Catholic Twitter, my current book project, uses Catholic identities and digital media as a site from which explore questions about language, communication, and social construction. I look at the (digital) rhetorical creation of subgroups in “Catholic Twitter” to argue that social media is not just a place where religious groups exist or practice, but rather where new social identities are fabricated through technology, discourses on technology, and digital rhetoric.

My first article in this project (forthcoming in the next volume of American Examples: New Conversations on Religion) examines the discursive creation of #RadTrads on Twitter. I used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze the Twitter data: I retrieved Tweets that contained #radtrad, rad trad, or rad trad from January 1 2019 to December 31 2020 (two years) to see what topics are most frequently discussed alongside the hashtag #RadTrad. The discourse surrounding rad trads represents them as reacting against modernity (however construed). Indeed, the descriptions of #RadTrad depend on the speaker’s conception of modernity.

Ultimately, the digital rhetoric shaping Catholic Twitter reveals the variety of ways people construct themselves as premodern, modern, or postmodern subjects. Scholars in religious studies have noted similar discursive patterns surrounding new religious movements (e.g., “new” as delegitimizing), but looking at the media effects of hashtags and algorithms on a legible religion like Catholicism complicates this further. Thus the RadTrad hashtag, I argue, signifies not just a place where religious groups exist or practice, but rather the creation of a new social identities through digital rhetoric. Not unlike how print capitalism made new identities possible (according to such scholars as Benedict Anderson), technological shifts in digital media also make new identities possible. Online Catholic Trads are such useful examples for those interested in theories of media and technology precisely because they are a group imagined, in many ways, through new media, while also appealing to tradition to authorize claims in the present (something I also explored in my first book). The rhetoric surrounding RadTrads provides another useful example through which to explore how ideas about tradition and purity play out in other cultural constructs (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) or, in other words, to communicate an essentialized identity.