Hjarvard, S. (2008) The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change, Northern Lights, 6, (1) 9-26.
A Review by Christine Barton
Hjarvard’s article on the mediatization of religion presents a theoretical framework for how media act as agents of religious change. It argues that this mediatization has made popular media texts important sources of spiritual interest and that religion is now formatted according to the genres of popular culture. Hjarvard focuses on three metaphors of the media: media as conduits, media as languages and media as environments. Using these metaphors, along with the results of a national survey in Denmark, he argues that the media control the amount, content and direction of religious messages in society, shaping religious representations and replacing the authority of religious institutions.
This article explicitly demonstrates the strong relationship that has formed between the media and religion in today’s society. It points out that even though we aren’t aware of it, the media is constantly exposing us to religious and spiritual messages and that unknowingly, these have become important sources for sparking public interest in this topic. There is a vast amount of literature available on media control, hegemony and representation, therefore this article’s particular focus on the mediatization of religion makes it an important study within this field.
The first part of the article focuses on the topic in a broad sense, while the latter part deals with the findings of a national survey in Denmark. Although this data is specific to the country of Denmark, the results can be relevant to society as a whole and demonstrate the social change this is a result of the mediatization of religion. The only downfall of the questions the survey addressed was that they tended to focus on just a small handful of media, and failed to give more examples to participants. If more ideas were planted in their minds, more thought might have been put into answering the questions.
Overall, the article has been written in a clear and succinct manner that demonstrates Hjarvard’s findings and views on this increasingly important topic. Hjarvard’s notion of “banal religion” offers an interesting way of conceiving what this process of mediatization will do to the institution of religion, while highlighting both the positive and negative effects of this process. The article clearly explains how media work as agents of social change and how this work is opening society’s minds to the presence of spirituality and religion within today’s society.