for such dialogues, or, in Goffman’s (1967) term, a ritual online that can be implemented as a software/communication system protocol designed to overcome these gaps and encourage communicative exchanges online.

Although these methods may be applied to various value-oriented domains, in this article an analysis of communication gaps—especially a quantitative and qualitative analysis of conflicts and intolerance in Web-based dialogue and monologue—will be applied towards a consideration of religious and spiritual computer-mediated communication (CMC). This focus is in keeping with this author’s studies to date in areas related to religion and spirituality as typical examples of value-oriented domains.

Spirituality

“Spirituality” is a topic of growing interest in religious studies and the sociology of religion. Heelas (2002) remarked on an intermediate class of people who are neither believers in traditional religion nor atheists, referring to their attitudes as “spirituality.” Apparently, there has been an increase in the proportion of such “spiritual” people in Heelas’ sense; an increase in phenomena related to spirituality (including interest in healing and fortune telling) has been observed in Japan as well.

Researchers have yet to agree on a common definition of spirituality. Heelas’ (2002) view, however, is typical: Spirituality is something religious that is distinct from typical or traditional religions or religious bodies. In addition, Suzuki (1991) has postulated that spirituality is the basis for religions.

In this article, the concept of spirituality is defined in a narrow sense as belief in, and acts based upon, an invisible power and existence that are useful for people without a specific religion, in order for them to obtain peace of mind or something for which to live. Spirituality is also understood to include beliefs and acts that are similar to religion, yet are distinct from religious organizations. At the same time, Suzuki’s (1991) broader sense of spirituality may also be applied to believers within religious bodies and can be understood as a prerequisite to religious belief.

Religion and spirituality are thus closely related. In religion, interactive communication has performed an important function since ancient times. For religious bodies, religious dialogues are a means for proselytizing or stimulating believers; for believers, such dialogues provide an understanding of the world, based on the doctrine or dogma of their religion. Therefore, we can expect a strong similarity between religious communication and spiritual communication, and both should be closely related.

In fact, in recent years, a growing number of people have engaged in religious and/or spiritual communication on the Internet. Larsen (2001) reported that a Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that up to 25% of the Internet population of the United States engaged in religious and/or spiritual communication. A more recent Pew investigation found that this figure had reached 64% (Hoover, Clark, & Rainie, 2004). The increasing diffusion of the Internet has expanded research into investigations regarding “religious and/or spiritual CMC” or “religion and the Internet” (e.g., Dawson & Cowan, 2004).

A Melting Pot as a Suitable Environment for Spiritual CMC

The United States and Japan are especially suitable environments for research on religious or spiritual CMC. It is generally accepted that the U.S. is a melting pot and is currently faced with the serious challenge of a rapprochement with Islam. Similarly, Japan is a religious melting pot that incorporates Buddhism and Christianity as so-called world religions and Shinto (based on animism and shamanism) as the national religion. Furthermore, both are secular, advanced, industrial countries that share common democratic principles. Interesting differences also accompany these similarities. While the main religion of the U.S. is Christianity, a Western monotheistic religion, in Japan, the religions are mainly Buddhism and Shinto, i.e., Eastern, (usually) polytheistic religions. A comparative approach that considered both these similarities and differences could be useful in researching spiritual communication from a worldwide point of view. Our research, therefore, may lead to important findings for multi-religious and multi-cultural societies such as the U.S. and Japan, and, more broadly, for a multi-religious world.

Japan’s unique virtue is that various traditional religions co-exist without serious social conflict, and these have spread on both a horizontal cultural axis and a vertical time axis. The horizontal, or cultural axis represents a variety of traditional religions, as mentioned above. Shinto, with its polytheistic attitudes, serves as a backdrop, showing a simultaneous acceptance of various transcendental entities such as Kami (gods) and Buddhas. The time, or vertical axis, shows that Japan also has a variety of new religions that have emerged over the last 200 years, based on traditional religions. These new religions and spirituality have the same “vitalistic conception of salvation” (Shimazono, 1999), in which everything is an expression of “life” as a whole. They further share their polytheistic worldviews as a common root.

Japan is also often characterized as one of the most secular among the advanced nations, and the Japanese are often characterized as “irreligious.” Studies carried out by the Japanese government (ISM, 2007) indicate that no more than three in 10 people say, “I believe in any religion.” Rather, there is a tendency for people to hate both the word and the concept of “religion.” However, most Japanese people participate in traditional folk religious rituals, such as New Year’s visits to shrines or temples. About 100 million people visit Shinto shrines or temples during the first three days of each new year (National Police Agency, 2006). Between 60% and 70% of the population visit their family grave several times a year, and more than half of the Japanese people have Shinto and/or Buddhist altars set up in their homes (NHK, 2004). In this light, “secularization” in Japan might be nothing more than a judgment made from a Western monotheistic perspective. In Japan, few people commit to a single “religion” as in the West, and many are engaged in polytheistic practices that seem “quasi-religious” from a Western perspective. This suggests that the Japanese are familiar with the concept of spirituality and can therefore experiment with spiritual CMC without a sense of discomfort.

Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

Discourse Ethics and a System Portfolio for Spiritual Communication

Spiritual communication is not a new point of discussion in sociology. In his sociology of religion, Durkheim (1970) divided the world into two domains, the Sacred and Profane. He suggested that we have modernized, moving away from the worship of a God and towards the worship of the individual (Durkheim, 1970). Goffman (1967) subsequently analyzed interactions between individuals, showing a detailed interaction process wherein various rituals serve to show one person’s respect for another person’s honor or to save one’s own face. Goffman (1967) suggested that the individual is sacred, and he found that the worship of others is a basic principle of social integration.

This line of thought from Durkheim (1970) to Goffman (1967) approximates the concept of spirituality defined above and spiritual communication in two respects. First, spiritual communication is performed in order to obtain peace of mind or something for which to live and often includes belief in and acts based upon an invisible power and existence that are useful for people. The concept of the sacred individual can be related to the idea of “an invisible power and existence.” Second, exercising such communication requires both a respect for others and rituals suitable for manifesting this. These rituals, following Goffman’s (1967) thoughts about interaction, are rules according to which people preserve the sacred (human dignity) in interactions. Respect for another person’s honor and preservation of one’s own face can be considered prerequisites for communication on sensitive matters such as spirituality.

Various rituals for worshipping others, such as civil inattention and avoidance rituals, function in face-to-face interactive situations, as Goffman (1967) pointed out. However, such rituals are not yet available as an established system implementaion on the Internet. Moreover, Habermas (1992) began developing his discourse ethics—which bases the justification of norms on the rational agreement of those subject to them—regarding debate in the public sphere in the 1960s, but he was not able to envisage the current situation with the Internet.

In order to carry out spiritual communications on the Internet, it is desirable to implement ritual or discourse ethics for public communication as a software environment that facilitates face-saving rituals for users and their interlocutors or as a protocol that instantiates discourse ethics for better online dialogue, and various mechanisms are required for that purpose. As a place for carrying out such spiritual communication, my collaborators and I have built and managed an integrated system comprised of a system portfolio that integrates two software tools. One is a bulletin board system (BBS) for dialogues, and the other is a weblog for monologues, including responses to conflicts left unresolved in the BBS dialogues.

BBSs and Weblogs

Previous research has described the strong points of BBSs. Castells (2001), for example, suggested that in BBSs, the physical barrier is removed and people become more “open” as compared to a real world community, which may be more closed due to physical constraints. On the other hand, because the dialogue on a BBS is communication based on “strong interaction,” there is an increased tendency for opinions to be influenced by external situations, such as the atmosphere of the bulletin board or the opinions of others. Furthermore, there is a possibility that emotional postings will lead to conflicts.

In contrast, the action of exhibiting an individual diary on the Internet is less influenced by such interaction, and a diary is an environment in which it is easier to put forth an involved opinion. Such self-expression has existed from the beginning of the World Wide Web; weblogs, in particular, make it easier for users to express their inner feelings and to describe their daily lives.

Since BBSs and weblogs are in a supplemental or complementary relationship, by integrating the two, it may be possible to enjoy a synergy of their virtues while reducing the weak points of each. This would be beneficial to the implementation of ritual or discourse ethics in public spiritual communication on the Internet.

With this in mind, we offer a service called Spinavi (Spiritual Navigator), consisting of a BBS (“forum”) for the mutual exchange of opinions, and a weblog (“MySpinavi”) for individual monologues.2 Spinavi is managed by an NGO made up of university professors and other researchers; therefore, it is regarded as a community where believers with various religious backgrounds, as well as non-believers with a spiritual background, can gather and communicate in comfort.

Spinavi users accept an agreement when they register for an account. In particular, they grant approval to researchers to collect postings and to analyze user data for research purposes. In these cases, only information that the users themselves have registered as public information is utilized, whereas information that can identify individuals is not disclosed.

A Portal and BBS

The Spinavi portal site was built using a content management system (CMS). A CMS is a framework that enables an interface for the creation, management, and exhibition of the contents on a website. Spinavi adopted XOOPS (an open source, eXtensible object oriented portal system) as a system base tool (see http://www.xoops.org for further technical information).

Spinavi’s forum is a BBS designed to foster spiritual communication through the mutual exchange of opinions and discussion of experiences about spirituality (the forum is provided by XOOPS’ forum module.) In the forum, Spinavi provides 11 categories, such as “everyday life and human relations,”“wonders, miracles, and transcendence,”“death and the world after death,” and “pilgrimage,” for the purpose of deepening users’ understandings of spirituality. Forum users discuss a wide variety of subjects, such as religion, spiritual locations, spiritual movies, pilgrimages, and UFOs.

In general, even if a BBS posting is of high quality, unless it evokes a reply, it will be buried in others’ postings. However, in Spinavi, quality items are extracted from the dynamic contents that are posted to the forum and are published in static form, in report, essays, and the like. Thus, Spinavi can prevent quality postings from being buried and can enable users to read these through the cooperative use of dynamic and static content, making use of the browse counter and news functions that XOOPS provides. The news function is also utilized in order to offer a knowledge base, such as papers on research into spirituality. At present, quality postings are chosen by researchers on spirituality who refer to the browse counter, but I intend to choose quality postings by computer algorithm in the future, and I anticipate that such a tool will be useful to settle conflicts in a Web community.

Weblog

MySpinavi is a weblog system that allows individuals to post spiritual information easily. MySpinavi is built by utilizing and customizing a weblog platform called Nucleus. Like XOOPS, Nucleus is an open source system under the GPL license and runs using a PHP and MySQL system environment (see Figure 1). As with the forum, items posted to MySpinavi that are of high quality are published as selected essays.

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Figure 1. System configuration of Spinavi

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System Linkage of the BBS and Weblog

The Spinavi forum for mutual exchanges of opinions and the MySpinavi weblog for monologues are each built with separate XOOPS and Nucleus CSM software tools. Because these employ different infrastructure systems, an extended module is required in order to have a system portfolio in which both of these are cooperatively and organically linked (see Figure 1). The MySpinavi registration module and RSS (RDF [Resource Description Framework] Site Summary) display module shown in Figure 1 are for that purpose.

The MySpinavi registration module is used for creating a user account in almost real time when a Spinavi user wishes to use his or her own account for a weblog. The RSS display module is for displaying Spinavi and MySpinavi, mutually linked. An increasingly popular metadata form for the display of site contents, RSS is used to describe the title of a website, its author, URI, copyright dates, and so on in XML form.

The RSS display module calculates the update frequency and the number of times all the weblogs on MySpinavi are browsed, and it displays on the Spinavi portal a list of the three most frequently browsed and the three most frequently updated items. With such linkups between the Spinavi portal and MySpinavi, by viewing a dialogue partner’s weblog, a user can easily learn more about the lives of their dialogue partners. This could be background information about the dialogue partner which is not available on the BBS, and which helps a user to understand the dialogue partner better and to facilitate smoother communication. This has the additional effect of helping the user to discover new dialogue partners. In these cases, it is useful to utilize comment or trackback functions (ways of linking articles and comments) specific to weblogs. Such integration serves also to promote a synergy between a BBS and weblogs in a supplemental relationship, and it is beneficial to the implementation of ritual or discourse ethics for public spiritual communication on the Internet.

Spiritual Psychological Test

A spiritual psychological test is offered in order that users may attain a deeper understanding of their own mental state concerning spirituality (hereafter referred to as ’spiritual tendency’) and to raise their awareness with regard to spirituality. This content is the most popular on Spinavi, with the greatest number of accesses, reflecting a need on the part of users to learn more about their own spiritual tendencies.

It has been found that, with regard to psychological tests such as those offered on websites, replies may be influenced by the order of the questions when they are displayed in the same order each time. Therefore, we developed a psychological test module that randomizes the order of questions each time, so that the results will not be influenced by the order of the questions and so that we can measure data more accurately.

This spiritual psychological test is designed in the form of an algorithm corresponding to Egogram, a standard psychological test widely used for diagnosis in psychosomatic treatment and for the assessment of personnel issues. The Egogram incorporates key concepts derived from Transactional Analysis. Transactional Analysis, founded by the Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne (1971), is based on the assumption that every person is made up of five partial personalities called “ego states,” and that communication is steered by these. Scores for these five ego states are measured using 50 questions (10 questions for each ego state), and a person is classified into a certain pattern according to the distribution of their scores. The test has five ego states for measuring psychological tendencies: the critical parent, the supportive parent, the adult, the free child, and the adapted child. It interprets a person’s behavior and experiences from the patterns of these ego states and attempts to understand interpersonal relationships based on certain patterns. This information can then be used during therapy and, at the same time, to encourage the acceptance of one’s own personality.

The spiritual psychological test is also comprised of 50 questions, split evenly into 10 questions for each of five axes of opposing concepts. These are self-power oriented vs. faith-power oriented (“solifidian:” from sole fide, faith alone), tolerance vs. exclusion, altruism vs. self-serving, abstinent vs. releasing, and next-world oriented vs. this-life oriented, as shown in Table 1. A load coefficient of −1 or 1 is given to each question. This gives an indication as to the directionality of the concepts in each question.

Table 1.  Opposing concepts and questions on the spiritual psychological test
Opposing conceptsIDQuestion
self-power oriented vs. faith-power oriented1Do you agree with the saying “Use the means and God will give the blessing”?
2Do you decide things by yourself?
3Do you regard yourself as being supported by someone?
4Do you think that there is something that you may not be able to carry out by yourself?“
5Do you think that it is bad to depend on persons other than oneself?
6Do you take responsibility for your actions?
7When entrusting things to others, do you leave them to carry these out?
8Can you live alone?
9Do you seek an intimate relationship with someone who makes you feel comfortable?
10Do you believe in fortune-telling?
tolerance vs. exclusion11Do you show your anger honestly?
12Do you tolerate failure in others?
13Are you tolerant of broken promises?
14Do you think that you should be tolerant of bad people?
15Do you accept others’ faults?
16Are you stubborn or unbending?
17Do you think that there is also value in ideas that are different from yours?
18When something is someone else’s fault, do you blame them entirely?
19Do you object to unreasonable slander?
20Do you push your opinion when you are right?
altruism vs. self-serving21Do you often look after others?
22Do you value personal mental growth?
23Do you act in order to demonstrate your individuality?
24Are you truly pleased when your friends are happy?
25Do you sympathize with others’ sadness?
26Do you act to be helpful to others?
27Do you think that the purpose of life is self-realization?
28Do you take part in volunteer activities?
29Do you think that it is important to change yourself before trying to change the world?
30Do you do your best to meet your goals?
abstinent vs. releasing31Can you go without luxury goods?
32Can you cope with hardships?
33Do you say what you think?
34Do you express feeling unaffectedly?
35Do you consider the future, and make preparations for it?
36Do you overeat and over-drink to ease frustration?
37Can you do without something for the future?
38Do you live unaffectedly according to your wishes?
39Do you live your life according to a routine?
40Are you absent from school or work when you are unwell?
next world oriented vs. this life oriented41Do you avoid thinking about the afterlife?
42Do you think that there are a heaven and a hell?
43While you are alive, do you think that you should do what you like?
44Do you believe in reincarnation?
45Do you think about the dead?
46Do you think it important to enjoy yourself now?
47Do you think that you only live once?
48Do you think that once you die, you can meet other dead people?
49Do you believe in the afterlife?
50Do you think about your own death?

The spiritual psychological test can be taken, not only by registered users, but by guests as well. Registered users can take the spiritual psychological test repeatedly and thereby have a better understanding of the history of changes in their spiritual tendencies. In keeping with this, spontaneous replies from people who indicated an interest in spirituality were collected, matching user accounts for postings. A total of 1,664 items of data were collected. These included 515 replies that were input from user accounts. Taking into account repetitions, the total number of registered user respondents was 213 people. The large number of respondents who repeated the spiritual psychological test reflects a high level of interest in this test.

Quantitative Analysis

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

Fundamental Framework

In the following, the relation between spiritual tendencies and posting action in a network are analyzed, based on data obtained from the forum and MySpinavi. The number of postings to the forum and MySpinavi are used as an index of postings in a network, and responses on the spiritual psychological test are used as indices of spiritual tendency.

First, the correlation between the number of postings to the BBS and to the weblog by the same user was calculated. This figure was a statistically insignificant 12%. According to a distribution chart, while there are users who post to both the BBS and the weblog, the remainder appears to be divided clearly into two groups, one that posts to the BBS exclusively and another that posts to the weblog exclusively (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2. Distribution chart

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The lack of overlap can be accounted for by the fact that users are divided into two groups that post to either the BBS or the weblog exclusively. This suggests that their motivations for dialogues on the BBS and for monologues on the weblog are different as far as spirituality and religion are concerned. These differences may be due to differences in spiritual tendencies. Therefore, I analyzed users’ responses to a spiritual psychological test aimed at determining this.

Covariance Structure Analysis

At the Spinavi website, users are provided with a spiritual psychological test service, making use of Egogram theories. In this way, data were gathered regarding the user’s psychological data (spiritual tendencies). Further, with permission from the users at the time of their agreement to the Terms of Service of the website, I was able to analyze corresponding data sets based on communication logs and spiritual tendencies. My analysis is then based on actual data for the number of postings by users registered on the Spiritual Navigator website and the responses of those users who voluntarily answered the spiritual psychological test questionnaire. It is natural to suppose that users are oriented toward spirituality; otherwise, they would use another BBS or weblog service. The statistically significant result described below is indicative of a proclivity for spiritual communication.

Covariance structure analyses were conducted using a data set comprised of replies from registered users (the most recent response data for registered users who had responded repeatedly), where answers to questions in the spiritual psychological test were the independent variable and the number of postings to the BBS or weblog was the dependent variable. It is assumed that the number of postings by those who registered with the spiritual website is an appropriate measure of their motivation to pursue spiritual communication and is thus an adequate dependent variable for the covariance structure analysis.

Test items that have a significant effect on the number of postings in cross tabulation or items that had high commonality in the results of factor analysis for all items in the test were first chosen as independent variables. Then by the factor analysis for these chosen items, the relation between latent variables and manifest variables was arranged to prepare a structural equation path diagram model. Two latent variables were found to have an effect on the number of postings. The first is a ‘symbiosis (coexistence)’ inclination wherein one accepts one’s own limitations and wishes to live together with others. The second is an inclination towards ‘self-change’ whereby one reforms oneself spiritually. The symbiosis inclination consists of two items. One is a humble acceptance of one’s own limitations or dependence on others, as shown by a positive response to the question, “Do you think that there is something you may not be able to carry out by yourself?” Another is the worship of others, based on an acceptance of diversity as implied by a positive response to the question, “Do you think that there is also value in ideas that are different from your own?” Conversely, an inclination toward self-change is a form of intention for mental change as implied by a positive response to the question, “Do you value personal mental growth?” or “Do you think that it is important to change yourself before trying to change the world?” The former question might be rephrased using the wording of the latter if the respondent is focusing particularly on his or her own self. Here, there should be a correlation between a symbiosis inclination and a self-change inclination, because the self-focus in a self-change inclination is premised on the acceptance and respect of others’ independence and diversity in the symbiosis inclination.

Figure 3 shows the results of analysis where the number of postings to the BBS is the dependent variable. Here Khai 2 power is 2.308 (flexibility 3, probability level 0.511) throughout the entire model. Additionally, RMR is 0.140, GFI is 0.996, AGFI is 0.978, RMSEA is 0.000, AIC is 26.308, and the coefficient of determination is 0.23. These are significant. When individual coefficients are examined, it is found that the symbiosis inclination has a significant (1% level) negative effect on the number of postings to the BBS, although the self-change inclination did not have a significant positive effect. This suggests that the number of postings to the BBS increases when the symbiosis-oriented side is weak. This is to say that people who have eagerly posted to the BBS are interested in spirituality but have a strong self-assertive and self-righteous nature with regard to their intention to live together with others in long-term relationships.

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Figure 3. Path diagram for the BBS

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This interpretation is consistent with the aforementioned concept of spirituality in a narrow sense, which is defined as “belief in and acts based upon an invisible power and existence that are useful for people without a specific religion, in order for them to obtain peace of mind or something for which to live” or “belief in and acts that are similar to religion, yet are apart from religious organizations.” This coincides with the mentality of spirituality, such as “I don’t want to believe in a specific religion or belong to a religious group, although I believe in God, the soul, and invisible bonds.” It is possible to consider that religious faith is the synergistic action of a commitment to an idea (dogma) and a commitment to an organization. The concept of spirituality in a narrow sense can be said to be something like religious faith but without a commitment to an organization, considering that spirituality is of a “religious nature without organization.”

Figure 4 shows the results of analysis where the number of postings to a weblog is the dependent variable. Here Khai 2 power is 7.301 (flexibility 3, probability level 0.063) throughout the whole model. Additionally, RMR is 0.680, GFI is 0.987, AGFI is 0.933, RMSEA is 0.0082, AIC is 31.301, and the coefficient-of-determination is 0.02. These are significant, but the whole model is not good enough because of the low coefficient-of-determination. When individual coefficients are examined, the opposite pattern as compared with that of the BBS is found. The symbiosis inclination had a positive effect on the number of postings to the BBS, and the self-change inclination showed a negative effect, although both of these were insignificant. It seems that “ordinary people” who have neither a strong sympathy toward nor a strong dislike of spiritual values such as symbiosis inclination and self-change inclination are making use of MySpinavi as a free weblog service related to spirituality but without too many expectations or assumptions regarding spirituality. For the purpose of moving past conventional, closed-off religious arguments, it may be that the opinions with regard to spirituality that such ordinary people put forth in monologues, and which reveal their inner lives, can be more fruitful than the insistent assertions of people who enjoy disputes about spirituality.

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Figure 4. Path diagram for the weblog

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Qualitative Analysis

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

The results of quantitative analysis show that users with a more negative symbiosis inclination, with strong self-assertion and self-righteousness, post more often to BBSs. The statistically detected characteristics of the active posters to the BBS imply that in spiritual communication, having dialogues on BBSs is difficult, whereas posting monologues on weblogs is easier. Additionally, this supports the potential value of our system portfolio, which integrates a dialogue (BBS) and monologue (weblogs) organically in order to implement a Goffman-like (1967) ritual or Habermas-like (1992) discourse ethics. In this section, I first introduce an example showing the difficulty of a spiritual dialogue and then provide an illustration of the effect of ritual implementation.

Users Who Abandons Dialogue

A remarkable phenomenon illustrating the difficulty of dialogues regarding value-oriented domains such as spirituality is that some users who posted very eagerly about spirituality on the BBS suddenly stopped posting at a certain point in time. Equally remarkable, most of these users then continued to post to their own weblogs. This could be interpreted to suggest that spiritual dialogues on BBSs are too difficult to continue, while monologues on weblogs are easier or more comfortable. Users’ actions might then reflect a shift from something that is difficult to something that is easier.

In Spinavi, posts such as flames, trolls, and the like are deleted in keeping with the contract the user agreed to at the time of registration; this may be responsible for the very low incidence of flames, trolls, defamation, etc. As a result, other major sites and major newspapers have introduced Spinavi as a serious, well-intentioned spiritual website. Nevertheless, the fact that some of the most eager users abandon their dialogues suggests that spiritual or religious dialogue involves difficulties too great to be resolved by the users’ good will alone.

In what follows, I provide examples of users (and their tendencies) who have expressed difficulty in participating in dialogue, as well as unusual examples of users who have stopped posting altogether. First, there is the case of the user who sees the beliefs of others as fanaticism and as an attempt to dominate, causing that user to feel uncomfortable. For example, a certain Christian User A posted:

It is said that a variety of phantoms appear before those who practice Zen [religious meditation of Buddhism]. It is also said that they often have the experience of floating in the air, of being wrapped in a golden light, or of their bodies becoming transparent. However, true spiritual enlightenment should be the attitude to recognize the ordinary in an ordinary way. It is never obtained by being intoxicated with power.

To counter this, another Christian User B quoted a description of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17) and pointed out that, given this account, the posting by User A profaned Jesus.

Then, User C posted a comment to User B who quoted a Biblical miracle, and wrote:

First let me say that I don’t want to argue about contents. You can believe anything as you like. But, your manner of speaking seems to me one-sided and domineering. Your manner turns the context into criticism, and I felt hurt and deflated. It depressed me. Although you may think that your comment was not directed at me, people are hurt by people’s attitudes towards others.

Following this post, User C stopped using the BBS.

The second example is one wherein criticism and/or non-agreement with a user’s opinion engenders emotional conflict. One pattern is that a user sometimes stays angry regarding a reaction to the user’s most sincere thoughts, only to receive a response that is something other than praise or is an overly naive question. For instance, User D asked how to deal with a series of unexpected and unlucky results, such as being served dishes at a restaurant that were not to his or her liking. User E gave User D concrete and detailed advice, such as ordering a delicious dessert and so on. User D replied, writing innocently, “Your advice is too concrete. Would you give me more general and spiritual ideas?” User E then wrote back: “I am sorry to say this but I now really regret replying to you.” Following this exchange, User E stopped using the system entirely. Similarly, there are cases where a logical counterargument is regarded as a denial of character and/or as an insult and thus causes anger. For example, when a logical inconsistency in a posting to the BBS was pointed out to User F, he responded in a weblog entry: “There are increasing amounts of indirect slander and blame on the Spinavi Forum, and the atmosphere has gotten a lot darker. From now on, I’ll write my own thoughts in MySpinavi.” Even after User F stopped using the BBS, he continued to use the weblog.

The third is a case in which a user is emotionally conflicted regarding opinions that are against his or her religious beliefs. For example, on December 23, the Japanese Emperor’s birthday and two days preceding Christmas, in a thread on the BBS with regard to Christmas, User G posted: “All Japanese should not forget that today is a very special day, because Japan is the land of gods.” In Japan, Shintoism incorporates the idea that Japan is a sacred place created specially by the gods, and that the Emperor is a descendent of the gods, and, as such, came down to Japan from Heaven. This posting was most likely related to this idea. While many Japanese do not necessarily believe in these ideas as strongly as in times past, they retain a certain pride in and respect for the Emperor and continue to accept these as a kind of cultural mainstay.

However, such ideas are strongly opposed by a minority of people, such as Christians who only accept the holy existence of the God of the Trinity and believers of other religious ideas that are opposed to the Emperor system. Some people consider that Emperor worship in Shinto was, in fact, responsible for World War II. Indeed, in response to the above posting in the BBS, User H wrote: “Don’t cover the poverty in your mind by pretending that an outer authority is a part of you for your self-justification.” After awhile, User H expressed regret for this emotional outburst and apologized by writing, “I should be more patient and more thoughtful in the use of my words.”

The fourth is a case that contradicts the third, in which a user feels a lack of spirituality or belief when compared with others, and thus suffers from a loss of self-confidence, thinking that his or her religious capabilities and/or spirituality are insufficient. In many cases, this is caused by an event in which a user lacking confidence is touched by another’s particularly strong beliefs. For example, User I, who at first had been critical of the Emperor and Shinto, was finally influenced by the opinions of User J, who had been admiring the holiness of the Emperor’s spirit. After this, User I apologized to User J on the BBS, saying, “I am sorry that I was a little man.” After that, User I wrote in a weblog:

It was me and not him [User J] that made a mistake. I should leave this website and concentrate on perfecting my spirituality. At the very least, I should convince myself of my own spiritual value from deep in my heart. I must discipline myself so that I can see what is true, and refrain from contacting with society until I accomplish that goal. Talking about spirituality is a great burden for me.

After this post, User I abandoned the use of both systems.

All of the above examples can be interpreted as consistent with the results of the aforementioned quantitative analysis, namely, that the more a user has a negative symbiosis inclination with strong self-assertion and self-righteousness, the more often that user posts to BBSs. In the face of this sort of self-assertion and self-righteousness, when people who are interested in spirituality but do not intend to live with others in long-term relationships discuss their own beliefs, conflicts are inevitable.

Communication Realized as Monologue

By way of contrast, a system in which weblogs and a BBS cooperate organically by intermingling monologues and dialogues acts as a cushion to ease the difficulties inherent in dialogues. For instance, the aforementioned User A, who was told on the BBS that his/her posting profaned Jesus, avoided replying directly to this criticism in dialogue on the BBS. Rather, User A posted a comical diagram aimed at satirizing the “abuse” of User B (the critic of user A) who quoted the Bible to his/her own liking and imitating medical warnings that prohibit the abuse of medications.

User K, who experienced an unpleasant dispute with other BBS users with regard to the doctrines of Christianity, in a posting to his own weblog stated: “I was surprised how people expressed themselves on the Internet.” There, the user wrote:

I have ridiculed the idea of two separate worlds—that of the real world, and that of the Internet, but I may have to change my mind on this. Sometime I am very surprised by such phenomena. Some people write outlandish things on BBSs that they would never say in the real world. Maybe they live in this world, thinking that they can not say things like that to others, and therefore say things like that on the Internet to compensate.

Users may well avoid a direct dialogue regarding a posting on the BBS and rather choose a form of communication whereby a monologue is published that can be read by their critics. In these ways, some users who were criticized on the BBS did not dare to respond in the same BBS, but instead disclosed their opinions on the matter on their own weblogs. This might be an example of an avoidance ritual, in Goffman’s (1967) terms. In many cases, other users did not dare to become involved in the controversy. They might be seen as examples—again, in Goffman’s (1963, pp. 83-88) terms—of what is called “civil inattention” towards an interaction. In any event, most of the time when a third person tries to facilitate the discussion or mediate between two parties, these efforts end in failure.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

The results of the quantitative covariance structure analysis revealed that the symbiosis factor has a significant negative effect on the number of postings to the BBS for spirituality: The less cooperative and tolerant towards different views a user is, the more often that user posts to the BBS. This implies that the most active BBS posters are those individuals who are interested in spirituality in a narrow sense but who do not intend to commit to the kind of long-term relationships that are to be found in religious bodies, which religious believers might refer to as “real spiritual relationships.” The qualitative and concrete analysis of users who disengaged from dialogues strongly suggests that the characteristics of users who are likely to engender emotional conflicts is a major reason for disharmonious dialogues.

These might be connected with a self-righteous attitude of non-believers who are interested in spirituality in a narrow sense, such as the idea that “I believe in God or something invisible, but don’t want to commit to an organization.” Such attitudes might be an obstacle to the individual’s commitment to a certain religious body. Additionally, these could be linked to dogmatic believers so devoted to a religious body that they are unable to interact with people from other religious associations or perspectives. We may say that there is a mind gap3among religious believers themselves and between religious believers and non-believers, and it leads to conflict or a communication gap among them.4

However, the aforementioned should not be understood only in negative terms, namely, that it is hard to converse on a BBS. Rather, there is a positive aspect or function, in that a BBS is a “safe” medium that enables an intense expression of self-belief, one that is rarely found or performed in everyday life (Witmer, 1997).

Without this function, group polarization will occur. This is a well-known phenomenon in social psychology, i.e., that in groups, people tend to be more extreme in their opinions or decisions than when alone. One tends to feel obliged to support an opinion even if one actually thinks it a little extreme.

Cass Sunstein (2002) argues that democracy imposes two distinctive requirements. First, people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance: Unanticipated encounters involving topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find irritating are central to democracy and even to freedom itself. Second, many or most citizens should have a range of common experiences. Sunstein also states that, without shared experiences, a heterogeneous society will have a more difficult time addressing social problems and people will have more difficulty understanding one another.

Such conflicts or difficulties are the societal cost that accompanies free dialogue for social creation. Those should be beneficial in order to avoid group polarization, not only in democracies, but also in spiritual or religious CMC, for any religious body needs to avoid group polarization and requires the empathy of society, based on experiences shared with the outside world. Further, discussion with appropriate conflicts or disputes on BBSs gives believers the opportunity to reconsider their faith and to enhance it through an evaluation from new and different angles.

The implementation of a system portfolio that enables an intense expression of self-belief while reducing conflicts or difficulties is thus significant, as such expression is otherwise rare in everyday life. Our system portfolio, combining a BBS for spiritual dialogues and a weblog for monologues, is perhaps one possible move towards implementing Goffman-like (1967) rituals or a Habermasian (1992) style of discourse ethics. A suitable balance of stability and diversity is required in such a system (see Figure 5). In terms of information science, the stability in monologue is equivalent to knowledge construction, and the diversity in dialogue is equivalent to the knowledge exploration needed to escape from the “local optimum;” we may also say that the former is related to a knowledge base, and the latter is related to supporting ideas. In that sense, a conflict in a dialogue in a BBS also plays a unique role in promoting diversity. As contrasted with BBSs, weblogs play a stabilizing role.

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Figure 5. A system portfolio involving BBSs and weblogs

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The covariance structure analysis above showed that no conflict-related factors have a significant effect on the number of postings to weblogs. The majority of active posters to the weblogs seemed to be ordinary people without strong biases. Perhaps, then, spirituality in daily life, as expressed in ordinary people’s monologues on weblogs, has the potential to overcome or substitute for self-righteous/dogmatic religious controversy. Qualitative analysis has shown examples wherein our system (conjoining a BBS for spiritual dialogues and a weblog for monologues) realizes ritual (in Goffman’s [1967] term) through CMC. This could be effective in overcoming mind gaps and communication gaps among religious believers as well as gaps between religious believers and non-believers. Such a system offers a new environment that enables users to comprehend the idea of spirituality through respectful interaction rituals and to develop new protocols for the preservation of individual dignity in online interaction.

More generally, the system can be regarded as a combination of dialogue and monologue. Further, a weblog also has the potential to be a venue for “soft dialogue,” thanks to functions such as comments and trackback. Trackback can be regarded as the realization of a distributed BBS, especially since in the future, the exchange of XML-based content will express semantics in dialogues more flexibly and precisely than in current systems. In the MySpinavi weblog, the contents of comments and trackbacks are generally positive, encouraging a better form of spiritual communication than the BBS. Certainly one reason for this advantage is that weblog owners have the ability to delete the content of trackbacks and comments themselves. As the result of covariance structure analysis suggests, people who posted eagerly to the BBS are interested in spirituality but tend to have a strong self-assertive and self-righteous nature, and their symbiosis-oriented side is weak. In other words, the most active posters are people who are less motivated to save other’s face or to respect ritual in Goffman’s term. In that situation, it could help to preserve face-saving ritual to have a weblog for monologue independent of those conflict-oriented and intolerant people, and to have the ability to delete content posted by them. Another reason for the stabilizing effect of the weblogs may be that posting monologues is the main function of a weblog, whereas dialogue is a sub-function. Therefore, controversy may be less likely to occur, in comparison to the BBS.

Based on the above, we decided to abolish the BBS, at least until the introduction of the above-mentioned algorithm that will choose quality postings automatically. The algorithm is expected to reduce conflicts between users, in that conflictual postings will tend to be neglected when they are not selected as quality content. Even without a BBS, the RSS display module, which calculates the update frequency and the hits to weblogs on MySpinavi, forms and activates the Web community of Spinavi. Each post to a weblog is a monologue, and trackbacks and comments on a posting are dialogues, as shown in Figure 6. This decision has had a positive effect on the website, as the website community is now more active than before.

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Figure 6. Balance of stability and diversity in weblogs

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Future Studies

This research aims to develop a means for describing important commonalities shared among value systems, and to propose a general model of Habermas-like (1992) discourse ethics or a ritual in Goffman’s (1967) sense for dialogues regarding the value systems on the Internet which can be implemented as a software/communication system protocol. This protocol might then help to overcome the aforementioned communication gaps and support communicative exchanges online. Towards this goal, I am planning to proceed with some future studies as an extension of this article.

The first will advance the technical innovations of the system portfolio in order to implement the communication system protocol. As a part of the protocol, the above-mentioned computer algorithm, designed to select quality postings from among the interactive contents on the Internet, would be useful in reducing communication gaps in a Web community, because the quality of a posting is calculated based on how the posting is valued by other “quality users.” It would also be beneficial to apply natural language processing systems, or to take advantage of data such as users’ spiritual tendencies (as determined by data from psychological tests), social network measures (Garton, Haythornthwaite, & Wellman, 1997; Jackson, 1997; Tremayne, Zheng, Lee, & Jeong, 2006), and link-mediated relations (Foot, Schneider, Dougherty, Xenos, & Larsen, 2003), in order to control the communication within the community.

The second will consider the mental and social status of those who show an interest in spirituality. People who belong to specific religious groups have opportunities to experience deep spiritual communication in their real-world communities, and they obtain mental satisfaction from this communication. However, people who are involved in spirituality in a narrow sense are considered a non-religious group, even though they are interested in religion. Precisely because they do not have opportunities to talk with one another in religious bodies as believers, they may seek virtual communication on the Internet as a substitute for spiritual communication in the real world. We may perceive religious faith as the synergistic action of a commitment to an idea and a commitment to an organization. The symbiosis inclination can be connected easily to the mentality of commitment to an organization as a necessary condition, and a negative score for symbiosis inclination (the lack of a necessary condition) leads to a lack of commitment. From this viewpoint, spirituality in a narrow sense, as “religious nature without organizational nature,” could be regarded as something like religious faith which lacks commitment to an organization.

There are probably both positive and negative aspects to spirituality with such characteristics. One positive aspect is related to “a mental robustness” that enables a believer to objectify his or her own faith, a robustness that may help overcome the impression of “religion as an aberration” that is held by many people. The negative aspect is a lack of commitment to an organization, which is a necessary aspect of social cooperation. This lack of commitment may indicate a lack of social cooperativeness.

The third future study will observe dialogues in the “real world” of religious bodies to find their effective protocols. Some kinds of sophisticated dialogue protocols, such as specific rituals and/or discourse ethics, may have developed and been refined over time through traditions, and they might be so effective and safe that believers can disclose themselves with ease and comfort. Although such effectiveness and safety are likely to be guaranteed by the fact that believers of a religious body share the same dogma as a common background or a “safety net,” these shared commonalities may not be the only contributors to the sense of safe communication among members of a religious community. Unfortunately, because spirituality in a narrow sense often lacks not only the mental robustness (because of the non-symbiotic and self-righteous nature of spiritual people, as this study shows) but also the sophisticated protocols that may exist within religious bodies, “spiritual dialogue on the Internet” can hardly realize analogously positive patterns by itself.

The fourth step will be to conduct further experimental trials. I would like to develop a future system that would compensate for the above-mentioned negative interaction patterns and encourage positive patterns. Toward this end, it may be effective to incorporate the factor of one’s commitment to a real organization, like the commitment of a believer to a religious group, into the experimental system. One possibility would be to adopt the functionality of SNS (Social Network Service), which requires that a person wishing to register be introduced in advance by a member who actually knows him or her. If site registration is open only to members of religious groups based on real human relationships, the community would have unique characteristics. An analysis of SNS is expected to be useful in order to identify the effective protocol(s) of religious bodies. Further experimentation will be essential in order to consider more deeply the spirituality that ordinary people talk about, to apply light to the truth of spiritual communication, and to establish rituals for the public sphere on the Internet. Japan, as a religious melting pot, may be one of the most suitable environments for experimentation with religious or spiritual CMC and for comparison with a similar Western country such as the United States.

The fifth step will develop measures for, and analysis of, the relevant language characteristic of communication about religious and spiritual matters. I assume that a communication gap is comprised of a language gap and a mind gap. Although the aim of this article is to focus on the latter, tendencies regarding word usage as uncovered through text mining could also provide a measure of the mind gap. The analysis of this language gap and the interaction between the two gaps would be an important theme in future studies.

In the analysis in this article, the number of postings to a BBS or to a weblog was the dependent variable, representing a person’s motivation to have spiritual communication. However, other measures could also be devised as variables to represent a person’s attitudes toward spiritual communication. The concrete subjects or topics of a person’s communication with regard to spirituality and directions of dialogues (toward conflict, toward better mutual understanding), for example, could be dependent variables. These might be utilized also as (a part of) independent variables.

The integration of quantitative data from psychological tests and communication logs, along with qualitative data from posted texts, will be a key point. To that end, I have been adopting text-mining techniques and making innovations in the content of the psychological test, taking advantage of results of analyses and related research from transpersonal psychology. These innovations would be especially beneficial to the second stage of this research, as a base for developing the rituals necessary for fruitful interaction regarding value systems on the Internet.

Acknowledgment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References

This study was supported in part by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (17330115 and 16520055).

Notes
  • 1

    See Ess and Sudweeks (2003) for examples of successful dialogue in such domains on the Internet.

  • 2

    [Editor’s note: See also Kawabata and Tamura’s discussion of Spinavi, this issue.]

  • 3

    The term “mind” is used here much more broadly than in the usual Western sense, to refer to a more comprehensive cluster of cognitive or intellectual elements, such as ideas, claims, beliefs, etc., along with affective and psychological dimensions of attitudes, as exemplified in the items of the spiritual psychological test (see Table 1).

  • 4

    A statistical model of such mind and language gaps as the cause of communication gaps has been developed, to be described in another study.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Concepts and Implementation of a System Portfolio for Experiments
  5. Quantitative Analysis
  6. Qualitative Analysis
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. References
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About the Author
  1. Mitsuharu Watanabe is a professor in the College of Economics at Kanto Gakuin University. His recent interests are in effective communication protocols for CMC in value-oriented domains, causal models between management visions and corporate performance, modeling of concepts of human sciences by computational/mathematical methodology, and the contract model for copyright of conversational knowledge on the Internet.

    Address: Faculty of Economics, Kanto-Gakuin University, 1-50-1 Mutsu-ura Higashi, Kanazawa-ku, Kanagawa-ken 236-8501, Japan