Monday, August 24, 2009

Review Articles Chris Alford

The Mediatization of Religion

Stig Hjarvard’s (1998) article The Mediatization of Religion attempts to develop a theoretical framework which can be used to understand the ways in which religion is effected by a process he terms mediatization. Hjarvard argues that in countries with highly commercialised and deregulated media industries, this process of "mediatization" involves the subsumption of religious issues and representations into media logic. The principle implication of this, Hjarvard suggests, is the disempowering of institutionalised Religion and the subsequent dominance of what he terms "Banal Religion". This article raises some important issues particularly as to the role of media in religious issues/representations and the subsequent repercussions of this relationship.

Can the mystically supernatural protagonists and the plethora of mythical/magical creatures that inhabit some of the most popular entertainment spectacles (i.e. Harry Potter and Twilight novels/films) be considered as evocative of religious meaning? According to Hjarvard’s (1998) thesis, it is through the blending of folk religious elements, traditional religious symbols and thematic effects (highly emotional music etc.) that the "Banal religious imagination" is established. As a consequence, consumers of mediatized religion are becoming less dependent upon institutionalised religions as a source of religious and or spiritual thoughts, feelings and imagination, and more enthralled by the popular culture mediums which stimulate the Banal religious imagination.

The foundations of Hjarvard’s (1998) theoretical framework of "mediatization" are in the form of three metaphors - media as conduits, languages and environments of information and communication, the increasingly dominant source religious meaning and representation. If Hjarvard’s "mediatization" hypothesis accurately represents changes in the way in which we gain access and process religious meaning, as I believe it does, then the possible repercussions must be carefully considered. For example, how can we assume that religious and spiritual issues, converted into individualised consumer entertainment through the media language of popular culture, contain any of their original meaning? Similarly, how are people in modern technology dependent societies able react independently to religious representations which are constantly fluctuating under the murky agenda’s of commercialised media? Surely the relevance of such problems warrants a serious questioning of the relationship between media and religion.

Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as a “Social Product” in Consumer Society.

This poignant article by Jennifer Rindfleish (2005) critically examines the social forces driving the popular trend of the new-age self-development. She pays particular attention to the role of new-age authors in facilitating the modern consumer’s continuously insatiable quest for self improvement, a phenomenon she calls the "consumption of the self". Rindfleish (2005) argues that the principal mechanisms of this process are "technologies of the self", the hybridised “meta-theories” of new-age authors who synthesise elements of religion and science from both East and West in order to sell a never-complete vision of self-transformation. The article asks us to consider the implications of a marriage between spirituality and consumerism upon the already confused modern notion of “self”.

Under the influence of secularisation, consumerism, individual spirituality and psychotherapeutic theory, the notion of “self-help” or “self-actualisation” (Maslow, 1970, cited in Rindfleish, 2005) has become an obsession of the modern liberal democratic citizen (Rindfleish, 2005). In accordance with this obsession the demand for the tailored wisdom of the new-age guru seems to be on a constant incline (as evidenced by the robust new-age section in most bookstores). Rindfleish asserts, engagement in new-age discourse and practice is not a process of meaningful self-discovery but an endless “consumption of the self”. This commodification of spirituality is mechanised by what Rindfleish calls the “technologies of the self”, the “unique” “meta-theories” glued together from the larger and richer traditions (i.e religions and psychology) to form a “social product” which needs to be constantly reinvented and re-packaged for the changing fads of the consumer market.

That the commodification of spirituality should appear quite obviously absurd to the casual observer is a given. The inherent problem is that it is almost impossible to be a casual observer in a consumer market which is tailored to you. If we continue to allow ourselves to be force fed a prepackaged spirituality we are accepting a homogenised and incomplete vision of the self, badly constructed by a fluctuating collection of pseudo “wisdoms” grafted from their traditional context and thus bereft of real meaning.

Terrorists we like and Terrorists we don’t like

Deni Elliot’s (2003) article Terrorists we like and Terrorists we don’t like examines the ways in which the US government, through the media industry, manipulates representations of “the other” in order to serve nationalistic agendas. Pointing to the fluctuating shift in the way the US government labels groups either as “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” in accordance with political agendas, and the way in which stereotypes are used by the media to perpetuate these agendas, Elliot argues that this kind of manipulation results in distorted views of reality. This article asks the reader to consider some important questions; what “hidden agendas” influence mediated communication in free-market democracies such as the US? And how can we have the ability to form independent views on religious and other issues if our primary (sometimes only) sources of information reflect these “hidden agendas”.

Elliot (2003) cites the manipulation of certain symbols of “otherness” (i.e. the turban) in the US media as a principle means of inciting fear and aggression towards people of “Muslim appearance”. She asks us to consider the connection between nationalistic agendas such as the “War on Terror” and the way these symbols of “otherness” are relentlessly reinforced in media genre’s such as current affairs and popular film and television. Elliot also highlights the inherent contradiction in the way the media interchanges the “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” labels to designate their status as enemies or allies (or neutral). Such open contradictions must at least make us aware of the manipulative function of the media. But when stereotypes and symbols become so embedded in the way we process information even the most aware among us may find their reactions to “the other” influenced by “hidden agendas”.


Elliot D, 2003, ‘Terrorists we do like and Terrorists we don't like’, In PM Lester & EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd Edn, London, Praeger, ch7, 51-55.

Hjarvard, S, 2008, The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change, Northern Lights, 6, 1, 9-26.

Rindfleish S, 2005, ‘Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as “Social Product” in Consumer Society’, Consumption, Markets and Culture, 8, 4, Dec, 343 -360.

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