Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Mediatization of Religion – Stig Hjarvard

Stig Hjarvard’s article on the mediatisation of religion describes how the media works as an agent of religious change. Hjarvard argues that the media has become a primary source of religious imagination as well as a cultural function, emulating the sense of community and spiritual guidance provided by institutionalised religions.

Joshua Meyrowitz (1993) analyses the various ways that religion is affected by the media and distinguishes the different aspects of communication media through three metaphors. The first, media as conduits, is the fact that the media has become a prominent distributor of religious representations and spiritual elements in ways different to how institutionalised religions deliver their information. Secondly, the metaphor of media as languages is the idea that religion has been integrated into popular culture and that the media has changed the approach towards religion to become more focused on the entertainment of the audience. Finally, the media as environments describes the way in which the media has the ability to create social structure, community and belonging much like the role of institutionalised religions.

Based on these three metaphors, Hjarvard’s article effectively demonstrates the power of the media in relation to religion. Religious themes in movies, TV programs and video games are becoming so abundant that the supernatural has become the norm. In one way, the mediatisation of religion may be leading towards the secularization of society as people are drawn away from insitiutionalised religion (Norris and Inglehart, 2004), however Hjarvard suggests that the media is re-enchanting and re-sacralising society. Grand shopping centres and theme parks are described as ‘cathedrals of consumption’ (Rizter, 1999), making consumption seem magical, effectively re-enchanting society. Activities such as worship, mourning and celebration that were once conducted by religious institutions are now being taken over by the media. Whether this results in a more secular society or not, the social functions of institutionalised religions are still present.

Hjarvard’s article is concluded with a survey conducted on a sample of Danish adults. The results show that the media has become a prominent distributor of religious information as well as a primary reason for many people’s interest in religion and spirituality. This reinforces Myrowitz’s three metaphors of media and effectively summarises the mediatisation of religion.

- Benjamin Muller

Hjarvard, S. (2008). The Mediatization of Religion Northern Lights, 6 (1), 9-26.

Meyrowitz, J. (1993), ‘Images of Media: Hidden Ferment – and Harmony – in the
Field’, Journal of Communication, 43: 3 (Summer), pp. 55–66.

Norris, P. and Inglehart, R. (2004), Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ritzer, G. (1999), Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of
Consumption. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.

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