Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Mediatization of Religion

The Mediatization of Religion - Review Lorelei Franke-Woods
Stig Hjarvard

There has been an increased interest in the supernatural phenomena, which Hjarvard argues is largely due to the influence of modern media’s use of sophisticated technology. Modern films, such as Twilight bring the metaphysical realm out of the imagination and into the natural world. Due to this increased interest, media coverage of institutionalized religion has also greatly increased.

In considering a theory of the media as an agent of religious change, Hjarvard centres on the concept of mediatization, which addresses the historical process of social change in culture and society due to the media’s growing influence and importance. Using media logic in terms of institutional regulation, symbolic content and individual practices, not only are religious issues reported on, but also the authority and ideas of religious institutions can be altered.

Meyrowitz (1993) suggests three metaphors to describe three aspects of the media that previously were responsibilities of family, school or the church. These aspects he argues are now responsible for the mediatization of religion. Firstly, media as conduits, through which the media produces and distributes religious magic and spiritualism symbols and messages from senders to audience in both religious and open markets. Secondly, media as languages, while taking into account popular culture, address the formatting of messages and frame the sender/receiver relationships; and thirdly, media as environments, which explains how media systems and institutions facilitate and structure audience interaction, a sense of community, traditions, moral orientation and spiritual guidance.

Based on Billig’s (1995) concept of banal nationalism in which manifest and less noticeable symbols are distinguished between, Hjarvard suggests that banal religion is concerned with the everyday and less noticed phenomena and low-keyed symbols that remind people of their sense of belonging to a religion and its culture. Hjarvard further argues that in western societies, banal religious elements about the supernatural forces now dominate society’s religious thinking.

Weber (1998 [1904]) argued that the world is characterised by rationality continuously advancing, but Hjarvard suggests that is no longer necessarily so, as the media is contributing to a re-enchantment of the modern world. New religious movements have embraced enchanting elements taken from pre-modernity as sources of meaning and identity and so have the media, argues Hjarvard. The media has become a producer, not just the conduit or the purveyor of enchanted experiences.

Birman, P. (2006). Future in the Mirror: Media, Evangelicals and Politics in Rio de Janeiro. Religion, Media and the Public Sphere. Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. pp 52-71.
Hjarvard, S. (2008). The Mediatization of Religion Northern Lights, 6 (1), 9-26.

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