Kevin Healey

Kevin Healey is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of New Hampshire. His work focuses on the ethical and religious dimensions of digital culture. His scholarship appears in publications such as the Journal of Television and New Media and the Journal of Media Ethics. He also enjoys writing creative non-fiction and poetry, and his creative work appears in venues such as SalonHuffington PostReligion DispatchesTypishly, and Meat for Tea. He is a co-editor of the book Prophetic Critique and Popular Media (Peter Lang, 2013), and is currently working on a new manuscript for Routledge titled Religion and Ethics in the Age of Social Media: Proverbs for Responsible Digital Citizens. This new book develops a line of inquiry that combines media scholarship with the emerging field of contemplative studies. Kevin is also a fan of do-it-yourself home music recording, and has self-produced several compilations of original songs and covers.

Funded Project: Contemplative Media Studies

My project outlines a new approach to the study of digital culture called Contemplative Media Studies. This approach integrates two subfields: media and religion scholarship, which is usually situated within communication and media studies; and contemplative studies, which is historically associated with psychology and neuroscience but is expanding to include the humanities and creative arts. My research addresses gaps in both of these fields.

Media and religion scholarship has focused primarily on how traditional religious communities have adapted to new media environments, and/or the implications of digital media for established religious ideologies. Instead, my research examines the religious dimensions of digital culture itself—namely, how elites and the general public tend to view technology as sacred. My work is unique in that it draws from Buddhist philosophy, Jewish and Christian theology, and literature in the psychology of religion and spirituality without espousing a religiously partisan or “confessional” view.

Meanwhile, contemplative scholarship has focused primarily on the bio-medical impact of individual practices like meditation. The term “contemplative” refers generally to first-person practices that cultivate attentional focus (mindfulness) and deep understanding (wisdom). My approach is unique in that it moves beyond the individual to understand the ethical implications of such practices at a collective, systemic level. For example, I have proposed the concept of “civic mindfulness” as a measure of the ethical responsibilities of technologists and journalists in the digital economy.

I have defined Contemplative Media Studies as “the application of contemplative practices and principles to the critical analysis of media technologies, content, and institutions.” My publications have focused on how popular beliefs about technology impact the design, regulation, and use of digital media. I employ critical discourse analysis to study how elites, the general public, and journalists talk about digital media and, in turn, how digital media shapes our beliefs and experiences. Through such analyses, I uncover explicit and implicit assumptions about the nature of technology and the self—assumptions which are often problematic for the personal well-being of users as well as broader issues of socio-economic justice. Exemplary essays I have written appear in my co-edited book Prophetic Critique and Popular Media (Peter Lang, 2013); in academic journals like the Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture; and in popular venues like Religion Dispatches, Huffington Post, and Salon.

The Public Theologies of Technology and Presence grant program offered through the Institute of Buddhist Studies will support two main projects: a book manuscript titled Religion and Ethics in the Age of Social Media: Proverbs for Responsible Digital Citizens (co-authored with Robert H. Woods, Jr., under contract with Routledge), and a second manuscript titled Contemplative Media Studies: An Introduction. The first is already underway, and will draw from previously published materials. The second will include some material I’m currently preparing in the form of a peer-reviewed journal article in contemplative and arts-based pedagogy. My goal in these projects is to avoid the pitfalls of naiveté and cynicism in the digital landscape, instead steering development and use in more hopeful and sustainable directions: on a systemic level, toward economic justice; and on a local level, toward caring communities of mindful and vitally engaged individuals.