Church, Market and Media

A Discursive Approach to Institutional Religious Change

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Marcus Moberg
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , July
     2017.
     216 pages.
     $90.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781474280570.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Marcus Moberg’s Church, Market, and Media: A Discursive Approach to Institutional Religious Change explores “the dialectical and mutually affective relationship between processes of religious change and wider social and cultural change” (10). Moberg uses discourse analysis to claim that mainline denominational churches in the United States and Europe  are using media to influence the church with marketized language. His book aims to connect religious discourse to broader cultural shifts in market and media use within Christian denominations. Moberg’s work, while successful in connecting the worlds of rhetoric and contemporary religion, leaves some unanswered questions about both how this book fits alongside existing works and the usefulness of this book for the intended audience. 

Moberg’s guiding goal is to “explore the ways in which the discursive and ideational dimensions of marketization and mediatization have affected the ways that” practicing Protestants view themselves in relation to the world and cultural influences that surround them (11). After the introduction, chapter 2 outlines his use of discourse analysis. In this section, Moberg also offers a discussion about the technologization and social functioning of discourse. 

Chapter 3 discusses the “twin processes” of marketization and mediatization as means to social, institutional, and organizational change. Defining “marketization” as the increased production and distribution of market-associated language and “mediatization” as media’s expanse and effects, this chapter explores the history of the market in Western society. Moberg offers a short discussion of neoliberalism and its relationship to the increased use of marketized discourse in Protestant churches as well, arguing that church discourse adopted neoliberal, marketized rhetoric in an effort to maintain social relevance among a rapidly-changing religious base. 

In chapters 4 and 5, Moberg applies this claim to specific ways in which marketization and mediatization made their way into Protestant church rhetoric. He offers specific examples of marketized and mediatized language within the “Seven Sisters” of American Protestantism (the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, along with the United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and American Baptistchurches) and similar Protestant churches found in the United Kingdom. Moberg applies his theory of mediatization and marketization to “official documents”—church writings that focus on “communication and organization-renewal” (76)—which he believes demonstrate examples of adopted marketized and mediatized discourse. 

Similar to chapters 4 and 5, Moberg’s final chapter discusses how these same specific practical effects of mediatization and marketization have made an impact on the rhetoric of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, an important church in Moberg’s home country. 

Moberg uses Norman Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (Taylor and Francis, 2010) as a useful and compelling analytical tool for approaching specific Protestant communities. This three-dimensional tool “combines an analysis of text, practices, and sociocultural practices” that effectively explains the multi-faceted discourse Moberg aims to understand. Throughout his discussion, and specifically in part 1, Moberg effectively utilizes this tool to “examine and reveal the various cultural effects of discourse in relation to certain social and cultural spheres” (27). This tool was especially helpful when applied to the “New Form of Government” document of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). Moberg, utilizing the work of Kira Hall and others, astutely demonstrates the interrelational elements of discourse that arise in identity construction and formation. As exemplified through the New Form document of the PCUSA, he offers a compelling argument that “highlighting how the affordances offered by social media as a technology will prove useful the mission of the church and enable and facilitate the forming of new forms of community” (87). 

However, two issues raise questions regarding Church, Market, and Media. The first is an issue of timing. Moberg claims that marketization and neoliberalism of the mid-20th century are responsible for the rise of mediatized rhetoric in contemporary Protestant churches. However, Max Weber’s seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), placed Protestantism as the source of such economic language long before this era. A more compelling claim would be that as national culture becomes increasingly influenced by marketization brought on from political forces like neoliberalism, the inevitability of this process has influenced the discursive formation of church rhetoric. Without an intellectual shift like this, Moberg’s claims seem to miss the opportunity for more fine-grained historical analysis. 

The second question is of the book’s audience and unique contribution to scholarship. Gerlinde Mautner, James H. McAlexander, Beth Leavenworth Dufault, Diane M. Martin, John W. Schouten, and others have written extensively about the marketization of church spaces. Moberg, claiming to demonstrate “exactly how processes of marketization and mediatization work to effect social, cultural, and institutional religious change” (9), seems not to answer the important questions of exactly why this study matters for those in the religious sphere. What are these moves of mediatization and marketization doing for churches? Do they increase numbers? Do they have policy or organizational implications? An exploration of these questions might add some needed clarity to the intentions behind the book. Answering these questions might also help the audience to better understand how these findings can influence their local church practices. 

Despite these concerns, Moberg’s book still offers important ideas to the intersection of discourse analysis and religion. Considerate of the idea that discourse is “both constructive and constitutive of social and cultural reality,” Moberg presents a work that is thoughtful about the intersubjective nature of social rhetoric within Protestantism. Additionally, Moberg should be commended for undertaking the task of exploring discourse in both American and European mainline churches, as not many scholars have done this kind of transnational, comparative work. However, one is left wondering about what to do with this information once it is obtained.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joseph Torres is a doctoral student in Contemporary Progressive Evangelicalism at the University of California, Davis.

Date of Review: 
September 28, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Marcus Moberg is senior researcher in the department of comparative religion at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. His research interests include the sociology of religion, media and culture, religion, markets and consumer culture studies, and the discursive study of religion.

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