Beverley McGuire

Beverley McGuire is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, her M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and her B.A. in Comparative Literature from Stanford University. As a historian of religion specializing in Chinese Religions—especially late imperial and modern Chinese Buddhism—her intellectual interests include comparative religious ethics, religion and literature, and religion and media.

Her first book, Living Karma (Columbia University Press, 2014), examined an important but overlooked figure in Chinese Buddhist history, a monk named Ouyi Zhixu (1599-1655) who engaged in a variety of religious practices to try to change his karma, including repentance rituals that are ubiquitous in contemporary China, Taiwan, and Chinese diaspora communities. She has published articles in the Journal of Chinese Religions, Material Religion, Religion Compass, and Teaching Theology and Religion.

Her recent scholarship focuses on the way that digital media—especially blogs and memes—impact interpersonal relationships and social presence. She has also published articles on how to improve interaction and social presence in asynchronous online instruction and how social media fasts, stillness, and other experiential learning activities can develop moral attention and disrupt the widespread tendency towards “continuous partial attention.”

Funded Project: Moral Attention and Digital Technology

Moral Attention and Digital Technology examines the impact of digital technology on moral attention—the capacity to discern and attend to the morally salient features of a given situation. Moral attention involves suspending one’s thought in order to actively receive something or someone else in all of their complexity and particularity. Although most scholars associate moral attention with Western philosophers such as Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch, Chinese religious traditions describe various means of facilitating moral attention, including Confucian techniques of moral cultivation, Daoist practices of “fasting the mind,” and Buddhist meditation.

This project considers ways in which digital technologies can distract us from other people and disrupt our moral attention, and ways in which digital technologies might enhance our interpersonal relationships and develop our moral attention. Using a case study method, I will be examining various digital technologies and interviewing designers who created them and users who experience them to develop a more nuanced and complex understanding of the ways in which such technologies influence moral attention. The project focuses on a variety of digital media including digital games, mobile applications, websites, and social media. It analyzes how technology can make people more attentive to morally salient information, and how technology can undermine moral attention.

Project Outputs:

Mind the Gap: Navigating Transitions in Life with Mindfulness, UNC-Press (August, 2022)

“How to Hone Moral Attention—and Why It’s So Important,” in Tricycle (November, 2022)

Co-organizer, “Prioritizing Presence in a Post-Pandemic World,” Panel presentation and white paper, with co-organizer Natasha Heller (in-progress)

“A Pedagogy of Presence and Technology, or: Zoom and the Art of Attention Maintenance,” at the Public Theologies of Technology and Presence Capstone Conference (May, 2021)

“Chinese Religions, Moral Attention, an Technological Presence,” in Religion, Technology, and Human Presence (host, B. Onishi)

“Buddhist-Inspired Self-Tracking Apps: Tracking Emotions and Values in a Digital Era,” in Journal of Japanese Associations for Digital Humanities (Fall, 2020)

Meditation Apps Might Calm You – But Miss the Point of Buddhist Mindfulness,” in The Conversation (October, 2020). With Gregory Price Grieve.

“Gaming and Grieving: Digital Games as Means of Confronting and Coping with Death,” in Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture (December, 2020)

“How Much Actual Buddhism Is There In Your Mindfulness App?” (host, T. Peterson). With Gregory Price Grieve.

“Promoting Empathy through Digital Games and Social Media,” at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (October, 2019)

“What Counts as Morally Salient?: Moral Attention in Chinese Religion,” at the Institute of Buddhist Studies (October, 2018)