Religion, Media and the Public Sphere – Meyer and Moors

This introduction raises a number of questions about the role of religion in the media, and how the media interacts with groups in society. Meyer and Moors highlight the fluid nature of the public sphere and how the concept of group interaction has developed beyond ‘civil society’ which intrinsically has connotations of Western cultural norms (civil society votes, civil society fills the vacuum between the private and the public, etc), to what they refer to as ‘publics’.

Meyer and Moors indicate that the dichotomous relationship between the media and religion, in turn, help to shape and inform each other. In this, the commercialisation of religion appears to condone and associate certain behaviours (such as purchasing cassettes, idols/figurines, movies etc) and implies that through such purchases your religiosity is increased.

By applying the concept that there is a dichotomous relationship between the media and religion that occurs in the public arena to what we have already covered in the course to date, one can argue that Pentacostalism in Western Africa can be used as an example of this. Media is impacting religion in nation states such as Nigeria, as can be seen by the increased popularity of Helen Ukpabio. Arguably, her films and books are located within the field of religion, but by utilising cinematic and literary devices, her films and books change the nature of the religious ideals propagated by Christianity. These changes can arguably be referred to as politicisation of religion in the public sphere as media provides the perfect space to promote individual interpretations of religion on a mass scale. However, by its very nature, media transcends different groupings within society and if its purpose is to reach out to all of them, there must be a commonality in the message being propagated. If there is no existing commonality, media can provide a sensationalist account of an issue or event, and manufacture a commonality that can then be tapped into as a mobilising force. This mobilisation of different groups across a society via sensationalised religious media almost always ends up in the political sphere. Meyer and Moors focus on how this process affects the notion of identity, and how identity is malleable; referring to both individual identity, and the identity of religion.

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