Patheos.com, a new website on religion and spirituality, formally launched on May 5th (see Time article here). Today the site added a new “Gateway” devoted to Mormonism. The co-founder and CEO of the Denver-based company, Leo Brunnick, has answered ten questions in this BCC interview.
1. Does the world really need another religion website?
Not if it’s “just” another religion website – there are a lot of sites out there, and adding to the noise wouldn’t be helpful. However, we have created something that is different. It sits in a middle ground between existing sites that are academic (balanced and rock-solid, but dry and hard to consume), or popular (interesting and exciting, but thin and gimmicky), or faith-based (passionate and knowledgeable, but narrow and biased toward one faith). Patheos takes the best elements of each and creates something that is balanced and reliable, while at the same time interesting and easy to consume.
2. How would you explain Patheos to someone who may not know much about religion or about the internet?
We call Patheos (pronounced PA-thee-ohs) “the ESPN of Religion.” It covers 100 of the world’s Traditions in a Library of information, and then covers 12 of the “major” religions in the West as “Gateways” — which are portals that teach about those faiths and present views from those faiths. And it does all of that without favoring or recommending a particular “path” for the person reading or poking around. Perhaps the best part of the site are the “Lenses” — tools that let you look at the complex world of Religion in a simple way. For example, our Side-By-Side Lens lets you look at the basics of any tradition, and compare it to any other. So if you’re a Mom who has been asked a question by your child and don’t know the answer, or if you’re a young person dating a person from another faith, or if you’ve got a co-worker or neighbor from a different faith — you can quickly understand the basics of their religion, and how it compares to yours. None of this has been done before.
3. How will your site be different from the existing behemoths–Beliefnet, for example?
Beliefnet is a great site. But their approach is to be more of “lifestyle magazine” approach to religious and spiritual topics. They don’t try to be a source of factual information – as we do with our Library and Lenses. They also don’t do what we do in our “Public Square”: each week our Public Square takes one topic (for example this week we are doing The Meaning of Existence, and next week’s topic is Abortion), and breaks it down from the perspectives of all of the major faith traditions (the Mormon Gateway is the 7th major tradition’s “Gateway” that we are launching). This deep, thoughtful approach from all of the traditions at one time on one subject creates a dynamic that is very useful and enlightening.
4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Our biggest challenge will always be remaining true to the vision: to stay unbiased, and to simplify complex information without making it inaccurate. It is really hard to do each of those things, and is “a dive with a high degree of difficulty” to do both. But we’re sticking with it — because we think that ultimately creates something the world needs.
5. The site looks like a massive production. Who’s funding it?
It is a big production. We are completely funded by “angel investors” – that is, individuals for whom the project looks like an opportunity to “make both money and meaning.” We are running a model whereby no particular investor has enough of the ownership of the site to move the site off of its mission to remain completely unbiased.
6. Who’s your target audience?
We have a series of “personas” around whom we have built the site. Internally we call them Seekers, Reinforcers, Parents, and Experts (experts further break down into Student, Teacher and Preacher). Each of these groups of people have a different need and a different set of goals when they come to the site — but all of them start with the underlying ability to have a simple starting point for the world of religious information. The fascinating part is that the Mom of the 8-year-old who has a question from a friend — and who needs a quick, simple answer — is using the same underlying “Library” that is already being used — today — to teach Introduction to World Religions classes at the university level. That is powerful.
7. A few years ago PBS ran a multi-part documentary about Mormons. Many church members were deeply dissatisfied with the film and didn’t feel that their faith was fairly represented. Do you think you can capture the “real” or “authentic” Mormon experience?
All of our Library materials are written by scholars situated within the tradition (in this case by Mormons) and are carefully peer-reviewed by additional scholars, including both insiders and outsiders. And then the Gateway itself is managed by a Church member who works for Patheos, and who manages a team of contributors from the Mormon tradition. So the power of Patheos is that all of the Gateways (Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, … and Mormon) are reflections of the tradition from a broad team of “experts” from that tradition. I believe that model is the only way to capture the “authentic” Mormon experience.
8. Why should Mormons care about this site?
“Mormonism” is, per data from the latest Pew Research studies, the 4th largest grouping of Christianity (behind Evangelical, Catholic, and Mainline Protestant) in the U.S. At roughly 4MM US members, and 14MM worldwide members, it is essentially the same size as Judaism. Yet in the public sphere, the Mormon experience is often still marginalized. Patheos takes the “12 major world traditions that influence the West” and presents them as Gateways — none more prominent than the others — as a way to present the major perspectives to the public. I believe this will become an important resource for the public to understand the Mormon experience, and that in itself will be a good thing.
9. Will the Mormon-related materials at Patheos, and the Mormon Gateway in particular, be an extension of the offficial, or “correlated,” church?
No, it will not. Much like the Catholic information and Gateway, the contributors will be from the tradition, but the official Church is not associated directly with the site. Our intent in every tradition is “to present the rich fabric of the “lived tradition” — that is, the tradition as it is lived day-to-day by its members. The power in that presentation is that it is NOT from the official Church. Those seeking information want to hear less from the sanctioned bodies, and more from their neighbors living the tradition. Said differently, the power of the “Mormon Gateway” lies partly in its not being “the official LDS gateway” — that already exists, and is frequented mostly by members of the Church itself. The Mormon Gateway on Patheos will be the place where more non-Church members learn about the Mormon tradition.
10. Are you looking for contributors?
We are always looking for good contributors to the site, and to the site’s Gateways. There are links on the http://www.patheos.com site to contact the editorial team about contribution.