Sunday, August 29, 2010

Article Review

G. A-D.

Mormon Vampires: The Twilight Saga and Religious Literacy by Edwin B. Arnaudin (2008)


This reading is two excerpts from a Master’s thesis. The Literature Review discusses the origins of the Twilight book series and a background of Stephanie Meyer, focussing on her Mormonism. It explains how it is a tenet of Mormonism that creative productions of Mormons reflect Mormon ideals, and it is for this reason that when Meyer denies propagating Mormonism in her text, she is either being na├»ve and ignorant, or simply lying. Further research into the links between ‘Twilight’s themes and Mormon beliefs present the saga as almost propagandist, actively encouraging abstinence and vilifying sexual women, denying women agency and supporting female submission to their males in frighteningly unequal and disrespectful heterosexual relationships, for example between ‘Bella’ and ‘Edward’.

Arnaudin draws on personal interviews with Meyer, and discusses her upbringing in a Mormon community, making connections from these experiences with Twilight’s ‘Bella’s, such as getting married as a teenager, a common occurrence in Mormon communities.

The Discussion section is on Religious and Mormon Literacy. It discusses the very few explicit references to religious themes, for example when ‘Edward’ claims he “cannot accept evolution”. Arnaudin merely lists the references however fails to contextualise them. For example, vampires in the world of ‘Twilight’ are meant to be the wisest of creatures due to their age, and it is this supremacy that gives Edward the authority to deny evolution, meaning that Meyer is making a very strong statement for creationism, a Mormon belief. However, Arnaudin does make the very legitimate claim that only through a solid knowledge of religious, Mormon literacy, can the series be interpreted for what it really is.

Arnaudin states that it is important that the books be seen for their true nature – propagations of Mormon doctrine. However this statement is left on its own, and would have been much more poignant if supported with a reason as to why. Throughout his thesis, Arnaudin tiptoes around the social damage that he warns against in his conclusion. Perhaps it is a subject for another thesis; however he does himself a disservice by introducing the potential threat so late in the piece, and then failing to support it with theoretical evidence.


The Mediatization of Religion: A theory of the media as agents of religious change, by Stig Hjarvard (2008)


This journal article is a theoretical framework behind how media work as agents of religious change. Hjarvard uses the term ‘mediatization’ to describe the process by which social change subsumes social or cultural fields into the logic of the media. He states that media as a cultural institution becomes a prominent producer of various religious imaginations, as opposed to mere conveyors of presupposed messages of religious institutions.

His general argument is that media work as agents of religious change, not the other way around. He bases this argument on Meyrowitz’s 1993 model: The 3 metaphors of media, which are “media as conduits”: the manner in which media presents messages between senders and receivers, and how media are distributors of religious representation, “media as languages”: the format of the messages sent, and the way they frame the relationship between the sender, the content, and the receiver. As a consequence, the media adjust and mould religious representations to various mediums and genres, and “media as environments”: how media institutions facilitate and structure human interaction and communication.

Hjarvard uses a quantitative survey conducted in Denmark to assess the manner in which people engage with the media in religious contexts, and found that there is a growing majority of people for whom media consumption is their primary engagement with religion or spirituality. There is a marked decrease in participating in institutionalised activities such as attending church.

Hjarvard also explores what he calls ‘banal religion’. It is essentially the symbols and elements of religion that we are exposed to regularly yet have a degree of detachment from their original contexts, for example, the Christian cross is as much a fashion statement as a faith statement in Western couture. This means that we are in a way subliminally exposed to religion constantly which means that when we are overtly exposed to it we may be more accepting of it as our ‘defences are down’ so to speak.

The entire article is very western-centric, something which Hjarvard fails to identify himself as a limitation. It fails to define what particular religious or spiritual material it refers to under the broad term of ‘religion’, leaving one to assume, due to generally western focus that it means the Abrahamic religions. He also, in discussing the survey results, failed to explain what ‘spiritual issues’ the questions referred to. This ambiguity detracts from the validity of the conclusions drawn on peoples’ religious engagement with the media.


Celluloid Savior: Jesus in the Movies, by Jeffrey H. Mahan (2002)


This article discusses the portrayals of Jesus in four films: “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” (1966), “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and “King of Kings” (1961), with brief references to other films that also depict Jesus. He compares their different approaches to Jesus, primarily how they explore his ‘humanity’, and the effect of this on the success of the film.

Mahan focuses on “The Last Temptation” as it was the most controversial for Christians of the four films, and says this is because it presented an alternate reality in which Jesus was not the son of God. It was in a kind of dream sequence in which Jesus was given a choice between a ‘normal’ life and living out his divine purpose. He ultimately chooses the latter, which one would have thought an empowering message for Christians, but Mahan fails to explain why this is not the case.

Mahan discusses the problematic nature of interpreting such a well known yet divisive character. He states that merely having a significant subject does not beget a compelling film. To add difficulty, the film also has to be accessible by those with no personal investment in the subject, yet still appeal to those who do; essentially the film must appeal to both believers and non-believers. This is especially difficult to do, he says, with a Protestant audience, who are usually among the most virulent protestors of movies depicting images as it goes against the Biblical teaching regarding graven images.

Mahan points out other difficulties in portraying Jesus, such as the need for ‘harmonising the gospels’, that is, condensing the different books that mention Jesus into one narrative, as well as translating the stories into a narrative that would be enjoyed by modern audiences, who are apparently much more interested in the motivations behind characters than the audience the gospels were originally written for. The claims made by Mahan are superficial and he provides little to no evidence for his assertions of the qualities of a ‘modern audience’, and makes no allowance for cultural difference among them.

Comparison

The Twilight and the Jesus articles both explore the difficulty and divisive nature when presenting religious stories. It is a volatile topic to address through film or text, and is invariably going to insult somebody. However, it also is the recipe for a wildly successful franchise when done in a manner that is “banal” enough to appeal to the masses while offending the least amount of people; a point embodied by the runaway success of the Twilight franchise, especially with the release of the feature films (which occurred after the writing of the article).

This success is also explored in the Mediatization article, when in the results of the survey it discusses the most popular religious or spirituality themed films, such as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, both of which are increasingly lucrative book to film franchises. It is making religion accessible, while not proselytising to or strongarming audiences that is supporting a consistent and profitable interest in religion in the media.



References
Arnaudin EB. 2008. Mormon Vampires: The Twilight Saga and Religious Literacy. A Master's Paper for the MSc in Library Science, School of Information and Library Science of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, April, 2008. http://www.ils.unc.edu/MSpapers/3348.pdf (accessed 23rd August, 2010).
Hjarvard S. 2008. The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change. Northern Lights. 6,1, 9-16. http://blackboard.elearning.uq.edu.au/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_/ group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_110412_1%26url%3D (accessed 23rd August, 2010).
Mahan J. 2002. Celluloid Savior: Jesus in the Movies. Journal of Religion and Film, 6, 1, http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/celluloid.htm (accessed 23rd August, 2010).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Critical Essay: Reading Analysis

Jessica Duncan

The following is a critical examination of three different readings from the first four weeks of the course. I aim to overview each of them, as well as compare them based on their content of information, the clarity of their argument, and the usefulness they provide into understanding more about media, film and religion.

Constructing a Distinct Other: Harry Potter and the Enchantment of the Future
by Ph.D. Pierre Wiktorin

In his article Construction a Distinct Other: Harry Potter and the Enchantment of the Future, Wiktorin aims to prove that “the Harry Potter series could function as a critique or commentary to the ordinary contemporary society.”(Page 1) He continues, “Rowling’s construction of the Wizard world bears resemblance to a distinct Other, which is frequently used by the tourist industry and various religious traditions.” Wiktorin uses the tourist industry as an analogy to discuss the distinct Other early in the article. However, I could not completely understand what was meant by it. As I understand it, he argues that the tourist industry offers the same kind of escape to the fantastical Other that Rowling does in her books. Wiktorin also demonstrates (using various examples from the series) Rowling’s attempt to “hold a mirror up” to British society, highlighting its falsities, hypocrisies and short-comings. Rowling demonstrates her beliefs on society and the Other by portraying characters’ interaction with each other and society. How these characters are represented is key to how Rowling feels about the issues addressed. For example, Lord Voldemort and his allies (Death Eaters) act out the same craving for a pure-blood society (a society that contains witches and wizards with all magical blood) as the Nazis did. The kindest and most highly thought of characters are those who strive for morality, equality and the knowledge of what is right. Because of these representations, Wiktorin argues that the Harry Potter series highlights the plight of the Other, encouraging mutual understanding between race, religion and ethnicity. It also demonstrates correct and valuable moral consistent with, but not exclusive to, religion. Wiktorin provides the least informative article on the media and religion. Whilst Harry Potter is a useful example to use to construct an image of society and the Other, it does not look in depth the series’ religious or spiritual aspects. This article is useful as a groundwork for further exploration into the construct of the Other in society, be it a religious or cultural one.


Culture Industry Reconsidered
by Theodor W. Adorno

In his article, Culture Industry Reconsidered, Adorno offers a clear and concise articulation of the workings of mass media, and how it influences and infiltrates society. Adorno argues that media has an immense power to control the way people think and respond to social issues. The commodification of media leads to an unthinking and uncritical society. One is often feel that Adorno has overestimated the “brainwashing” power of media. He does not take into account the many other influences that construct one’s beliefs and opinions on social (and religious) issues. His article is the only work (in this comparison) not using popular culture to demonstrate its arguments. It does not require this, though refererances to incidences would be helpful (though they would now be somewhat dated). Though this article speaks nothing of religion and its representation in the media, it does effectively give views on how culture is nothing more than a commodity when it comes to the production of mass media. Adorno provides a useful look at the construction of mass media and its interaction with society. Knowing Adorno’s opinions on the various facets of media, one has the ability to form an understanding of religion’s place in a world of media. A correct understanding of the media is essential in order to appropriately assess its role in the representation of religion.

Religion, Philosophy, and convergence culture online: ABC’s Lost as a study of the process of mediatization
by Lynn Schofield Clark

Schofield Clark’s aim in this article is further prove Henry Jenkins’ argument “that online fan discussions contribute to ‘collective intelligence’ that then feeds into the creative processes of the media industries”(Page 143) using Lost as an example. According to Schofield Clark, mediatization “refers to both the process by which social organization, structures or industries take on the form of the media, and the processes by which genres of popular culture become central to the narratives of social phenomena.”(Page 146) A television programme with as many religious, spiritual and philosophical references as Lost warrants analysis, though can be quite an overwhelming task. Some may argue, as Schofield Clark does, that these references, and the discussion stemming from them, create not only knowledge of religion and philosophy, but tolerance and understanding also. This programme also an efficient example of the new styles of mediatization. Once, slight religious references and doctrines were found in children’s fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. Now, religion and philosophy is invading the online world, encourage people to discuss and share their knowledge of religion. Lost perfectly promotes this through the religious subtext of the programme. Schofield Clark does well at attempting to provide simple arguments and explanations to a subject (Lost) which is often incredibly confusing. Although I have never watched Lost, it did give me an understanding of the religious aspects of the programme, as well as its attempt to bring religion, spirituality and philosophy to the masses through media.

Religious Reviews of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

by Olivia Nowland

Introduction
Although it is not always apparent, religious and spiritual discourses are frequently being marketed, and thus constantly permeate, pop-culture (Lynch, 2005). Film is no exception to this saturation of religious content, in fact, religion quite often shapes or features aspects of the storyline and the characters. The following essay will review two films that have major religious influences: Adamson’s (2005) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Jennings’ (2005) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It will review these films under the threefold model presented by Martin (1995) to examine religion in film: theological critique, mythological critique and ideological critique. In order to put the films into context, first, a brief overview will be given of the storylines.

Synopses
The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe (Adamson, 2005) follows the story of four children; Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy during the second World War. The children are moved to the country for their safety and whilst they are there, they find a doorway into another world, ruled by the ‘evil’ white witch. Edmund betrays his siblings in support of the white witch, but eventually realises he has made a mistake. Aslan (a lion and creator of Narnia) offers himself in place of Edmund for sacrifice. However, he comes back to life and eventually defeats the white witch.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Jennings, 2005) tells the story of Arthur Dent who, after the Earth is destroyed, literally hitchhikes his way around the galaxy with alien companions. The movie focuses around the group finding the answer to “life, the universe and everything”, and the strange encounters they have along the way. It is important to note that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is socially satirical in nature, and while it provides the writer’s attitudes towards religion, it was not designed to educate (Gee, 2005).

Theological Critique
The theological critique stems from the writers/directors want to position the audience to uncover a specific theological schema such as; the battle of good and evil, redemption or peace (Martin, 1995; Nolan, 2003). Furthermore, by examining a film using the theological critique, the audience is also encouraged to extrapolate religious stories (Nolan, 2003).
The battle of good and evil, and theme of redemption are particularly prevalent themes in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The obvious battle is between the children and Aslan against the white witch. However, this movie also presents the more subtle battle between calm (represented by the return of regular seasons and peace between creatures) and chaos (where Narnia is winter all the time “but never Christmas”(Adamson, 2005), and all the animals are suspicious of one another), a theme which is consistent throughout Judeo-Christian theology (e.g. Joshua 3). Redemption is explored through Edmund, after he has gained Aslan’s forgiveness and Aslan sacrifices himself in Edmunds place.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does note lend itself to theological criticism. In fact, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy promotes an atheistic and satirical outlook on religion. Despite this, themes theological criticisms are still present. As in most movies, there is the theme of good vs. evil. As well as this, a creation narrative also makes an appearance, the movie stating that: in the beginning the universe as created, however, “this was regarded by many as a bad move”. Although The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy casts an unbelief over religion, it still communicates theological messages in order to make its point.

Mythological Critique
Mythological critique is used to examine the use of religious myth and/or epic journey’s of the characters. Martin (1995) argues that the mythology of a culture reveals their foundational beliefs, he also recognises three major stages in the mythological storyline; the separation, the initiation and the return.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is no exception the mythological critique. The characters of this story go on an epic journey, where they are separated from their own world, initiated as kings and queens in the new world, and then return home when they have done their jobs as heroines/heroes. The myth of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe draws a direct parallel to the story of Jesus, revealing the belief system and message of the original story teller, C.S. Lewis (Christian-Fandom, 2006).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, also follows the pattern of separation, initiation and return. The adventurers go on the quest for the meaning of life, and are given the answer ‘42’. After encountering many obstacles, they discover that the answer is within them and are then able to continue their lives, somewhat, normally.

Ideological Critique
The ideological critique focuses on the way religion shapes how the storyline continues/character acts, ultimately working towards “ideological ends”(Martin, 1995, p. 11).
Both movies work towards ideological ends, ultimately letting the character’s realise what they are capable of, as well as what they should work towards. The characters in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe work towards a peaceful Narnia using Christian values (such as selflessness and forgiveness) to aid them.
Despite The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, atheistic undertones, the characters are ultimately working toward ideological ends as well. On top of this, they are also working towards the goal of many religions, the meaning of life. Following Martin’s (1995, p. 10) argument, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy both shapes and is shaped by religion.

Conclusion

In summary, it has been found that aspects of religion permeate film, even in circumstances where the film does not attempt to relay the message of a particular religion. By using Martin’s (1995) model for analysing film and religion, these influences can be extrapolated and categorised into three distinct groups; theological, mythological and ideological. Through an understanding of religion’s influence on film and film’s influence on religion a deeper understanding can be gained about the storylines and character’s influences in Hollywood.


Reference List

Adamson, A. (Writer). (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. In A. Adamson (Producer). USA/UK: Walt Disney Pictures.

Christian-Fandom. (2006, November 2006). The Lion the Witch and the Wardobe (2005), 2010, from http://www.christian-fandom.org/fantasy/wardrobe05.html

Gee, H. (2005). Proof of Faith? Nature News. doi: 0.1038/news050425-7

Jennings, G. (Writer). (2005). The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In D. Adams, T. Arnow, G. Barber, R. Birnbaum, D. Evans, J. Glickman, N. Goldsmith, C. Hewitt, J. Roach, R. Rudd & R. Stamp (Producer). USA/UK: Touchstone Pictures.

Joshua(?). (N.A.). Joshua The Holy Bible. N.A.

Lynch, G. (2005). Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. Carlton: Blackwell Publishing.

Martin, J. W. (1995). Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth and Ideology in Popular American Film. Boulder.

Nolan, S. (2003). Towards a New Religious Film Criticism: Film to Undestand Religious Identity Rather than Locate Cinematic Analogue. In J. Mitchell & S. Marriage (Eds.), Mediating Religion: Conversations in Media, Reigion and Culture. London: T & T Clark.

Mediatisation in Religion

Nidean Dickson

Media and popular culture have a significant influence on contemporary society. This essay will address the unification of religion and media that has formulated a causal shift towards ‘lived religion’ that correlates a binding relationship between the sacred and the secular, evident in the religiosity of the television series Lost. By converging the media and religious culture, individuals are able to actively engage in collective intelligence allowing the public to form a religious identity through mediatisation. The incorporation of texts, symbolism and practices within popular mediums allows for the audience to understand and relate to religious culture. Furthermore, the ideology of human agency explicitly identifies the interconnectedness between religion and the media. Integrating religion within the media transforms the sacred to the profane through isolated encounters in everyday experiences.

Lived religion in conjunction with mediatisation identifies the significance of the relationship between media and religion in social spheres through popular mediums. Firstly, Hoover (2006, p.55) defines lived religion “...that is, religion as experienced in everyday life, [that] offers a model for integrating the official, the popular, and the therapeutic modes of religious identity.” Religious identity is formed through popular mediums such as television which plays in inherent role in the collaboration of collective intelligence (Barna & Hatch, 2005). Clarke (2008, p.145) argues the impact of popular culture to the mediatisation of religion in the following extract:

Popular culture may contribute to the mediatisation of religion not only because religion and philosophy are increasingly represented in media or are increasingly discussed in our collective lives as a result of fan activities, but because through public online forums, people come to recognise and act within certain norms when it comes to religion or philosophy.

Thus, mediatisation of religion highlights the importance of the relationship between religion and culture regarding the oppositions of secularisation and the sacred. The emerging growth of technology from the 20th Century forward opened up the communication barrier that broke down the secular scope of society transforming the ideology of the public through several mediums such as the internet and television (Beckerlegge, 2001). This is corroborated by Hjarvard (2006) who states that “…the media facilitates changes in the amount, content and direction of religious messages in society, at the same time as they transform religious representations and challenge and replace the authority of the institutional religions.” The convergence of religion within the public sphere through mediatisation is explicitly represented through the identification of religious symbolism that develops a significant meaning for the audience which is exemplified through the television series Lost.

The incorporation of recognisable symbolism and religious connotations within Lost, encapsulates the essence of religious elements that are intrinsically taught through popular culture mediums. Religious undertones are evident either explicitly or implicitly in several aspects of society’s culture. Often this is due to the fact that “…religions strive to find adequate ways to represent (and also retain) in a symbolic form that which they hold to be a timeless, infinite and supernatural” (Beckerlegge, 2001, p.1). Lost includes several references to varying world religions inclusive of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and Hinduism. Several religious references are inherent in Lost, from simple character analysis such as the names of characters, to the image of characters performing rituals including baptism and confession. Less specifically, numbers are used to highlight important elements of religions such as 108 as a depiction of the 108 mala beads Buddhists wear, and the number 23 as a relevant number to the scriptures in Christianity. Several explicit images are also incorporated into the series such as the wheel of Enlightenment in the Dharma Initiative, statues of Christian images and the placement of recognisable religious symbols at the forefront of various scenes. Clark (2008, p.159) highlights the significance of the inclusion of all these elements in the following statement:

First, programmes like Lost evoke religious symbolism and narratives within contexts that are outside the bounds of what is normally considered ‘religious’; by reframing traditional religious symbols and narratives within these new contexts, they create a means by which to understand religion through the lens of popular culture.

Hence, by incorporating religious undertones within Lost, the series provides an opportunity for the audience to develop an understanding of religion and religious diversity. It is argued that popular culture “…is indisputably the most extensive and influential theological training system in the world” (Mattingly, 2005, p. xxi).” As a result, the positive implications of incorporating religious connotations within a popular medium such as television, strongly influences the religious tolerance and understanding of the public sphere by breaking down the theoretical framework into a common ideology.

Human agency in conjunction with the internet allows audience members to actively engage with religious worlds as a derivative of the television series Lost. The coexistence of religion and popular culture provided by several mediums develops a relationship that forces religion to regulate popular culture evoking spiritual self determination (Possamai, 2005). This is inherent in human agency as Bandura (1989, p.1175) argues that “among the mechanisms of personal agency, none is more central or pervasive than people’s beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over events.” By analysing the collective intelligence that emerged from Lost viewers, the impact of human agency is identified through internet forums and blogs that engage the audience in discussions surrounding the philosophical and religious content within the series, as well as playing a minor role in the outcome of future episodes. Newman (1996, p.6) identifies the impact of television in the mediatisation of religion by stating that “…television is beginning to usurp a role which until recently has been the role of the Church- to shape our system of values, embody our faith and express our cultural essence.” Due to the several religious references incorporated in Lost which contributed to the engagement through human agency by audience members, “…Lost was proclaimed a triumph of the Internet age…relying upon theories that suggest popular culture may provide common ground across differences of nature, culture, and religion” (Clark, 2008, p.157). As a result, human agency allows individuals to actively engage through popular culture in religious and philosophical worlds which significantly contributes to the mediatisation of religion by identifying the intimate relationship between religion and the media, representative of the collective intelligence of Lost via the internet.

In modernity, religion and popular culture are inherently interconnected through several mediums of media such as television and internet. This relationship transforms the secular and the sacred through the concept of lived religion that explicitly includes religious undertones in the everyday, instigating the influence of religion in popular culture and vice versa. As a derivative of this intimate relationship, several key elements in the television series Lost are vital to the breakdown of theoretical frameworks to develop a deeper understanding of religious ideologies for the public sphere by implementing identifiable symbols, texts and rituals within several religions. In turn, this allows audience members to actively engage with the series and religion through online blogs and forums that regulate discussions which develop both a tolerance and understanding of religions in society. By incorporating an interconnected relationship between religion and culture through a television series, it is evident that the impact of the series on the public sphere through the internet clearly identifies the emerging ideology of mediatisation in religion.




Bibliography

Bandura, A 1989, ‘Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory’, American Psychologist, vol.44, no. 9, pp. 1175-1184.

Barna, A & Hatch, M 2005, Boiling Point: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century, Regal, California.

Beckerlegge, G (ed.) 2001, From Sacred to the Internet, The Open University, United Kingdom.

Clark, LS 2008, ‘Religion, Philosophy and Religious Convergence Online: ABC’s Lost as a Study of the Process of Medatisation’, Northern Lights, vol.6, pp. 143-163.

Hjarvard, S 2006, ‘The Mediatisation of Religion: A Theory of the Media as an Agent of Religious Change’, Paper presented at the 5th International Conference on Media, Religion and Culture, Uppsala, 6-8 July.

Hoover, SM 2006, Religion in the Media Age, Routledge, London.

Mattingly, T 2005, Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture, W Publishing Group, Nashville.

Newman, J 1996, Religion Vs Television: Competitions in Cultural Context, Praeger, Westport.

Possamai, A 2005, Religion and Popular Culture, P.I.E Peter Lang, Belgium.

Jesus of Hollywood: Christ at the movies.

By Tom Hinchliffe

In the late 1980s two films presented Jesus in ways that challenge traditional religious representations. The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorsese, attempted to show Jesus in an existential light, succumbing to earthly temptation. In Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal, the narrative takes shape around a controversial passion play staged by its main Christ-like protagonist. Both movies steer clear of religious dogma and emphasize the humanity and anti-authoritarian message of Jesus. In different ways, both highlight the tension between religious authority and spiritual expression in the media. While Jesus of Montreal deals with the subject in its plot, the reaction from institutionalized religions to The Last Temptation of Christ testify to the power of media as popular presentations of religious imagery.

The treatment of Jesus on film must be understood in the context of a wider process of the mediatization of religion (Hjarvard 2008). Hjarvard identifies this process as the way in which traditional religious messages and representations are shaped by – and come to depend upon - modern media (2008: 13,24). Film has come to be a powerful medium in communicating the narrative of the gospels – as far back as the 1960s the Vatican acknowledged religious films “had taken on the former function of large frescoes and sculptures” (Grace 2009: 3). While the Vatican had considerable influence over the content of religious frescoes in the past, it is powerless to control modern cinematic representations of religion. Instead, it is up to filmmakers to negotiate the difficulties in adapting the narrative and symbolism of biblical texts to the structural, cultural and symbolic contexts of modern cinema (Mahan 2002). Religious authorities are left only to praise or condemn.

From the beginning, the biggest dilemma filmmakers have faced is balancing the divine and human aspects of Jesus (2002). Early depictions in cinema tended to “focus on Jesus’ divinity at the expense of his humanity” (Mahan 2002: 5). However, this perspective was increasingly challenged by the genre demands of film. Audiences look for motivation and empathy and from the 1960s, increasingly found it as directors sought to inject more humanity into their presentations of Jesus. Scorsese’s Jesus, played by Willem Dafoe, constantly displays his human weaknesses, and shows self-doubt about his divinity.

The release of The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988 was the realisation of Martin Scorsese’s decade long attempt to bring Nikos Kazantzaki’s novel to the screen. Kazantzaki portrays Jesus struggling, as did Kazantzaki himself, “between the spirit and the flesh” (Kazantzaki, quoted in Taubeneck 2007: 111). Scorsese continues this dualism in the film. Jesus is constantly torn between worldly and spiritual concerns, oscillating between a message of love and that of the axe. Scorsese uses cinematic devices to alternatively invite intimacy between the protagonist and the viewer, and suggest a more reverential perspective (Snee 2003: 53). In these moments of intimacy viewers are positioned by Scorsese’s manipulation of the medium to experience the spiritual struggle of Jesus (Snee 2003: 60).

Religious organizations were quick to condemn The Last Temptation of Christ, and protestations began years before the film was released (Bakker 2009: 37). Although Scorsese himself was a practising Christian and described making the film as “my way of worshiping”, conservative Christians saw his vision as blasphemous and distressing. Despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the film that the plot is not based on the gospels, The Last Temptation of Christ appears to have been judged on its departures from the Bible. The reaction attests to the anxiety of religious institutions – and many religious practitioners - towards the mediatization of religious narratives.
The conflict over popular depictions of biblical narrative is dealt with directly in Jesus of Montreal. Set in the urban landscape of Montreal, the plot revolves around the actor Daniel, asked to stage a modernised passion play by the local priest, Leclerc. Increasingly drawn to the immateriality, universal morality and humanity in the preaching of Jesus, Daniel creates a contemporary production that includes several controversial theories that emphasises Jesus’ human origins. Despite, or perhaps, because of the play’s success, Leclerc vehemently opposes the production, and tries in vain to stop the performances. As Daniel’s life becomes more interwoven with his subject, Father Leclerc and the ecclesiastical authorities come to resemble Jesus’ own hypocritical and materialistic accusers, the Romans. When they descend on the crucifixion scene in the third play, the tension explodes between the receptive audience and the censoring religious authorities. In the ensuing chaos, Daniel falls under the cross and suffers a fatal head injury.

Intentionally or not, Arcand parallels the censoring of the word of Jesus with that of the media. The spiritual freedom the group of actors experience through exploring the radical aspects of Jesus’ sermons allows the audience to empathise and identify with a demystified Jesus. In stark contrast, the rigid dogma and censorship of Leclerc shatters this personal connection to the religious material. Leclerc exemplifies the institutional anxiety to control religious representations in the media. By focusing on the radical humanism of Jesus, which rejects institutionalised authority in favour of personal salvation, Scorsese and Arcand “undermine the authority of institutionalised religion” (Taubeneck 2007: 24). At the same time, by contemporizing the spiritual struggle at the core of the message of Jesus, they “may further a re-sacrilization of society” (Taubeneck 2007: 24). They do so by using the medium of film to project radical but sympathetic portrayals of Jesus.

References.
Bakker, Freek L. 2009. The Challenge of the Silver Screen: An Analysis of the Cinematic Portraits of Jesus, Rama, Buddha, and Muhammad. Leiden: Brill.
Grace, Pamela. 2009. The Religious Film: Christianity and the Hagiopic. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hjarvard, Stig. 2008. ‘The Mediatization of Religion: A theory of the media as agents of religious change’. In Northern Lights. Vol. 6: 9-26.
Mahan, Jeffrey H. 2002. ‘Celluloid Savior: Jesus in the Movies’. In Journal of Religion and Film. Vol. 6. No. 1: 1-39.
Taubeneck, Steven. 2007. ‘The Existential Turn: Refiguring Christ from Kazantzakis to Scorsese’. In Jesus in Twentieth Century Literature, Art, and Movies. Paul C. Burns, ed. New York: Continuum.

‘Lost’ in Translation: The Mediatisation of Religion in Television

Nidean Dickson

The inherent nature of religion and philosophy within popular culture formulates the concept of mediatisation which Lynn Clark explicitly explores in ABC’s television series, Lost. Clark explores the mediatisation of religion by incorporating the ideology of collective intelligence to influence the way media and popular culture are affected by religious subtext. This is identified by exploring several elements within the show surrounding the plot lines, including character analysis, explicit and implicit symbolism and underlying religious themes. A vast amount of the religious and philosophical observations in the series were discussed at lengths in thousands of forums which encourages a common understanding of religious, cultural and spiritual awareness across towns, countries and continents as a direct influence from the media. Thus, the mediatisation of religion within Lost provides knowledge for difference highlighting certain ideologies that are easily accepted or known, as well as initiating the opportunity for other religious customs and rituals to be openly discussed by the public.

Clarke (2008, p.145) aims to “argue that popular culture may contribute to the mediatisation of religion not only because religion and philosophy are increasingly represented in media or are increasingly discussed in our collective lives as a result of fan activities, but because through public online forums, people come to recognise and act within certain norms when it comes to religion or philosophy.” This is corroborated by Hjarvard (2006, p.5) who states that “the media facilitates changes in the amount, content and direction of religious messages in society, at the same time as they transform religious representations and challenge and replace the authority of the institutional religions.” Evidently, a simple search within the internet database around Lost provides a variety of blogs, forums and discussion boards based around the theories and evolutions, discoveries and themes interpreted by the audience members.
The article identifies several symbolic gestures in regards to various world religions that are evident in the show. The majority of the article comprises of direct examples taken from Lost which strongly reiterates the religious symbolism within context. Amongst the many religious references are several others which bloggers discussed, however, the closing scenes of the series subtly summarised the incorporation of religion within Lost through the imagery of recognisable religious symbols.

It is evident, that this article clearly identifies the significance of the intimate relationship between religion and popular culture. Popular culture in Lost developed an understanding and awareness for various religions evoking recognisable symbolism by incorporating historical religious events into a modern context. This allows religion to seep into society outside fundamental institutions and groups, therefore exemplifying the mediatisation of religion.





Reference List
Clark, LS 2008, ‘Religion, philosophy and religious convergence online: ABC’s Lost as a study of the process of mediatisation’, Northern Lights, vol.6, pp.143-160.
Hjarvard, S, 2006,’The Mediatisation of Religion: A theory of the media as an agent of religious change’, paper presented to the 5th International Conference on Media, Religion and Culture, Uppsala, 6-8 July.

Film Review on Le Grand Voyage and The Kite Runner

A film review on Le Grand Voyage and The Kite Runner

This film review examines how Islam is portrayed in Le Grand Voyage and The Kite Runner, against the backdrop of increasing globalisation, namely through the process of migration and modernisation.

Le Grand Voyage is a French film chronicling the journey undertaken by a father and his son, Reda, to the Muslim holy city of Mecca. Reda has to drive his father from the south of France, where they live, to Mecca. Although most people would travel by air to go for their pilgrimage to Mecca, Reda’s father insists that they travel by car, because it will be purer and more blessed, as seen in the following exchange:

Reda: Why didn't you fly to Mecca? It's a lot simpler.
Father: When the waters of the ocean rise to the heavens, they lose their bitterness to become pure again...
Reda: What?
Father: The ocean waters evaporate as they rise to the clouds. And as they evaporate they become fresh. That's why it's better to go on your pilgrimage on foot than on horseback, better on horseback than by car, better by car than by boat, better by boat than by plane.

The story in The Kite Runner, on the other hand, unfolds through the eyes of Amir, an established writer in San Francisco, originally from Afghanistan. Through flashbacks, the story spans the lives of two boys, Amir and Hassan, who live in Afghanistan in the late 1970’s. Amir lives with his father, who is a rich merchant, and Hassan is the son of the house servant, Ali. The relationship between Amir and his father is close, and they are portrayed as the upper-class family in Afghanistan. Hassan and his father, Ali, are also close, but are portrayed as more religious than Amir and his father. In both families, the absence of their mothers only intensifies the strong father figure that is central not only in the movie, but also in Islam, where the males take on leadership roles and family responsibilities.

Both films explore the father-son relationship, amidst the political, social, or economic changes that surround them. In Le Grand Voyage, the relationship between Reda and his father is strained due to the generation gap and the modernity that envelops Reda. Being exposed to Western culture and thinking–– he is in jeans and shirt, is irreligious, and has a non-Muslim girlfriend, Reda is contrasted sharply with his father, through their dressing and their differing thoughts and ideas. The relationship is cold at first, but just like the thawing of the snow in the picturesque landscape that spans the film, their relationship improves with Reda understanding more about his father and his religious beliefs.
The clash in personalities between Reda and his father can be attributed to the concept of mass migration that results in identity creation. This is best summed up by Butt and Wohlmut (2006):

Mass migrations and the resulting diaspora are not new, but the ability to maintain a cohesive cultural identity detached from place (as fostered by the new media) is.

This explains why Reda, having raised in southern France, finds it difficult to understand his traditional father, who refuses to speak to Reda in French but Moroccan-Arabic. He later finds out that his father, in fact, can speak fluent French and realises that he converses in Arabic to Reda in order to preserve the culture. In The Kite Runner, despite living in San Francisco for many years, Amir converses with his father in Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan. Amir shows much reverence and respect to his father, compared to Reda, who does not understand why his father has to speak in Arabic.

With regard to the issue of mass migration and its effects, as explored in both films, Appadurai (1996) highlights that ‘story of mass migrations (voluntary and forced) is hardly a new feature of human history. But when it is juxtaposed with the rapid flow of mass-mediated images, scripts, and sensation, we have a new order of instability in the production of modern subjectivities.’ From this, we see how the world is no longer confined to homogenised societies. The public spheres are no longer limited to a homogenised group of people living in one particular country, but extends to communities of people who were originally from other countries. In effect, the newly-formed communities ‘create diasporic public spheres, phenomena that confound theories that depend on the continued salience of the nation-state as the key arbiter of important social changes’ (Appadurai, 1996).

Similarly, according to Butt and Wohlmut (1996), ‘the increasing rate of disappearance of real world cultures appears to leave room for the formation of imagined cultures. As increasing globalisation puts the pressure of a certain degree of conformity on all cultures, questions of the construction of identity arise’.

Based on Butt and Wohlmut’s ‘construction of identity’, the concept of Islamic identity is also explored in both films. In Le Grand Voyage, Reda’s father is depicted as a strong, paternal figure, who is stately and religious. He is always seen performing the salah or prayer, while Reda looks on with apathy. In contrast, Amir, in The Kite Runner, is seen praying at the mosque while his father is not portrayed as the religious type. Hassan and his father, on the other hand, pray together, showing how vastly different they are from Amir and his father. This highlights how modernisation can affect one’s lifestyle––Amir’s father puts on coat and tie, drinks liquor, and has an American-made car.

From these two films, we see how secularisation affects the migrant Muslim communities in the world. With secularisation, Islamic culture and religion are affected, and the construction of identity takes on a different course as the communities, especially the younger generations, try to embrace the secular nature of the nation-state (for example, Turkey and France) and at the same time, maintain their religious obligations. Whatever form secularisation assumes, the fundamentals of Islam are clearly spelt out––especially the five pillars of practice in Islam.

Out of the five pillars of practice in Islam, both films highlight different practices in Islam, and what is prohibited in Islam. In Le Grand Voyage, three out of the five pillars are shown - prayer, almsgiving, and pilgrimage. In The Kite Runner, the Taliban are seen as fundamentalists, with their draconian way of punishing those who are caught committing adultery. In one scene, a man and a woman are pelted to death by the Taliban. This scene might be perceived as unreal by many, but in fact, resonates truth in certain countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, where syariah or Muslim laws are upheld. Stoning the adulterer does portray Islam in an unfavourable light––and it makes people question, ‘If Allah is All-forgiving and All-merciful, why then is this inhumane and terrible punishment necessary?’

In both films, the issue of alcohol drinking in Islam is explored. Le Grand Voyage portrays how Mustapha, a character who helps them at the Syrian-Turkish border and hitches a ride with them to Mecca, convinces Reda that drinking beer is acceptable, as long as his good deeds are enough to cloud this little ‘sin’. Mustapha quotes a Sufism saying:

Let me tell you a story. Someone asked a Sufi master who drank wine whether alcohol is forbidden in Islam. The Sufi master answered, ‘It depends on the greatness of your soul. Pour a glass of wine into a basin of water, and the water changes colour. But pour the same glass of wine into the sea, the sea’s appearance remains unchanged.

Those viewers who are not well-versed with Islam would think that this is true, but in truth, it is not. While once upon a time, drinking wine was permitted in Islam, it is no longer permissible now. Such misrepresentation of Islam might lead to misinterpretation, but the reliability of Mustapha is questioned when he supposedly scoots off with their money.

In The Kite Runner, Amir points out to his father that drinking alcohol is a sin, as taught by the mullahs, Islamic religious teachers. His father vehemently replies that the only sin is theft and explains how other transgressions are ‘a variation of theft’ by giving examples such as these––When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. What these two scenes reflect is how certain individuals distort the truth by rationalising their acts with all sorts of excuses.

Islamic symbols are also presented in both films in the form of the tasbih, which comprises 99 rosary beads, the mosque, the prayer book, and the taqiyah, a short rounded cap used by Muslim men, while lesser-known rituals such as the tayammum (using sand, instead of water for ablution), and bathing the dead are also shown. In Le Grand Voyage, the Hagia Sophia is briefly mentioned, but what it symbolises is the historical journey from being a church to a mosque, and then a museum now.

In both films, the concept of the journey or voyage is presented in a symbolic ways––the journey transcends the geographical terrain as it embodies the journey within, which is of spirituality. The protagonists of both films develop their character and learns a powerful lesson about the power of faith. Reda finally gives alms to an old beggar woman on the street, and Amir redeems his guilt by going back to Afghanistan and facing the Taliban to rescue Hassan’s son.

In terms of complexity of themes, The Kite Runner explores a whole range of issues, be it political, social, or historical. It juxtaposes the binaries in the real world – rich versus poor, religious versus irreligious, cowardice versus bravery, traditional versus modern, and many more. It is also more emotionally charged because it explores the oppression of the Hazaras, the effects of childhood trauma, and the blind but endearing loyalty of Hassan to Amir.

In conclusion, both films have managed to successfully present the current challenges faced by the Muslim communities around the world, especially those 80% which are found outside of Saudi Arabia. Globalisation, mass migration, and modernisation have indeed affected how Muslims lead their lives in the Western world, reflecting the constant struggle to maintain the Islamic identity, and at the same time, embracing the secularised world.


References

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization: University of Minnesota Press.

Butt, M., & Wohlmut, K. (2006). The Thousand Faces of Xena: Transculturality through Multi-Identity. In Gentz, N and Kramer,S. Eds, Globalization, Cultural Identities and Media Representation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Ferroukhi, I. (Director). (2004). Le Grand Voyage [Motion picture]. Pyramide Distribution.

Forster, M. (Director). (2007). The Kite Runner [Motion picture]. Paramount Home Entertainment.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural: Confronting the Inherent Evil?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural are two highly successful television shows that have embraced the supernatural, both use representations of flesh and blood demons to answer questions about good and evil and the inner struggle of right versus wrong. The supernatural is no longer confined to the metaphysical world, rather vampires, werewolves and demons, through the use of highly sophisticated media products are as tangible and alive as human beings, the “supernatural [now] appear[s] natural” (Hjarvard, 2008, p9). Each show demonstrates at different points that within the black and white good versus evil fight, there are also shades of grey which are expressed in the re evaluation of specific vampire characters in episodes ‘Potential’ and ‘Bloodlust’

Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows the story of Buffy Summers, a school aged Californian blonde who has a sacred calling, as the one and only chosen one, to slay vampires and demons. Vampires in ‘Buffy’ are constructed as “soulless demons devoid of goodness and humanity” (Stevens, nd, online), they have no conscience and simply are incapable of caring for the worth of human life or feeling remorse. This generalized representation of an evil soulless vampire is directly juxtaposed against two vampire characters who, over the course of the series, gain their human souls back. This antithesis is a common theme throughout the series, and is consistently re-evaluated in terms of the embodiment that evil presents, and the inherent goodness predisposed in a character with a soul. Angel starts the series as an anomaly in the vampire world, he has a soul and feels the pain of remorse and deep irrevocable shame of the atrocities he committed whilst his inner demon was in control. Spike however actively seeks to regain his soul, battles to have it returned to make him the man he was. It is in season seven in the episode titled ‘ Beneath You’ that Buffy learns that Spike has regained his soul and with that knowledge comes a reevaluation of Spike’s vampire character. This becomes evident in the episode ‘Potential’ in season seven when Giles returns to find the Spike has been given free unsupervised reign amongst young girls, to which Buffy replies;
“It’s different now, he has a soul.” (Season Seven, Episode: Potential).
Buffy believes that the presence of Spike’s soul is cause for a total reevaluation of his character, that his actions now are a result of an ensouled being consciously choosing right over wrong. Whereas previously, he was a creature who had no hold on humanity and whilst inherently evil was also not responsible for his actions as he had no agency to choose another path of action.

The TV show Supernatural is constructed differently to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy has a sacred calling in which vampires feature predominantly as the enemy evil, whereas Supernatural follows two brothers who hunt different evils in every episode, or ‘town’ they visit, that borrow from religions, lore, legends and urban myths from across the globe (Engstrom & Valenzano, 2010, online). Dean and Sam Winchester travel in Dean’s black Chevy Impala across North America seeking the supernatural and eradicating it. In season two they come across a vampire nest in a small American town in the episode ‘Bloodlust’. Dean meets another hunter, Gordon and they both revel in a ‘devil may care’ attitude towards the things they hunt. A quote from Gordon in the episode sums it up quite well as he talks to Dean about why he loves the hunting life;
“It's all black and white. There's no maybe. Find the bad thing, kill it. You see, most people spend their lives in shades of gray. "Is this right, is that wrong?" Not us.” (Season Two, Episode: Bloodlust).
In this episode Dean learns his assumptions and his life aren’t always right and is forced to question some of his convictions in regards to his black and white perceptions of good and evil. The following dialogue between brothers Sam and Dean demonstrates this conflict;
“Dean: What part of "vampires" don’t you understand, Sam? If it’s supernatural, we kill it. End of story. That’s our job.
Sam: No, Dean, that’s not our job. Our job is hunting evil. And if these things aren’t killing people, then they’re not evil!” (Season Two, Episode: Bloodlust).
The vampires in question have chosen not to drink from and kill humans; rather they consume animals, not unlike the Twilight Saga’s famed ‘vegetarian’ diet of its main vampire family, the Cullens (Stevens, nd, online). The exploration of the embodiment of evil plays a significant role in this saga. Where one brother (Dean) may think that the physical character of a supernatural being defines its inherent good/evil, the other brother (Sam) forcefully opposes this view. This is contrasted directly with Sams’ need to regard the inner character as displayed by its respective actions. A similar view is echoed in Buffy, as aforementioned in her dealings with Spike, dependent on the presence of his soul.

Both ‘Potential’ of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ‘Bloodlust’ of Supernatural question the concepts of what is inherently evil in the supernatural world. In ‘Potential’ Giles is aghast to learn that Buffy has released Spike, but she believes wholeheartedly in his soul and his redemption. In ‘Bloodlust’ Dean struggles with questioning his conviction in the inherent evil of vampires which shakes his world but he ultimately believes in the hard right versus the evil wrong and comes to a new understanding of evil. In both depictions choice is privileged, the soulless Spike didn’t possess any humanity which meant he lacked the agency to act in a humane way and therefore lacked choice. However when he regains his soul he is able to actively and consciously chooses good over and therefore loses the inherent concept of evil that comes with being a vampire. The vampire nest that Dean and Sam encounter choose not to prey on humans, instead finding their sustenance from the local livestock population and wildlife, therefore through choice these vampires also do not fit the stereotypical evilness inherent in vampires.

References:
Engstrom E and JM Valenzano III. 2010. Demon Hunters and Hegemony: Portrayal of Religion on the CW's Supernatural. Journal of Media and Religion. 9, 2, 67-83.

Hjarvard S. 2008. The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change. Northern Lights. 6,1, 9-16.

Stevens K. nd. Meet the Cullens: Family, Romance and Female Agency in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. Slayage 8.1 (29). Online. Retrieved from: http://www.slayageonline.com/essays/slayage29/Stevens.htm

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spirit of Social Change: Religion, Society, and the Media

By: Elise Burgett

Though neither series is explicitly religious, both Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl feature episodes containing overtly spiritual material. In fact, the lack of religious content in most episodes makes its occasional presence that much more powerful. This technique of including religious themes in otherwise secular forms of media, such as television series, falls in line with Stig Hjarvard’s discussion of the mediatisation of religion, a process by which the media takes the place of institutionalized religion and is therefore able to shape messages about religion disseminated to society. As a result, the door for social change motivated by the media’s portrayal of religion is left wide open (Hjarvard 5). By inserting religious language and references where they are not necessarily expected, in this case two primetime television drama series, the media is able to relay messages to and therefore influence the attitudes of its audience regarding both religion itself as well as broader social issues.

(Grey's scene)

Set in the bustling medical hub of Seattle Grace Hospital, Grey’s Anatomy focuses on both the stories of the variety of patients the hospital sees every day and also on the (love) lives of the doctors treating them. In the season six episode entitled “Invasion,” Callie Torres’s unorthodox love life comes under fire from her deeply religious father. Having found out that Callie has begun dating women (after being married to a man in the past), Mr. Torres arrives at Seattle Grace armed with Father Kevin, a Catholic priest, ready to confront his daughter about the error of her ways. The conversation turns sour when Mr. Torres reveals that he is worried for Callie, who he believes will spend an “eternity in hell” if she continues seeing women ("Invasion"). He goes on to cite text from the Bible, pulling quotes from Leviticus and Romans. Callie counters this attack by reciting the words of Christ Himself, which preach love and forgiveness, as she becomes more and more emotional compared to her stoic, obstinate father.

The stark contrast between Mr. Torres, who is unsympathetic and unyielding as he quotes words written in the Bible, and Callie, who is clearly under attack and on the defensive as she speaks the lessons of love that came from Jesus Himself, steers the audience’s sympathies to Callie’s side, and therefore to the side of gay rights. By using this battle of Biblical expressions between father and daughter to generate such a strong tension between old and new, dogma and individual interpretation, condemnation and acceptance, Grey’s Anatomy takes a stance on a social issue (gay rights) and uses religion to influence the audience’s views on it. As Hjarvard explains, a process of mediatisation of religion takes place, paving the way for “social change that to some extent subsumes other social or cultural fields into the logic of the media;” in this example, that subsumed field is religion (6). In the case of “Invasion,” the old-fashioned, strict teachings of the Catholic Church are pitted against an individual who, though still displaying a strong faith in God, cannot comply with them. The show uses these straightforward religious references to assert that society has changed and that it is important that the audience be understanding, especially concerning people who live their lives against the grain. Love and reconciliation, not eternal condemnation, should be the focus of a religion professing faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate unconditional lover. This episode is an ideal example of the media influencing the attitudes of its audience as it conveys a religious teaching embedded in the social issue of gay rights.

(Gossip Girl scene)

Gossip Girl is another series that, though not meant to be religious, occasionally contains explicitly religious scenes. This teen drama, set in the wealthy Upper East Side of New York City, depicts the privileged lives of teenage socialites who spend much of their time partying, drinking, and engaging in countless sexual relationships. In particular, Georgina Sparks embodies the typical sex, drugs, and rock and roll attitude, partaking in everything from drugs to blackmail to theft. In the season two episode entitled “Southern Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a friend finds Georgina in an unexpected setting: on the banks of a picturesque lake in the forest, at a Christian camp. However, the camp and the people there are clearly satirized in a strongly mocking fashion. The scene is packed with stock symbols (giant wooden crosses, a full-screen shot of a dove poster, “OMJC” shirts), and Georgina herself throws out phrases that are stereotypical of evangelical Christians as she asks her friend, “have you been saved too?” ("Southern Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"). While the previously discussed Grey’s scene employs scripture and raises hefty questions about what it means to love one another, this Gossip Girl scene portrays Christianity in a much more superficial light. This idea is underlined in the following episode when Georgina, returning to her former immoral ways, explains to her friend, “You can tell Jesus that the bitch is back" ("The Wrath of Con").

In this Gossip Girl scene, religion is again mediatised, but in an extremely stereotypical manner. Georgina’s technique of putting on the guise of a sudden conversion to Christianity then dropping the act the moment it becomes inconvenient can be interpreted as a way of criticizing and emphasising her own vindictiveness as she will use any strategy she can to manipulate others’ opinions of her. However, an audience with more knowledge about, and especially faith in, Christianity will likely take the scene as an attack. By portraying Georgina so thoughtlessly using religion to further her own ends, especially in such a stereotypical manner that lacks any profound theological substance, this scene makes a mockery of the idea of Jesus Christ, something Americans (the show’s main audience) hold as extremely sacred. Its liberal use of banal religious elements, which often help form religious imagination using representations that are not necessarily the most significant aspects of the actual institutionalized religion, casts a negative light on Christian camp and therefore, by association, Christians in general (Hjarvard 7). Because the media does have so much power to influence its audience’s views regarding religious issues, shallow, stereotypical depictions such as this one can ultimately have a damaging impact on society’s views of Christianity. This episode is another example of the mediatisation of religion having the potential to prompt very real changes in attitude within society at large.

These days, since many people rely on the media as “prov-iders of information and moral orientation” instead of acquiring a moral compass from the family or a religious organization, the manner in which the media incorporates religious issues into otherwise secular television shows has the potential to cause far-reaching social ramifications (Hjarvard 5). The particular episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl discussed above serve as two very different examples of this interaction among media, religion, and society.



Works Cited

Hjarvard, Stig. “The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change.” Northern Lights 6:1 (2008): 5-7. Web.

“Invasion.” Grey’s Anatomy. American Broadcasting Company. ABC, New York City. 15 October 2009.

“Southern Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Gossip Girl. CW Television Network. Burbank. 27 April 2009.

“The Wrath of Con.” Gossip Girl. CW Television Network. Burbank. 3 May 2009.

Religion vs Politics: Josiah Bartlet the Great American President

By: Elizabeth Bailey


The West Wing is a popular American drama that follows the life of President Josiah Bartlet during two terms in office. As a democrat and a catholic, President Bartlet struggles with these often-conflicting beliefs throughout the entire series. As a catholic, Bartlet does not believe in abortion, but as a democratic he believes women have the right to choose (Clark 232). Throughout the series, The West Wing uses religion as a teaching tool and to emphasize the personal struggles President Bartlet encounters during his time in office.

According the Joshua Meyrowitz in Stig Hjarvard’s article “The Mediatization of Religion”, there are three different methods of communication media: “media as conduits, media as languages, and media as environments.” (Hjarvard 12). The metaphor of “media as languages” is relevant in understanding the messages the writers want to come across in The West Wing. According to Hjarvard, this method of communication “focuses on the various ways the media format the messages and frame the relationship between sender, content, and receiver.” (Hjarvard 12). When watching a TV show, viewers do not want to be bombarded with religion; they want to watch drama, sex, and violence. Writers must be savvy when placing religion in TV shows and this is where “media as languages” comes into play, Hjarvard writes, “the choices of medium and genre influence important features like the narrative construction, reality status…media adjust and mould religious representations to the modalities of the specific medium and genre in question.” (Hjarvard 12). By creating an American President with conflicting beliefs such as Catholicism and liberalism and writing episodes that parallel real life events The West Wing is able to use religion as a major component within the plot.

In season one, the episode “Take This Sabbath Day” aired, which follows the President’s struggle personal and political struggle with capital punishment. When the Supreme Court sentences a criminal to death, the staff of the west wing spends the weekend trying to find a way to stay Simon Cruz’s execution. As a catholic, President Bartlet is fervently against the death penalty, but as President he must find a legal reason to stay an execution. This episode in particular, causes Bartlet and Toby Zeigler, the Communications Director, to grapple with their religious beliefs versus their political ones. As a practicing Jew, Zeigler seeks guidance from his rabbi after learning Cruz will be put to death. Throughout the entire episode the audience is repeatedly told, “Vengeance is not Jewish” (“Take This Sabbath Day” NBC). While Zeigler seeks guidance from his rabbi, Bartlet discusses this moral dilemma with a Quaker and the Pope.



At the end of the episode, Bartlet does not interfere with the execution and Cruz is put to death. In the final minutes of the show, Bartlet receives a priest in the Oval Office where he tries to justify his decision. Bartlett explains to Father Cavanaugh that he prayed to God for wisdom and help, but he did not receive any. Father Cavanaugh immediately tells Bartlet that God sent him three signs: Toby Zeigler, the Quaker, and the Pope all of whom told him that killing is the lord’s job (“Take This Sabbath Day” NBC). “Take This Sabbath Day” ends with Bartlet kneeling on the floor confessing his sins to Father Cavanaugh. The shift of power from the President to the priest in the Oval Office at the end of the episode elucidates Bartlet’s struggle between his religious and political beliefs.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, The West Wing aired a special episode “Isaac and Ishmael” to educate the public about Islam (Clark 239). In this episode, Josh Lyman, deputy chief of staff meets with a group of high school students to discuss the differences between Islam and Islamic extremism. With the help of his colleagues, Lyman impresses upon the students that those who practice Islam are not terrorists. One of the first lessons the students learn is “Islamic extremism is to Islamic as KKK is to Christianity” (“Isaac and Ishmael” NBC). By comparing Christian extremists to Islamic extremists the students begin to understand that there is a difference between religion and terrorist actions. As the episode progresses, the first lady, Abbey Bartlet retells the story from the Old Testament of Isaac and Ishmael the fathers of Judaism and Islam. While this episode’s primary purpose is to address ignorance surrounding Islam, use of religion and a greater understanding of Islam is what allows the main characters to answer the students’ questions (Clark 239).



In both episodes the titles inform that audience that religion will be a key theme. While the over arcing plot is not completely religious, the use of religion within the plot illustrates personal struggles or is a tool to educate others. The bible also plays an important role in each episode; throughout “Take This Sabbath Day” the bible is continually quoted to support the belief that capital punishment is wrong. In “Isaac and Ishmael” the story of Abraham’s two sons is used to emphasize the similarities between Judaism and Islam.

Throughout The West Wing, the writers use religion as an important characteristic that drives and explains many of the decisions Bartlet makes. Religion is used in the series, just as chocolate sauce is used on ice cream, only when it is really needed and just enough to make it taste a little better. The audience is never overwhelmed by the amount of religion or the moral issues the characters wrestle with, it is part of human nature to struggle with difficult decisions. Religion within The West Wing allows the viewers to relate with President Bartlet about the tough decisions he makes because viewers also struggle with their religious and political beliefs.

References:
Clark, F. Elizabeth. "The Bartlet Administration and Contemporary Populism in NBC's The West Wing."The Contemporary Televison Series. Ed. Michael Hammond and Lucy Mazdon. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2005. 224-243. Print.

Hjarvard, Stig. "The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change." Northern Lights 6 (2008): 9-26. Print.

"Isaac and Ishmael." The West Wing. NBC. 3 Oct. 2001. Television.

"Take This Sabbath Day." The West Wing. NBC. 9 Feb. 2000. Television.

V and Glee, Religious?

By Monica Leonard

Clark suggests that “entertainment media are one element of a culture that shapes and constrains religious identity”(794). The media can also provide social functions that are found within institutionalised religions, “providing both moral and spiritual guidance and a sense of community” (Hjarvard 9). Hjarvard argues that this can be done primarily through the use of supernatural phenomena within entertainment media (9). In particular the media of television. However, presenting moral and spiritual guidance is not restricted to only supernatural genres. Religious and spiritual ideas, representations, and symbology are present in most television genres. This leads audiences to consume (knowingly, or unknowingly, positively, or negatively) certain religious subtexts. This mediatisation of religion (Hjarvard 10) causes religion to be moulded and shaped by the media in a secularised and normalised way.

One way that television engages with religion is by constructing the concept of the ‘other’ with in shows. V and Glee are two examples of programmes which explore notions of the ‘other’. This relates to religion through representations of character and narrative structure. Both shows use the ‘us versus them’ approach to promote, or subvert the minority, or majority group of the ‘other’.

V portrays the arrival of an alien race to Earth; known only as the Vs (Visitors), who are constructed as the ‘other’ with in the series. They are presented as a close knit hive community controlled by one leader; that is their queen Anna, who uses a chemical called ‘bliss’ to induce a euphoric feeling which creates obedience in the hive. Arguably, if the Vs are seen in terms of a religious ‘other’ this ‘bliss’ chemical could be a representation of transcendence in experiential religions. However, this idea is problematic due to having negative links with a dictatorship, and perhaps the idea of ‘bliss’ is more political than religious within the show.

The Vs present themselves to humanity as a peaceful and helpful race, and do this through healing humans with their own technology. Ironically, in V the media is represented having a large role in promoting the Visitors to humanity. The character of Chad; a news reporter, is dependant on Anna for his own popularity, and personal gain within the news industry. While, Anna exploits his ambition, and promotes her own species. This parallels the way religion and media work together with in our own society. Arguably the show takes a negative view towards the ‘other’ as the audience is aware of Anna’s malicious ulterior motives towards the human race in the first season.

The ulterior motives of Anna in V causes the emergence of The Fifth Column. With in the show the media (which Anna influences) describe The Fifth Column as a terrorist cell bent on destroying the ‘peaceful’ relationship which the Vs have with humanity. Therefore, by using the ‘us versus them’ narrative framework in the television show, ideas of fundamentalism can be explored.

On one hand, The Fifth Column is portrayed by Anna through the media as a terrorist group. The fictional media attack on The Fifth Column is reminiscent of how religious fundamentals and extremists are negatively presented in most Western media. On the other hand, and ironically the Fifth Column is presented to the television viewer as a group of freedom fighters; Vs and humans working together to rid the Earth of Anna’s tyranny. It is through the representation of one religious member of The Fifth Column that religious morals and values are presented.

The character of Father Jack is representation of an American Catholic priest, and his views on the arrival of the Vs is, therefore, framed in a religious context. He preaches the importance of following God and not worshipping the Vs, as they are seen by him to be false prophets. However, after the mistaken bombing of a V shuttle, Father Jack is resolved in promoting non-violence as the answer to the Vs occupation of Earth. The priest who is head of Father Jack’s small congregation however, views the Vs as angels sent by God to be the saviours of humanity. In this case, religion is represented quite obviously through the views of Father Jack. Through the use of narrative structure and characterisation, the television show V presents ideas concerning religion and spirituality and secularises them using supernatural phenomena; aliens.

Glee was arguably one of the most successful television shows in Australia in 2009 with just under 1.7 million viewers for the final episode(Dyer). In Glee the main group represented as the ‘other’ are the members of Glee club. The members of the club are measured, and measure themselves against the hegemonic norms of McKinley Highs peer groups. In episode 8, Season 1 the members of Glee club are attacked by the ‘cooler’ kids with grape slushies. This also highlights the ‘us versus them’ framework present in V. However, in Glee the viewer is positioned to empathise with the Glee club members, or the ‘other’. In this way Glee challenges the hegemonic norm, as well as notions of collective intelligence, and its occasional use of violence against the ‘other’. Glee is, therefore, a medium which forms a negative commentary on how society can negatively treat the ‘other’, or rather other religions outside of hegemonic norms.
Attempts to conform to the norm within McKinley High, is carried out by most Glee club members. However, most episodes resolve, with the characters adhering to their own inner beliefs, and the guidance of Will Schuester; choir master, ‘to be themselves’.

Glee also provides the viewer with religious representations, messages, and morals via narrative structure and characterisation. One example of religious characterisation is that of Noah Puckerman (Puck) a gentile Jew. Arguably, the Jewish representations in episode 8, season 1 is a fairly stereotypical one. In this episode Puck has a dream (after watching Schindler‘s List) involving Rachel (the other Glee club member linked to Judaism) who is wearing the star of David. Puck later sings a song in the episode by Neil Diamond who is Jewish. In this case, Glee uses the Jewish stereotypes, and symbolism as a reference to Judaism, giving the religion a voice in the show, as a form of the ‘other’.

Lastly, Glee also includes within the storyline a chastity club; part of McKinley’s high school clubs, of which pregnant Quinn is president. This serves as another site for discussion over religious morals. It is not only the clubs existence, the promotion of chastity before marriage, but Quinn’s ultimate decision to carry her baby to full term, which is promoted in the show as the right action. Any ideas of abortion in the show are silenced, and pro-life is promoted. Quinn’s decision involves a highly contentious issue which is present in institutionalised religion. Therefore, Glee secularises religious views and popularises them, through the success of the series.

Religion is clearly present in popular television today. By using narrative structure and characterisation Glee and V, present the viewer with moral guidance and ways of viewing the ‘other’. As Hjarvard argues the media therefore performs a social function one previously exclusive to religion (9). Problematically however, the media usually fails to construct a holistic representation of religious groups and uses stereotypes. Nevertheless, an audience can consciously recognise a religious or spiritual presence with in a television show, however obvious or embedded they may be.

Works Cited
Clark, Lynn Schofield. “U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the ‘funky’ Side of Religion” Journal of Communication. 52.4 (2002): 794- 811.

Dyer, Glenn. “MasterChef, Glee Assure Seven of a Poor Night.” Crikey. Ed. Sophie Black. 9 July 2010. Private Media. 23 July 2010. http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/07/09/masterchef-glee-assure-seven-of-a-poor-night/.
Hjarvard, Stig. “The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change.” Northern Lights. 6 (2008): 9-26.
 
Works Used
V. Dir. Yves Simoneau and Fred Toye. Writ. Kenneth Johnson. ABC. Nine, Brisbane. Mar. 2010.

Glee. Dir. Scott J., Murphy R., Falchuk B., Keene E., and Barclay P. Writ. Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy. FOX. 19 May 2009 Ten, Brisbane. 17 Sept. 2009.

Understanding Media and Religion

Review Article by Kellee Uhr

Hjarvard, media and religion
Stig Hjarvard’s article ‘The Mediatization of Religion’ (2008) explores religious change through media consumption and the ways social groups establish religious view and apply it into the everyday. Through the process of mediatization, western societies that have deregulated media industries subsume religious issues and representations into mass media. This process leads to ‘banal religion’, where the disempowering of recognised religious institutions leads to a dominance of a hybridised belief system that blends folk religions, tradition religious symbols and pop culture characterisation. Hjarvard uses the process of banal religion as way to translate the implications of media consumption leading to religious and spiritual guidance and a sense of community.

The increased presence of generalised religious themes in the media through social activities such as ritual, worship, mourning and celebration (2008, p. 10) are examples of the de-secularisation of media and a renegotiation of sacred activities that broaden the scope of meaning and interaction. The growth of supernatural themes in popular culture is assisting this change. The representations of the supernatural world have developed into a rich exploration of characters and narratives, making the supernatural appear natural (2008, p. 9). The seriality of weekly televised drama, computer games and film assist in making religious themes through the supernatural a familiar phenomenon. Media and pop culture have developed into its own institution in contemporary society and as a consequence, other institutions such as religion become dependent on these communication and representation tools and have to rely on them to communicate with the broader community. The media becomes the formal authority to provide information and moral orientation while still entertaining the community and exploring narrative about society itself (2008, p. 13).

Hjarvard’s uses three theoretical frameworks to explore media as an agent for religious change, media as conduit, media as language and media as environment. By reconceptualising Michael Billing’s ‘banal nationalism’, Hjarvard creates ‘banal religion’ as a way to explain the mediatised expression of belief through popular culture and entertainment. It is through this process that the repercussions of the media become relevant, where individual religious and spiritual concerns become consumer entertainment and original meaning becomes blurred. The entertainment agenda is of higher priority than spiritual expression. When considering the representation of institutionalised religion through the media, it is important to consider Hjarvard’s argument.

Hoover and understanding transition
Hoover’s chapter explores the dominance of media as a centralized and dominant social and cultural force and how this position has changed recently from a ‘mass’ phenomenon to a more fractured, specialist audience base. This has allowed media to diversify and commodify its marketplace to explore a variety of themes and narratives. The nature of religion is also undergoing a transition period, moving from unified systems to a more individualised, wholly spiritual condition. Hoover explores the media’s symbolic inventory and integration into large social and cultural themes and values (2006, p. 56).

Hoover explores four media contexts where religion is present: news and journalism, religious broadcasting and televangelism, religious publishing and entertainment media. By outlining these four areas, Hoover emphasises where religion exists in its own right in media. It is the convergence of media and religion that is the key argument in Hoover’s chapter. Contemporary religion doesn’t exist in media culture and social practice in a totalising term, the media is a more diverse, atomised and targeted medium of communication. This ‘new religious scholarship’ requires a fundamental shift in how we engage with entertainment media and religion itself (2006, p. 71). Hoover argues that the line between secular media and religious media is increasingly more blurred and it is the development of a new ‘religious/symbolic marketplace’ in the media that has gone relatively unnoticed by religious authorities and institutions (2006, pp 74-76).

Hoover argues that a ‘seeking’ sensibility of the audience is attuned to culture and therefore, media but also to one’s own individual life trajectory and history. By outlining key ‘personalities’ of contemporary religion (born-again Christians, mainstream believers, metaphysical believers and seekers, dogmatists and secularists) to outline an evolving religious culture Hoover emphasises the transitory nature of religion not only to media communication and consumption but also to community and society as a whole. The relationship between religion and spiritual belief, media communication and personal worldview is a constantly evolving concept with each element influencing the other.


Arnaudin and Mormon Vampires
Arnaudin critically analyses the popular culture phenomenon, The Twilight Saga and its links to Mormonism and Mormon literature. Author Stephanie Meyer is a devout Mormon, born and raised. Arnaudin argues that due to Meyer’s faith, and its inherent presence in her daily life, The Twilight Saga books and subsequent films all explore key elements of the religion while not being simply religious scripture or advertising. By never explicitly mentioning the faith, Meyer creates a world that is spiritual but not specifically institutionalised.

Arnaudlin takes keys aspects of the characters and makes comparisons to scripture and narratives from Mormon literature. Discussions between the vampires, the Cullen family, are filled with notions of redemption, souls and the meaning of life. Arnaudlin argues that regardless of characterisation, the central themes of the series are the existence of souls and the value of good deeds, agency, sex and marriage, family structure and conversion. Arnaudlin also argues that references to Meyers’ faith in The Twilight Saga are so subtle that it has allowed for the series to reach a broader audience that are unaware of her faith and simply view the phenomenon as entertainment with supernatural themes.

The use of supernatural characters overshadows the obvious themes of Mormonism in The Twilight Saga. To the audience, the supernatural and its relation to the natural are key point of interest. By placing questions of life and spirituality into the storylines, Meyer only fuels the mediatization of religion and acts as an inherent feature of Meyers writing style and faith.

Conclusion

Contemporary religion and spirituality is incorporated in everyday media, from popular culture, news coverage and entertainment. Through a rise in supernatural themes, media explore new concepts of religion and often use this as a way to disguise traditional religious institutional messages. Hoover and Hjarvard argue that media and popular culture can never be devoid of the spiritual as these mediums themselves brand religion and spirituality. Consumerism and consumption of media and culture are so linked to contemporary life that books and films such as Twilight are popular. The Twilight phenomenon is an example of the supernatural being used as a natural framework to explore and express religion and spirituality.  

Bibliography
Arnaudin, E.B. “Mormon Vampires: The Twilight Saga and Religious Literacy” Master’s paper. University of North Carolina, 2008.
Hjarvard, S. “The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change.” Northern Lights. 6.1 (2008): 9-16.
Hoover, S.M. “Media and Religion in Transition.” in Religion in the Media Age, London: Routledge, 2006.

Article Review: Church of Jaminology website

by Ben(Jamin) Davey


Church of Jaminology is a blog created with the aim of educating and provoking discussion and thought about religion and how people relate to one another and their environments, and to expose people to ideas they wouldn’t normally seek out on their own. The writing style is intended to be accessible to a wide range of readers, using humour to entertain while educating. It has a plain black and white page design, relying on the use of inserted pictures to give colour to each article. The page is updated at irregular intervals. In this essay I will assess each of these factors in relation to their effectiveness in achieving the blog’s aims.
The Church of Jaminology started out as an irregular commentary of my own religious studies (both academic and personal) for my friends on Facebook. After a lot of encouragement from that small audience I agreed to make a public blog with the same theme and the private religion went public. My theory is that since people tend to fear the things they don’t understand, helping them to gain an understanding of the “other” in a safe context may in some way help them to overcome their fear.
The combination of subtle humour and interesting facts is intended to make accessible to readers religious and spiritual ways of thinking which they would not normally consider. The historical reference to an eleventh centenary Catholic ritual recognising homosexual life partners is just one example of a fact which can be used to challenge people’s preconceptions of religious values. I try to use humour to present these facts in a way which is unthreatening. Reader feedback on the Facebook entries suggests that this approach is effective. The website hasn’t yet had sufficient user feedback to assess whether it is effective in that medium.
The simple black and white layout of the page with a single medium width column is meant to give the feeling of a respectable broad sheet newspaper article. I also included a feature to allow readers to post responses to each article, since the discussions following the posts on Facebook were often more interesting that the post itself and provided inspiration of future posts. It is also important for readers to feel that they can respond to what has been said, which is one of the main benefits of the internet over older forms of mass media in producing a public dialogue on important issues. So far the level of audience participation in the public forum has been much lower than on Facebook. This might be because people reading an article on an individual’s website tend to shift into a passive learning position, whereas the Facebook context had a lower power distance and was more familiar, allowing readers to feel more comfortable to add their own thoughts.
My intention was to make the master layout relatively blank and allow for each post to be visually defined by the images inserted at the beginning of each major point. The images and the white space on either side of the text are intended to allow readers to feel relaxed and take breaks from reading as they go through the articles. While this is a good idea in theory, it has resulted in a lot of extra work in sourcing relevant images for each post, which then results in fewer posts. On the other hand, a lot of the page’s traffic has come through Google image search so there are certain benefits to the image heavy format.
Another issue on the topic of images is copyright ownership. The majority of images used in posts have been sourced from artist submitted Creative Commons collections, but in some cases the original artist is unknown. This isn’t such a problem for a personal Facebook post or a blog with a limited readership, but when the number of daily viewers jumped from five or six to over two hundred, the issue of intellectual property on a publicly accessible site suddenly became very real and simply not knowing who produced an image is not an acceptable excuse.
Converting the site into a video blog seems to be the strongest solution to both the issues of audience participation and the need for visual images. This approach would require a rethinking of the page layout as there would be a reduced need for the blank canvas approach to each article when there is a standard format of a single video window in the centre of the screen. Using a social video networking site like YouTube is likely to increase audience participation and discussion, and also make it easier for viewers to share the content over other social networking sites. When the goal is to stimulate discussion, the transition into video seems an essential next step.
The final issue that needs to be considered is scheduling regular updates. It wasn’t something I even considered when it was a private blog. I just updated when I had something to say. After seeing blog views spike after each update it seems clear that a public site needs regular small updates to keep the audience involved. The new format will have a scheduled weekly update with extra posts being prepared in advance for weeks when I just don’t have the time to prepare something.
This review has identified the areas where the current approach is working are areas where can be improved. While keeping the goal of encouraging people to think about religion, discover their own beliefs and understand the views of others, the Church of Jaminology can use the above strategies to increase its audience base in a legally responsible way and make the world a less scary place.

Davey, BD 2010, “Church of Jaminology”, http://jaminism.wordpress.com [accessed 22/08/2010]