Media and Religion
The Global View
Series: Religion and Society
- ISBN: 9783110499865
- Published By: De Gruyter, Inc.
- Published: July 2021
The fields of media studies, technology, communications, and cultural studies have all made rapid strides in terms of clarifying key issues and concerns relevant to a “globalized” world, but these areas have often been seen as mutually exclusive, despite the overlapping constructs. Therefore, there is a need to connect and create bridges, rather than separate and compartmentalize realms; there is a need to translate across disciplines, so that the holistic experience of media and religion can be better understood.
It is just that gap that Media and Religion: The Global View, an anthology edited by Stewart M. Hoover and Nabil Echchaibi, addresses. It looks at the role of religion in the 21st century in terms of broader social imaginaries and meaning. Art, music, and media creators have always stepped in to interpret religion (i.e. wonders such as the Sistine Chapel), but now technology is a key driving force—a new development explored in the book. It is the wonders of the Internet, rather than Michaelangelo, that are the subject of Hoover and Echchaibi’s volume.
For those looking to explore religious studies, it is important to understand the development of this field and the critical role of technology. The book, in its totality, illuminates events in media history ranging from the Gutenberg press to digital media, but not necessarily in any chronological order. To that extent, it is topical rather than chronological in outlook.
Without technology as an intermediary, the book maintains, there would be no modern media and post-modern religion. With church attendance waning in the developed countries, it took a massive media effort to plug into the meta-dominated world of young people, yet that could be the saving grace for religion—the adaptability, the collective gestalt (the whole being more than the parts), the book maintains. It could be cyberspace, outlets such as www.Beliefnet.com that keep the wheels of faith humming and prevent it from becoming totally obsolete. With few people under age 55 even reading the printed newspaper, it would be preposterous to assume Millennials and Gen-Z would be inspired by printed holy books to invest in established religion, which is on the decline. If it modernizes, as it always has, it will survive and thrive. This is the message of the book.
The book is organized, without formal sections and divisions, into initial empirical chapters that look at how media displaces the formal role of parents and religious structures that transmit morality, to more global, international, and “macro-meaning” chapters at the end. Two of the eleven essays are written by Hoover and Echchaibi.
In the first essay, “Conjuring the Religious, the Global and the Mediated,” Hoover and Echchaibi talk about the effect of Asia and non-western thinking on the Americas, while formerly the influence was from North-West Europe. There is a tendency in the Americas, which primarily reflect European origins, to “universalize” European culture as “the global,” falling short of today’s reality. The authors refute the hegemony of Anglo-American principles and the “global village” in favor of the “planetary village” (33) with all of its ecological implications.
A second essay by Florence Pasche Guignard looks at the many applications in Google and Apple “App Stores” connected to menstruation and fertility, linking biology and media sciences. Scholarship in health research has documented that the use of “Internet-supported fertility-awareness-based methods” (43) in conception is more effective than self-observation, and, after all, in vitro fertilization has been around for some time as an intermediary between physicality and reproduction. The science of conception (or not) is particularly poignant at this moment in history, so it is a timely contribution.
Another chapter by Devin Wilson examines the application of Buddhism to game studies. Other essays look at mediated religion in Iran and Brazil, using the case study method. Magali do Nascimento Cunha talks about media churches that have no physical home and operate totally online. This makes possible more spectacular religion (132) through sound effects, staging, and dramatic techniques not possible in public, akin more to backroom editing.
In the final, more country-based chapters, case studies from Ghana, South Korea, and India, more macro-structured and replete with photographs, round out the repertoire and world culture exploration of digitalized religion.
Film and television are neglected in the book. Do Hollywood screen writers and television artists portray ethnic minority characters differently from mainstream characters? How is a minister or rabbi portrayed on television (such as in the US television series Seventh Heaven), compared to a non-religious character? Is attending a house of worship portrayed as “cool” or “less hip” in the media of a society where weekly non-attendance is becoming the norm rather than the exception?
Observing services and rituals on the Internet has become important for all age groups. Electronic religion has also attracted a contingent of people who are dissatisfied with traditional offerings or may not feel comfortable attending a house of worship. The demographic statistics are not yet in as to who comprised that audience, particularly in the pandemic-era, but we know that the size of that audience is growing.
Mediated religion offers antidotes to feelings of social dislocation and isolation. One of the authors, Deborah Justice wrote about the power of “multi-sited churches,” which are actually hybrids, with some people in person and others behind the screen.
In my estimation, the editors have accomplished their goal, curating a transnational exhibition of essays illustrating the global or “planetary” field alluded to in their introductory material. The realization that much of religious life takes place across technological and artificial borders is now becoming much more commonplace.
The editors conclude that there is no “single, exclusive path” for worshippers to take, not only spiritually but in regard to religion’s delivery systems, and that technological and environmental factors play a role in determining outcomes and that, in fact, there may be “multiple pathways.”
Myna German is professor of mass communication at Delaware State University.
Myna GermanDate Of Review:June 28, 2022