Jewish Q&A Online and the Regulation of Sexuality: Using Foucault to Read Technology
AbstractReligion has the power to shape our understanding of gender and sexuality through various forms of practice, discourse, authority, and regulation. As religion is increasingly experienced through digital media, we can postulate on how the use of digital media might impact religious conceptions of gender and sexuality. This research offers a first step in that direction. More specifically, I examine Jewish Question and Answer (Q&A) websites to illuminate how this medium informs and regulates understandings and practices of gender and sexuality. This study illuminates how religious (self-)regulation is happening online, through the practice of asking and cultural and technological affordances that invite users to “confess” their sexual transgressions. I suggest the term “technological incitement to confess” as a way of thinking about how digital media might shape the religious practice of Q&As. That is, offering a Foucauldian analysis, I suggest online Jewish religious Q&A websites operate as digital panopticon, where the practice of asking becomes a tool for self-regulation. Although new to the online sphere, the practice of Q&As has a long tradition in Judaism, known as Responsa. Traditional Responsa is understood as a legal document, but when this practice takes place online, I argue that, at least relative to topics of sexuality and gender, users themselves are not looking for a legal consultation, but rather seeking a space to confess their sins. What was once a legal, public matter becomes via new media a form of personal self-regulation.