Talk Session: Religions and the Commons

The notion of the commons, with roots in medieval European law and the practices of religious cultures around the world, is experiencing a revival in the digital age. Open-source software, Creative Commons licenses, community-generated wikis, and social-media networks are all serving to reacquaint people with commoning in new ways. And many of the most pressing debates about technology today—such as those relating to surveillance, pollution, and the future of publishing—are, fundamentally, debates about the commons. And this is no mere metaphor; as a growing body of historical and sociological scholarship shows, commoning is a kind of economic system in its own right—distinct from state and market, and often obscured from view. In particular, there has been little discussion of what the commons has to do with religion, though the commons is implicit in many of our most fundamental questions: Who has access to religious knowledge, and knowledge about religion? How do practitioners govern their own traditions through their practice? How do religious practices manage economic behavior?

This discussion will include a brief introduction to the notion of the commons—both as an economic theory and as a prized concept in contemporary tech culture. We will then have an open discussion about the commons in our digital lives, our research, our teaching, and our culture. Open questions include:

  • What does the concept of the commons add to the study of religion, online and offline?
  • Where do we see practices of commoning on the Internet and in our research subjects?
  • How can we incorporate more commons-based practices into our scholarship?