Monday, November 2, 2009

The Shifting Relationship between Medfia and Religion: How Religion is changing in response to the globalised mediated world.

RELN 2011 - Final Assignment
The Shifting Relationship between Media and Religion;
How Religion is changing in response to the globalised mediated World.
Lorelei Franke-Woods

A shifting relationship between religion and the media has been developing in recent years. This has become increasingly apparent as a response to our globalised, mediated world. Hjarvard (2008), while considering a theory of the media as an agent of religious change in his article The Mediatization of Religion, centres on the concept of mediatization, in which he addresses the historical process of social change in culture and society due to the media’s growing influence and importance in all aspects of society. Mediatization of religion researches the theory of religion and looks towards the future of religious practice. In terms of institutional regulation, symbolic content and individual practices, the media – as conduits, languages and environments - reports not only on religious issues but also is capable of altering the authority and ideas of religious institutions. Hjarvard (2008) argues that religious practices and imaginations become increasingly dependent on the media through mediatization. This paper will discuss the theoretical issues of mediatization as presented by Hjarvard (2008), explore aspects of marketing and branding, and consider as case studies a recent Bible Society campaign “Jesus has answers” and the Hillsong phenomenon’s own the media presentations, as modern attempts of religious groups to use the media as a vehicle of promotion.
Meyrowitz (1993; as cited in Hjarvard, 2008) suggests that there are three metaphors to describe three aspects of the media that previously were responsibilities of the family, school or the church and these aspects are now responsible for the mediatization of religion. These are the media as conduits, media as languages and media as environments, all of which facilitate changes in the amount, content and direction of religious messages in society, while at the same time they transform religious representations and challenge and replace the authority of the institutionalized religions (Hjarvard, 2008).

Considering the metaphor media as conduits, media productions and distributions of religious material, magic and spiritualism, symbols and messages pass from senders to audience in both religious and open markets (Hjarvard, 2008). It is necessary to consider what topics and agenda are sent. As the media has only limited access to religious activity and information, Hjarvard (2008) argues that much of the material presented does not originate from recognized and institutionalised religions but comes from the media outlet itself, via news, documentaries and entertainment. Consequently, the media can present religion in a new light in which institutionalised religion and other spiritual elements are blended, distributing banal religion or everyday, low keyed symbols and happenings that have only limited value, and possibly serving as sources of re-enchantment, yet they can remind people of their sense of belonging to a religion and its culture (Hjarvard, 2008). Hjarvard (2008) further argues that in western societies, banal religious elements about the supernatural forces now dominate society’s religious thinking and pop culture forms of mediated programmes, coverage and stories.

Weber (1998 [1904]; as cited in Hjarvard, 2008) 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 has the media, argues Hjarvard. The media has become a producer, not just the conduit or the purveyor of enchanted experiences, albeit hugely controlled and influenced by calculation of effectiveness and technology (Hjarvard, 2008).

Using the metaphor of media as languages, the media uses different methods of formatting and framing the content of its messages, influencing the narrative construction and the status of reality, which affect the relationship between the sender and the receiver (Hjarvard, 2008). In this way, the media is therefore able to alter, manipulate and form religious presentations as it sees fit. A recent example of this has been the media’s presentation of the Pope’s invitation to hundreds of disaffected Australian Anglicans – including a host of married priests, to join the Catholic Church, suggesting that more than 20 traditionally orientated Anglican priests from across Australia would be allowed to join the Catholic Church while keeping their own traditions (Robinson, 2008, p.1). This article begins with hundreds of people, then becomes a host married priests, followed by 20 priests. The cartoon accompanying this front page article suggested that these Anglican priests can be compared with homosexual people publically declaring their sexual orientation – coming out of the closet. Hjarvard (2008) argues that some media stories such as the papal politics concerning Latin America offer quite different representations of religious issues and assumptions on what religion is about. The media as languages also suggests that religion is presented according to popular culture, particularly in the western world where the media has been deregulated and commercialized. Because of this popular culture language, religion has often been presented as entertainment (Hjarvard, 2008).

The third metaphor used by Hjarvard (2008) to describe the media is as environments, which explains how media systems and institutions facilitate and structure audience interaction, a sense of community, traditions, moral orientation and spiritual guidance. The exponential rise of technology in the last century has introduced many different possibilities for media environments. Radio and television, as public service media, have for the past fifty years favoured a style of national, paternalistic communication to the mass audience, while the last ten years have seen a favouring of a more global and multidirectional communication with the exponential use of the Internet (Hjarvard, 2008). Eisenstein (1979; as cited in Hjarvard, 2008) argues that there is more stability in environments than in individual messages, as seen when scientific discoveries and ideas were published by the press and as the control the established church enjoyed over access to religious writings was weakened, both therefore supporting the individualization of belief.

Branding is about making meaning and providing a sum of things about a product that are more than its individual aspects and the success of a brand is when it is able to be marketed as part of the popular culture (Einstein, 2008). Branding is one aspect of the mediatisation of religion, which Hepp (2009) suggests is responsible for changing religion, as media culture structures religion around specific sacred brands, in which religious messages are presented in fragmented media landscapes. Two examples offered by Hepp (2009) that received large media coverage have been the Catholic World Youth Day and the election of the first German Pope; in both of these issues, Hepp argues that there was pressure on the Catholic Church to communicate itself in a quantitative perspective in multimedia and only as a brand was it able to show itself as centred within media culture. Also, because of mediatisation, the sacred space belonging to the religious content risks loss in the media communication, as it is increasingly commercialized into a place of competition. However, if any religion or spiritual group seeks to become more than some transcendent feeling for individual experience, it needs to be mediated and so become a product of mediatisation (Hepp & Kroenert, 2008). Modern spirituality and religions recognize that they need this, to be accepted as viable and relevant but the media with its culture and technology have a huge influence on how spirituality and religion are mediated (Hepp & Kroenert, 2008).

Television communicates religion and spirituality visually with the use of symbols and practices to be appealing, while the Internet is able to offer increasingly individualised forms of religion and spirituality, as found in the virtual reality programmes such as “Church of Fools” (Jenkins, 2008). Castells (2004) suggests that within real virtuality, there is a potential integration of text, image and sound within the same system and this can fundamentally alter the character of communication and shape culture. According to Warren (1997) we live in an image culture, distributed by television, film and the internet, in which we think via images, examples and narratives. These images are usually iconic images, meaning they present their product visually rather than imaginatively (Warren, 1997). Recognizing the power of these iconic images to induce the viewers to imitate them is vital. Warren (1997) suggests that people tend to imitate positive and negative behaviour they observe in others and that the culture industry and religious groups have been established partly on this acknowledgment.

Adorno and Horkheimer (1993 [1944]) suggest that within the culture industry, reality becomes indistinguishable from life as depicted in the movies. There is little room for reflection or imagination for the audience of modern cinema, as they are not given opportunities to respond within the structure of the film. Modern cinema forces its viewers to directly equate it with real life. Adorno and Horkheimer (1993 [1944]) argue that in the culture industry viewers and consumers are compelled to accept, use and/or buy what is offered, albeit they may not be convinced of the need or value of what is being offered. The impact of theological footprints may sometimes be subtle, as in the modern film “Twilight”, but the impact of religion on the works of some film producers has become increasingly visible, with the outlook on traditions often reflected (Schmalzbauer, 2005)

The Evangelical movement provides an important cultural context for the interplay between the media and religion (Hjarvard, 2008). The largest example of this in Australia is with Hillsong Church, founded and based in Sydney, with a branch in Brisbane and internationally expanded to London, Kiev, Cape Town, Stockholm and Paris – its mission statement includes “to reach and influence the world”. This church is very aware of the usefulness of interaction with the media, which it uses as a conduit to promote itself, its message and its music to its audience in both religious and open markets. Using the media as languages, Hillsong constantly takes into account popular culture and entertainment and makes full use of modern music, television and the Internet to bring its message, its beliefs, its vision and its core values into the open market. According to its website, Hillsong’s music is so popular that a recent album reached the number two spot in both Australia and New Zealand and has been successfully launched in North America. In considering the media as environments, Hillsong uses media systems and institutions to facilitate and structure audience participation and interaction, a sense of community that lives everyday life with enjoyment, authenticity and wholeness within the church body, traditions of the evangelical church, moral orientation and spiritual guidance. The success of the brand “Hillsong” is that it is able to be readily marketed.

In its “Jesus – All About Life” campaign, launched in Sydney on 23rd September, 2009, the Bible Society uses the Internet as its conduit to send out and market its message “That Jesus Has Answers” (Dagwell, 2009). According to its website presentation, viewers are invited to “vote up this image” for each photograph that can be downloaded, using the language of popular culture. Facebook, Twitter and Blogs have all been extensively used by the brand, the Bible Society, with over 15 million hits during the first two weeks of this campaign. Considering media as environments, this presentation has been confrontational and controversial; with one court challenge to attempt to stop it but positive and negative comments were all part of the purpose of the campaign – to get people talking about the subject. The campaign was expected to be completed before complaints could be heard. The Bible Society website advertisers that the campaign has brought together the 15 major Christian denominations in Australia. Following the campaign launch, five denominational and organization leaders climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge to jointly present their message of endorsement of the campaign (Dagwell, 2009), and this was also presented via the Internet.

There is an assumption that the media plays a shaping and determining role in contemporary society and in constructing and maintaining some knowledge, values and beliefs of modern society writes Harindranath (2006). Further, by combining images and language, the media represents reality and contributes to a spreading of values, beliefs and ideas, all of which give character to our culture. It is obvious that both The Bible Society and Hillsong church agree with this. In contrast, Blundell (2009, p.36) argues that television tends to be promiscuous and has a short concentration span, flirting with ideas and dropping them abruptly. Television increasingly attracts viewers with its practical demonstrations, appeals to emotions and celebrity voyeurism, while intellectual, theoretical or technical knowledge is not expected to be presented logically or in any detail (Blundell, 2009, p.36). However, electronic churches increasingly attract people, reflecting the importance of new information technologies in the western culture of worship in which new mediated forms of worship emerge from its creator’s understandings of religion and spirituality (Schement & Stephenson, 1996).

The relationship between the media and religion has altered in recent years and continues to do so which, Hjarvard (2008) argues is due to a response to the globalised and mediated world. In considering the theoretical concept of mediatisation of religion, the media as conduits, languages and environments is capable of altering any messages and ideas of religious institutions. Marketing and branding religions have also made great impact, and all these factors have been evident with The Bible Society’s latest promotion, “Jesus has answers” and with Hillsong Church’s rapid growth and expansion. Religion increasingly makes use of the media to deliver and to promote its message. The media is increasingly willing to do so, often using its influence and technology to transform religious representations and challenge and replace the authority of established and institutionalized religions.

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