Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media

Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media: Explorations in Media, Religion, and Culture

Stewart M. Hoover
Lynn Schofield Clark
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/hoov12088
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  • Book Info
    Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media
    Book Description:

    Increasingly, the religious practices people engage in and the ways they talk about what is meaningful or sacred take place in the context of media culture -- in the realm of the so-called secular.

    Focusing on this intersection of the sacred and the secular, this volume gathers together the work of media experts, religious historians, sociologists of religion, and authorities on American studies and art history. Topics range from Islam on the Internet to the quasi-religious practices of Elvis fans, from the uses of popular culture by the Salvation Army in its early years to the uses of interactive media technologies at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance. The issues that the essays address include the public/private divide, the distinctions between the sacred and profane, and how to distinguish between the practices that may be termed "religious" and those that may not.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50521-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: THE CULTURAL CONSTRUCTION OF RELIGION IN THE MEDIA AGE
    (pp. 1-6)
    Stewart M. Hoover

    The intersection between religion and the media first came to public and scholarly attention in the middle of the twentieth century. At that time, the “presenting problem,” as it was called, was the emergence of religious broadcasts not sanctioned by religious and secular authorities. Interest was heightened in the 1970s when another new phenomenon, televangelism, burst onto the scene. Alongside these discussions of religious uses of the media, debates arose about media coverage of religion at a time when religion was playing an ever more important role in domestic and international politics.

    These earlier considerations were rooted in a particular...

  5. CHAPTER 1 OVERVIEW: THE “PROTESTANTIZATION” OF RESEARCH INTO MEDIA, RELIGION, AND CULTURE
    (pp. 7-34)
    Lynn Schofield Clark

    Research into the intersecting fields of media, religion, and culture has grown exponentially in the past decade. The pages in this volume represent a starting point for the reader new to the field. Yet while the contributions to this book are consistent with an overall trend that will be reviewed in this chapter, they are by no means exhaustive of current approaches. In this overview, I discuss how research in this area has developed, seeking to place current agendas—both those represented here and those taking place in other settings—into social and historical perspective.

    By using the term Protestantization...

  6. PART 1. Mediation in Popular Religious Practice
    • [PART 1. Introduction]
      (pp. 35-36)

      We continue in a provocative way, right at the intersection of several of our lines of demarcation. David Morgan’s work has ably demonstrated that one of the reasons for our lack of serious or summative accounts of contemporary religious practice has been our inability to account for its visual nature. Morgan argues that popular Protestant piety has been visual, in spite of the tendency for those in authority in religious institutions to resist certain forms of visual religion as mundane or banal. Thus, he invites us in chapter 2 to think about how objects once dismissed as “trivial” because they...

    • CHAPTER 2 PROTESTANT VISUAL PRACTICE AND AMERICAN MASS CULTURE
      (pp. 37-62)
      David Morgan

      It is becoming increasingly obvious today that religious images are a part of the study of media, religion, and culture. Indeed, images are and always have been a principal source of information about the world, and religionists in modern American history, contrary to the old Protestant saw about sparseness, have bowed to no one in applying the power of visual display to the transmission of information and to the character formation of youth, the unconverted, and neophytes. Hence, today, the religious uses of imagery and the visual practices of instruction and devotion are being studied to great effect by scholars...

    • CHAPTER 3 BELIEVING IN ELVIS: POPULAR PIETY IN MATERIAL CULTURE
      (pp. 63-86)
      Erika Doss

      In 1985, Kiki Apostolakos, a language and psychology teacher in Athens, married a Greek American and emigrated to Memphis in order to “be closer” to Elvis Presley; she now lives near Graceland, Elvis’s home and his burial site. “The day he passed away, it hit me like lightning,” she remembers. “That very day I started making my arrangements, using the gold foil from cigarette packages, and decorating Elvis pictures. I feel so blessed that I can live in Memphis and do this. Elvis, his image, is so alive inside me.”¹ Apostolakos, whose Memphis apartment is covered with images of Elvis,...

  7. PART 2. The Mediation of Religion in the Public Sphere
    • [PART 2. Introduction]
      (pp. 87-90)

      The kind of public action we saw in chapter 3 focused on the participation in and reception of meaningful materials that are publicly available. The chapters in part 2 will address the dimension of the public and public-ness from a different perspective—that of public display and production in and for the public sphere. There is no doubt that the religion we see in these chapters is explicit, but these cases continue our contemplation of questions of popular and marginalized expression.

      Shawn Landres (chap. 4) takes us to a context of practice that problematizes both our definition of religion and...

    • CHAPTER 4 PUBLIC ART AS SACRED SPACE: ASIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY MURALS IN LOS ANGELES
      (pp. 91-112)
      J. Shawn Landres

      Public mural art has become an important mode for expressing community self-identity, especially among Asian Americans in Los Angeles.¹ Like other art forms, public mural art incorporates sacred images and concepts; I suggest that “the sacred” often plays a significant role in public mural art, not simply by expressing these sacred images and articulating sacred or religious concepts, but also by turning public murals into “sacred places.” Public murals transform untamed and profane spaces into socially constituted sacred places.

      Sacred places are highly charged sites for contested negotiations over the ownership of the symbolic capital (or symbolic real estate) that...

    • CHAPTER 5 ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE: THE PERFORMED RELIGION OF THE SALVATION ARMY, 1880–1920
      (pp. 113-137)
      Diane Winston

      The glittering crowd at the Metropolitan Opera House included many of New York City’s elite. Now, as rousing music stirred their souls, they sat expectantly. In the darkened auditorium, singers clad in hooded robes of red and white mounted the stage and formed a huge crimson cross. The audience was ready, more than ready—but for what? Were they waiting to hear the next Caruso? Or perhaps Puccini’s latest opera? As the anticipation mounted, a single shaft of blue light caught a solitary figure heading down the center aisle. Dressed in tatters and rags, the homely female form picked a...

    • CHAPTER 6 “TURN IT OFF!”: TV CRITICISM IN THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY MAGAZINE, 1946–1960
      (pp. 138-162)
      Michele Rosenthal

      In May 1960, Elvis Presley, newly released from the army, appeared on television. His performance was “pernicious”, declared an editorial in the widely read Christian Century, a liberal Protestant weekly; Elvis’s wiggling pelvis was a sign of the “depth of decadence into which our scale of values has sunk.” The spectacle, dismissed as “revolting exhibitionism,” was—most unfortunately in the Christian Century’s opinion—accessible “at the twist of the youngest wrist.” Even worse, this performance had earned Elvis a whopping $125,000, a sum that could have been spent on a year’s salaries for twenty-five teachers, forty-two ministers, or sixty-three farmhands....

  8. PART 3. Religion Made Public Through the Media
    • [PART 3. Introduction]
      (pp. 163-164)

      We continue our exploration of the public side of the public/private line of demarcation by looking at two case studies of the processes through which the news media come to construct stories about religion. In these cases, there is little debate over the explicitness of the object labeled Religion, and little doubt that the media purpose is to understand and project a public version of this object.

      John Schmalzbauer takes on these large themes in chapter 7—a look at journalistic conventions in the treatment of religion. As with much of this book, his study is significant not only for...

    • CHAPTER 7 BETWEEN OBJECTIVITY AND MORAL VISION: CATHOLICS AND EVANGELICALS IN AMERICAN JOURNALISM
      (pp. 165-187)
      John Schmalzbauer

      White House reporter Wes Pippert had just written an op-ed piece for the New York Times criticizing his colleagues for ignoring what he called the “moral dimension of the news.” The piece reflected Pippert’s religious convictions as an evangelical Christian, calling for a more ethically engaged approach to daily journalism. The day the article was to appear, a huge snowstorm hit Washington, D.C., making the delivery of the Times impossible. At the time, Pippert thought “How lucky!” He was glad that his colleagues in the Washington press corps would not be able to read the article. “I knew this was...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONTROVERSY AND THE PRESS
      (pp. 188-200)
      Mark G. Borchert

      In 1977, Paul Pressler, a Houston judge, and Paige Patterson, the president of Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas, began an effort to reshape the policies and institutions of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), with 13.5 million members the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Convinced that Southern Baptist colleges, universities, and seminaries had moved toward theological liberalism, Pressler and Patterson devised a plan to establish the SBC as a more conservative denomination and to purge it of what they considered to be heretical influences.¹ The two Texans recognized that the presidency of the denomination, although often considered...

  9. PART 4. Implicit Religion and Mediated Public Ritual
    • [PART 4. Introduction]
      (pp. 201-202)

      The preceding chapters have represented evidence of the working out in public of the assumed prerogatives, vis-à-vis the media, of explicitly religious institutions; part 4 confronts the assumption that it is only formally constituted religion that can assume such a central role.

      The two chapters in this part address the matter of ritual and ask whether the concept of ritual might be helpful in understanding relations between religion and the media. It is a commonplace to think of media behaviors as ritualized, and it is but a small step from there to speculating that such phenomena might be serving implicitly...

    • CHAPTER 9 SCAPEGOATING AND DETERRENCE: CRIMINAL JUSTICE RITUALS IN AMERICAN CIVIL RELIGION
      (pp. 203-218)
      Carolyn Marvin

      In a volume devoted to media, religion, and ritual, a chapter on criminal justice may seem a little odd. It will seem less odd if we frame the U.S. criminal justice system as an institution of ritual sacrifice. Placed within the framework of American civil religion, a model of ritual sacrifice may be able to illuminate aspects of both criminal justice and civil religion. As I mean it here, the term civil religion does not imply a weak, or faux, religious form. I count nationalism, a less genteel synonym for civil religion, among the powerful living religions of modernity. This...

    • CHAPTER 10 RITUAL AND THE MEDIA
      (pp. 219-234)
      Ronald L. Grimes

      Media scholars as well as media producers are currently showing considerable interest in both the idea of ritual and the performance of actual rites. But not long ago the terms ritual and media would have been regarded as labels for separate cultural domains—the one sacred, the other secular; the one term designating a religious activity and the other denoting tools for transferring information. Media not only intruded upon but even profaned many rites. Any attempt to posit a significant connection between ritual and media would have seemed forced since the two were segregated domains.

      Today, media often validate rites....

  10. PART 5. Explicit and Public Expression in New Media Contexts
    • [PART 5. Introduction]
      (pp. 235-236)

      The essential meanings we hoped for in part 4 are easier to see in the work that follows. The chapters of part 5 have a common concern with marginal, as opposed to mainstream, forms. They describe situations where the marginal is also “popular,” in the sense that these expressions attract the attention of practitioners who reject the legitimating power of dominant, mainstream religions and who do so in novel and inventive ways. In each of these accounts, we also see how arguments, meanings, rituals, and symbols are made and reformulated for new media contexts.

      In chapter 11, Bruce Lawrence addresses...

    • CHAPTER 11 ALLAH ON-LINE: THE PRACTICE OF GLOBAL ISLAM IN THE INFORMATION AGE
      (pp. 237-253)
      Bruce B. Lawrence

      What is authority in Islam? It is scriptural, since it upholds the Holy Qur’an as divine revelation. It is charismatic, since it invokes hadith, which depicts the exemplary life and words of the prophet Muhammad. It is also juridical, since it relies on a practical code, the shari’a, and also on the custodians of shari’a, the ulama, who are seen to be faithful guides to Muslim norms and values.

      All three nodes—the scriptural, the charismatic, and the juridical—project a specifically Islamic authority, and all three have ample narratives. Yet they are also contested narratives. The Qur’an stands as...

    • CHAPTER 12 INTERNET RITUAL: A CASE STUDY OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF COMPUTER-MEDIATED NEOPAGAN RELIGIOUS MEANING
      (pp. 254-275)
      Jan Fernback

      As computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies attain widespread use throughout the world, media scholars are examining these technologies as new forms of media and as extended cultural environments. Although some scholars criticize the use of CMC as an atomizing force that promotes ersatz social bonding,¹ others hail its use as the progenitor of new sites of community and social action.² This chapter follows a tradition of interpretive approaches to communication phenomena by examining the realm of cyberspace as a site for the construction of cultural practice for a religious group. Specifically, I explore the ritual processes and meanings evident in the...

    • CHAPTER 13 RELIGIOUS SENSIBILITIES IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET: FREETHOUGHT CULTURE AND THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF COMMUNICATION MEDIA
      (pp. 276-290)
      David Nash

      Religious messages have been a fundamental form of cultural communication and cultural cohesion for at least two millennia. Throughout, such messages and their promoters have perpetually interested themselves in the methods and media that new technological developments regularly put at their disposal. Investigators of this phenomenon should thus remember that revolutions in communication have occurred on many occasions during the last two thousand years. Thus we need not be perplexed and without analytical methods when we are confronted by the growth of new forms of media and their use in the sphere of religious communication. This chapter aims to demonstrate...

  11. PART 6. Specific Religions and Specific Media in National and Ethnic Contexts
    • [PART 6. Introduction]
      (pp. 291-294)

      Finally, we turn to a series of chapters dealing with specifics of a different kind: specific national and ethnic contexts. In contrast to part 5, where the concern was more with the practices whereby specific mediated contexts and appeals are authored, here we look at specific contexts of reception or consumption. We see the complexity of the negotiations through which meanings are made at the consumption end of things. These chapters (like Lawrence’s chapter 11) also raise the North/South line of demarcation. All of them deal with phenomena and contexts where self-consciousness of ethnic or national difference is an important...

    • CHAPTER 14 RELIGIOUS TELEVISION IN SWEDEN: TOWARD A MORE BALANCED VIEW OF ITS RECEPTION
      (pp. 295-304)
      Alf Linderman

      While research within the social sciences and media studies once relied primarily on quantitative methods, today qualitative methods are often applied when studying phenomena like television reception. Studies in media now look toward how meanings are constructed,¹ making possible connections with the branch of religious studies that focuses on the role of media in the development of values, conceptions of the world, and religious identity.² In this chapter I compare the findings of earlier quantitative studies with more recent studies of the reception of religious television. The more recent studies have been founded on a theoretical framework called social semeiology...

    • CHAPTER 15 RELIGIOUS TO ETHNIC-NATIONAL IDENTITIES: POLITICAL MOBILIZATION THROUGH JEWISH IMAGES IN THE UNITED STATES AND BRITAIN, 1881–1939
      (pp. 305-327)
      Michael Berkowitz

      As we begin the twenty-first century, Jews in North America and the United Kingdom are recognized for achieving an astounding measure of organizational success. To many it seems “natural” that Jews adapted well to changing circumstances and managed to protect and assert their communal interests. But the historical question remains: How did modern, largely secular, Jewish-oriented identities for Western Jews come into being from the age of mass immigration to the mid-twentieth century? How were Jews mobilized, as an ethnic-national, religious minority, in an age when acculturation seemed to be the overwhelming historical imperative? As a partial answer, I will...

    • CHAPTER 16 BETWEEN AMERICAN TELEVANGELISM AND AFRICAN ANGLICANISM
      (pp. 328-344)
      Knut Lundby

      Against global cultural flows, people may redefine their personal projects and thus their identities. This is usually done in the context of groups that they belong to or relate to. Identities are then regarded as sources of meaning, constructed by social actors within group settings. Group-like relations might be established at a distance, through the media, or by means of identifications with people one would like to refer to. Group interactions, either face-to-face or by communication technology, strengthen such identification. Symbolism in global media might be used as a resource in the shaping of identity within local groups.

      The relationship...

    • CHAPTER 17 “SPEAKING IN TONGUES, WRITING IN VISION”: ORALITY AND LITERACY IN TELEVANGELISTIC COMMUNICATIONS
      (pp. 345-360)
      Keyan G. Tomaselli and Arnold Shepperson

      This chapter examines the electronic church’s primary use of the rhetorical power of oral codes in the production of messages for a visual medium. We suggest, following the work of Walter Ong,¹ that such codes recuperate the rituals and language structures of preliterate forms of expression. The chapter analyzes a semiotic aspect of the relationship between televangelistic oratory (which uses primary orality) and the secondary electronic orality codes of TV, with a view to understanding teleministries in industrial and postindustrial societies. This relates to issues of community (or solidarity) and the recovery of the religious imagination in a secular world....

  12. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 361-366)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 367-386)