December 29, 2011

Religion, Media and Social Change

European Journal of Cultural Studies,  December 2011; 14 (6)
Special Issue on Religion, Media and Social Change

Guest editors: David Herbert and Marie Gillespie



Media and the imagination of religion in contemporary global culture

This article argues for an invigorated scholarship of religion within cultural studies. It suggests that this is justified both on its own terms and because there is evidence that the interaction of media and religion is creating entirely new forms of the religious in contemporary public life. Religion persists in history, but it persists in part because of its mediation and this persistent, mediated religion constitutes a new evolution. The article presents a range of contexts where this can be seen to be happening, not least those contexts most involved in contemporary cultural globalization.


Theorizing religion and media in contemporary societies: An account of religious 'publicization'

This article argues that a combination of the rapid development and dissemination of media technologies, the liberalization of national media economies and the growth of transnational media spheres is transforming the relationship between religion, popular culture and politics in contemporary societies in ways not adequately accounted for in existing sociological theories of religion (secularization, neo-secularization and rational choice) and still largely neglected in sociological theories of media and culture. In particular, it points to a series of media enabled social processes (de-differentiation, diasporic intensification and re-enchantment) which mirror and counter processes identified with the declining social significance of religion in secularization theory (differentiation, societalization and rationalization), interrupting their secularizing effects and tending to increase the public presence or distribution of religious symbols and discourses, a process described as religious ‘publicization’. These processes have implications for religious authority, which is reconfigured in a more distributed form but not necessarily diminished, contrary to neo-secularization theory. Furthermore, contrary to rational choice theory, the increased public presence of religion depends not only on competition between religious ‘suppliers’, but also on the work done by religions beyond the narrow religious sphere ascribed by secular modernity to religion, in supposedly secular spheres such as entertainment, politics, law, health and welfare and hence has implications for the relationship between politics and popular culture central to cultural studies.


Religion, cultural studies and New Age sacralization of everyday life

Through an interpretation of New Age spirituality, this article is concerned with how cultural studies – as a discipline that emerged in the shadow of secularization theory – can be involved in the reappraisal of religion. At once part consumer culture and part counterculture, the New Age is something of a conundrum that raises alluring questions about social and cultural change. In the name of re-enchantment and taking back control of one’s life through inner spiritual power, it appears to be aimed precisely at those forces of social rationalization that are seen to engender secularization. The piece suggests that such emergent religious movements not only challenge us to rethink the frameworks through which religion has been conceptualized, but that they provide multiple possibilities for the examination of the sacred in light of cultural studies’ disciplinary concerns with contemporary sociocultural dynamics, in particular as they are experienced within the ambit of everyday life.


The secularism of the state and the secularism of consumption: 'Honesty', 'treason' and the dynamics of religious visibility on television in India and Turkey

This article questions the assumption that the increase in visibility of religion in mass-mediated content is indicative of greater impact of religion in the public and state sphere and of a process of de-secularization. It argues that expressions of Hinduism and Islam have become inseparable from secularist histories in the respective countries. The analysis emphasizes a necessary distinction between piety, public popular culture and political activism in the name of a national religious majority, and shows that in its appropriation and redefinition of secularism and employment of religious symbolism, Hindu nationalist mobilization and governance in India are related more closely to sacralization of secularism in historical Turkish nationalism than to the Islamic movement. In both countries, we can observe a retreat rather than a greater media presence of the pious and sacred in the face of neonationalism and commercialization, which in each case produces a democratically precarious public popular culture.


Enchantment, migration and media: Marabouts in Senegal and in the Netherlands

West African marabouts are important actors in a globalizing field of religious practices, offering their services such as divination sessions not only to West African expatriates, but also to a non-Muslim and non-African clientele abroad. In an effort to negotiate their expert status publicly, Wets African marabouts mediatize and advertise their services on the internet, in printed press and in radio and television shows – both in West Africa and abroad. This article focuses on the tension between the possibilities of media to reach an audience and the difficulty in legitimizing the use of these media for reliable, effective services. A comparison between marabouts in Senegal and in the Netherlands will illustrate this tension: using the transnational aspect of marabouts’ activities, this article compares the influence of media on marabouts ‘marketed spirituality’ and on the perception thereof, in their country of origin and in one of their host countries.


Muriel's wedding: News media representations of Europe's first female suicide terrorist

Muriel Degauque is reported as Europe’s first female suicide bomber, as such her life and death were covered in a wide variety of media. Given this combination, of coverage and non-standard profile, this article seeks to explore to what extent she and her death are defined by her ‘Muslimness’ and by her ‘sex’ in the news media. The construction of Muriel Degauque and her death in the news media can tell us something about our relationship to sex, security and religion as well as to the stability and hegemony of dominant social discourses. This article will demonstrate that the coverage of Muriel Degauque and her death is organised through three interlocking themes of gender, security and religion that combine in a particular trajectory to present her as ‘Other’. Indeed, it concludes that Degauque was fitted into the media mould because of her Islamic identity, and despite of her sex and white European heritage.


'Big stuff in a beautiful way with interesting people': The spiritual discourse in UK religious television

This article critically examines changes in the style and tone of religious broadcasting. Increasingly, a discourse of spirituality and faith is used by television producers to describe and discuss their output, as these are seen as less contentious and more audience-friendly ways of promoting faith-based programming. However, these themes continue to be framed within a recognizable set of religious traditions, mainly Christian. Combining interviews with producers and analysis of the BBC series Extreme Pilgrim (2008), this article examines the representation of spirituality as it is visualized and narrated. It analyses how this representation challenges traditional religious institutions, the new role it creates for broadcasters within lifestyle television, and discusses whether this subjective position can be conveyed authentically through the medium of television. The future of religious broadcasting rests on finding sustainable formats, yet these lifestyle formats offer distinct challenges in relation to their successful production and reproduction.

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