But first, lemme take a $elfie
Marium Masood

The Selfie: A Sacred Ritual

Marium, I really enjoyed reading your post about your pilgrimage experience and being able to view your personal photographs. I definitely agree with the idea that photography and posting to social media during sacred rituals/pilgrimage is something that is very common and almost normalized. Your post immediately reminded me of an article I’ve read previously about the camera phone becoming integrated in religious ritual.

A selfie of over 2,000 Rabbi’s attending the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries.

In the article, Ori Schwarz discusses the use of the camera phone during Jewish rituals. Schwarz notes that this is becoming common, and this form of photography has two effects: 1) Photography makes a sacred time/place/event into a concrete item that can be consumed or shared at any time. Even the act of re-consuming the event may be ritualized. 2) Photography impacts ritual as physically holding a camera phone changes one’s movement and body during the ritual (Schwarz 178). For example, individuals may engage in the ritual with one hand (as the other is holding the device), divide their attention (between event and taking photographs), control their volume (remain quiet for better video quality) (Schwarz 178).

For instance, a quick google search for religious selfies comes up with endless images of selfies with the Pope. Although these may not be religious ritual events, the impact of photography is clearly seen here. When taking a photograph near the pope, the individual’s hands are now occupied and they’re faced in the opposite direction (affecting attention). The entire body of the individual becomes altered — in the case of ritual, does this alter sacred ritual?

#ASHTAG for Ash Wednesday

The camera phone is also a portable device that many people carry on their person, allowing these photographs to be taken at any time.

“Hajj selfie”

The idea of the Hajj selfie (an example pictured above) did spark some controversy, as it was seen to be purely narcissistic, taking away from the sacred event. However, Schwarz may argue that these selfies are not obstructive, but do serve a religious function.

For instance, Schwarz notes that images have been constantly used to evoke emotions and can be seen as a spiritual resource. In religion, followers communicate with images by praying/talking/touching/bringing offerings to them (Schwarz 179). Even rituals themselves can be described as an event that impacts the individual’s worlds (both everyday and sacred), which changes their perspectives and actions (Schwarz 179). With the current advancements in technology, do these new images via the camera phone not do the same? Schwarz also notes that religious events use other aspects of modern technology (e.g., powerpoints, websites) (Schwarz 179) — so what excludes the camera phone?

Another point Schwarz mentions that I think is worth noting is the idea of the camera phone evoking new techniques — specifically, the mediated surrogate ritual. For some background information, Schwarz argues that photographs such as selfies contains personal significance for the individual taking the photograph, in the sense that it shows that the individual was there and lived through the event (Schwarz 182). However, he also brings up the idea of the mediated surrogate ritual, in which he notes that being able to photograph/film events from a follower’s point of view allows those who are usually excluded from certain religious events (e.g., religious events that exclude women) to view the event (Schwarz 185).

Personally, I tend to side with Schwarz. Although selfies may have certain issues for religious events in terms of things like crowd control, I do think it is a modern way to document, remember, and re-live spiritual events. Furthermore, as these images can evoke spiritual emotions, they may serve a religious function. One thing that I am a bit on the fence about is the idea that the camera phone alters ritual. In a way, the camera phone might become an extension of the individual’s body, in which traditional movements that are typical of the ceremony are altered in order to accommodate the device. Is this true? If so, is this alteration a negative one?

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