Patheos.com

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.

Bookmark Patheos.com

Comments

  1. adam e. says:

    Thanks for introducing this site. It’s a good-looking site and the “Lenses” feature that lets you compare faiths side-by-side is pretty cool.

  2. One concern for me – and ONLY one concern for me.

    Are they going to have a strict comment moderation policy to pick up the regular crew of jerks that hijack almost every major media outlet discussion of Mormonism?

    The Salt Lake Tribune’s comment section, for instance, is almost a joke because of a dozen or so idiots who always turn every-single-discussion into a bigoted rant about Mormonism.

    If reader participation is allowed at all, it has to be strictly and vigorous policed. Otherwise the whole project will probably go to hell.

  3. Not The CEO says:

    Seth, I don’t know all the details, because I’m still getting up to speed, but we’re aware of the potential for a commentary death spiral. I believe we’re going to be moderating fairly strictly.

  4. Looks like an ambitious and worthwhile project. It looks like they have nabbed some bloggernacle regulars to assist with the Mormon gateway.

  5. Wow, patheos is a great website. I spent 15 minutes on it just now and I already have some fantastic material to digest throughout the day. Congrats to Leo Brunnick and his team, and thanks for including a meaningful and representative Mormon gateway.

  6. It really is a beautiful website. Thanks for the interview Ronan. I’m bookmarking it now…

  7. Hi – this is Leo Brunnick, from Patheos. Thanks for the great feedback. Regarding the moderation policies question, we have several levels of moderation that we are employing:

    1. We use a software package from Pluck software, which allows for some “automated moderation”, that disallows certain words and phrases, and has other simple settings to prevent abuse.

    2. We have “community moderation”, whereby when a certain number of members mark a comment as abusive, it automatically comes down from view until an Editor can review it for abuse.

    3. Because we require sign-in from a valid e-mail address, when a person is marked as an “abuser” their ability to comment then goes away.

    When these three things are combined with “human moderation” (we scour the boards every day) we think we will end up with the best of User Interaction, without the large amount of “junk” that tends to ruin the experience for everyone.

    Thanks,
    Leo

  8. Left Field says:

    Looks good. I found only a few minor things I might quibble with (such as polygamy ending in 1890, overplaying the significance of the brief oral sex “prohibition” etc.). The summary lists only two of the four sacred texts. Some revisions will need to be made, but it’s a very good start.

  9. Costanza says:

    Left Field, did your quibble about 1890 come from the overview section? It gets more nuanced I found in the deeper library entries:

    “When LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff announced that plural marriages would no longer be performed by the Church (1890), he laid the groundwork for another major schism. Because the practice of plural marriage had been central to the theological identity of the LDS Church in the years after 1852, those who had sacrificed and suffered for their adherence to the principle found it difficult to accept Woodruff’s decree. Various Church leaders continued to authorize, perform, and enter into plural marriages for another two decades.”

  10. I had the opportunity, with a few others, of writing a fair amount of the content in the library. We did it on very short notice, so I’m sure errors, etc., slipped through. Please write to patheos.com with any things you find that aren’t correct. Another element that made it something of a difficult task was that those scholars writing the material for each tradition all had to follow the same basic patterns and categories. This makes it great for comparison and organization, but it sometimes leads to unusual emphases because not every tradition fits the categories all that well.

  11. Left Field says:

    Yes, the thing I read about 1890 came from an overview section. I’m not one to get too worked up about whether people cite end of polygamy as in 1890, 1904, or whatever. It was a gradual process, but we ought to be as accurate as possible. Given the gradual abandonment of polygamy, even in a brief overview, it would be appropriate to give a vague date such as “around the turn of the century” or “more than 100 years ago.”

    The article on Gender and Sexuality implied that the church taught against oral sex throughout the 1970s. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that the subject came up in a memo to bishops sometime in the early ’80s and was rescinded a few months later. Devoting almost 10% of the article to that brief incident seems a bit out of kilter given that few members were even aware of the memo and that it was quickly retracted.

    Also, I’m not sure that the teaching that sex is for more than procreation is a particularly recent thing.

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