I am a reluctant user of verbal adjoinages. But when the issue of the circulation of prayer requests through mobile text messaging came up for discussion last week in an SSRC working group meeting, I could barely suppress the totally hypocritical urge to formulate one. By coupling praying and texting, I emerged with ‘prexting’.
My elation at fathering a new concept naturally turned into disappointment when I discovered shortly after that prexting was already part of the new digital logos, where it is used, rather nefariously, to capture two kinds of practices: first, when someone is busily pretending to compose a text message as a way of avoiding eye contact or making a conversation; and second, when someone sends prank messages, often at odd hours, to another person. In the former instance, there is strategic avoidance, with someone actively pretending (pre-texting?) to compose a text message while apparently not; and in the latter, there is a deliberate effort to make contact, though of the unwanted sort.
Clearly, in its existing mobilization, prexting is, well, not cool. But here comes a chance for renovation. Which explains my proposal here of a reutilization that can make prexting a handy discursive tool for scholars attempting to capture and understand one of the wide range of innovative practices at the interface of religion and the new media. Heidi Campbell’s (2013) concept for these new devotional and interpersonal forms is “digital religion.” The study of digital religion aims to track and comprehend the multiple ways in which devotees of various religions mobilize, negotiate, resist, and revel in new media worlds. It is not just about seeing religion and religious forms through the prism of new media technologies; more interestingly, it is about how nascent media technologies continually transform our perception of faith by overhauling the forms and parameters of religious practice. In short: the ability of new media technologies and platforms to enact new cultures of religiosity.