Thursday, August 26, 2010

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.


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.

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