Religion, Media, and the Public Sphere

Meyer and Moors’ book examines the changing role of religion in light of its rising presence in the public sphere, compared with the recoiling of secularism (a shift in a direction contrary to popular notions of ‘modernity’), with a focus on the ways in which new forms of media are affecting religion and its propagation.

They are quick to dismiss the view that the growth of fundamentalism and increased public presence of religion comes from a ‘return of the repressed’-like desire to understand and control the world in the vacuum left by globalism, but they ignore completely the historical effects of the fall of socialism, which seems a far more likely candidate to have created the ‘vacuum’ in the public sphere that religion has been filling since the collapse of the USSR.

They are right to point out the ways in which media is being used by religious groups, but their assertion that ‘religions have been transformed’ by going public with the electronic medias, and that this now poses a threat to the ‘maintenance of religious authority’ seems exaggerated, and almost implies that religions were static until the invention of cassette-tapes.


Meyer and Moors’ Introduction in Religion Media and the Public Sphere

 This introduction brings attention to the various ways in which religion, society, politics and the media are interconnected. It is quick to inform the reader of the large variety of technology that has been used in recent years, yet does not highlight this as a major change, but as a development over time. I found the section ‘Mediated Religion and Its New Publics’ of particular interest as it broke this idea of development down and how religion grows in accordance to the society. Meyer and Moors quote that ‘for religious traditions to continue through history they must be translated, or better, transmediated, put in a new form’. From this I could see that actually the use of the web, radio-broadcasts and cassettes are just like a new means of communication or social interaction in present society. Furthermore Meyer and Moors discuss how media is used in order to ‘reach out to the world’. This technique is used commonly across all areas of life, to voice opinions politically, promote products and provide information, thus it is clear why media has also become associated with religion. However, a debate that has continuously sparked across society is should religion be promoted? Or should it be a personal understanding that one finds themself?

The introduction forwards interesting questions in how responses to religion may change because of changes in mediation and how existing practices may be transformed, which I believe will only be developed on in the following chapters. It also raised how ‘the secular stance engenders a political position that demands as much of scholars’ attention as the religious position critiqued by secularists’ , which I think is a point too often ignored. 


Religion, Media and the Public Sphere – Meyer & Moors

The article focuses on the “entanglement of religion and media”. It shows how varying religions use the media to spread their religious (and sometimes political) messages through tv, film, radio, cassette tapes, internet and so on. I liked the idea raised that by appealing to the mass culture/mass media through films and tapes it almost commoditises or commercialises religion making it more accessible to everyone and potentially increasing the amount of religious worship. This article allows me to see a connection of how media and religion are using each other to develop and expand however not having any previously knowledge on the topic I found it hard to follow at times.


Articles for Presentation on Western Media and African Religion



Liberia ritual killings warning


29 June 2005


The leader of Liberia’s transitional government, Gyude Bryant, has promised to use the death penalty against anyone found guilty of sacrificial killings.


During an address on state radio Mr Bryant said people were killing in the belief it would make them successful, rich, or the next president.


A BBC correspondent in Liberia says the number of ritual murders are growing.


Sacrifices have been reported in three of Liberia’s counties – the latest involving beheading and organ removal.


Election edge


“We’ll find you, we’ll arrest you, we’ll prosecute you and let me say again to everybody, if the judge passes down a ruling to say you must die by hanging, I will hang you,” Mr Bryant said. “I will sign the death warrant without batting my eye.”


The BBC’s Paul Welsh in Monrovia says that almost two years of peace in Liberia have done little to help ease the poverty in what is one of the world’s poorest nations.


Elections for the first president since Charles Taylor left the country are due in October, which, our correspondent says, is the likely reason for the increased number of ritual killings.

Human parts such as genital organs are believed to offer supernatural powers, especially by aspiring politicians and so the number of alleged ritual killing rises in the run-up to elections.

According to local media reports the latest such killing, which occurred in the northern Bong County, involved a female who was beheaded and had her genital organs removed.

“If you killed because you want to make a sacrifice to be president or senator, you fool yourself,” Mr Bryant said. “Stop ritualistic killings, it will not pay you anything, it will not make you rich, it will not give you jobs.”

In January extra United Nations peacekeepers had to be sent to south-eastern Liberia following violent protests over alleged ritual killings.



First, forget about witchcraft….

15 September 2013

By Celeste Hicks BBC News

The only psychiatrist working in the African country of Chad has his work cut out to convince patients their issues are medical, rather than spiritual.

The sign outside Dr Egip Bolsane’s surgery in the sleepy riverside district of Chagoua in the Chadian capital N’Djamena proclaims “the pioneer”.

Even by Dr Bolsane’s own account psychiatry was an unusual choice: it is not a discipline that many Chadians understand.

“Going to see a psychiatrist in Chad is a difficult thing for many people,” said Dr Bolsane, seated behind a sparse wooden desk with just a bunch of white plastic flowers in a gold vase as decoration.

“Public opinion here thinks that it means something is really wrong in your head, it might be because you’re possessed.

“We need to demystify the more or less diabolical image of psychiatry.”

A listless fan rotates erratically behind him and he wipes the sweat away from his face – Dr Bolsane himself is not in particularly good health and he can’t afford air conditioning.

Mental health problems are poorly understood by the majority of Chadians who tend to conceptualise illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia as having a spiritual, rather than a medical cause.

Many people believe in the existence of witchcraft and curses, and phrases such as having a “hot head” or persistent headaches are often euphemisms for much more serious problems.

Lack of education

It is easy to see people whose mental health issues have been left untreated, and whose families can no longer cope, living rough on the streets of the capital.

Dr Bolsane said one of the biggest obstacles to changing attitudes to mental health – and getting people to understand that it is an illness and not possession – is lack of education.

“Mental health issues are not talked about in society,” he said.

“I often find when people come to see me that they don’t know how to discuss their problems with anyone.”

Improving mental health services is not easy in Chad, a country which comes fourth from bottom in the UN’s Human Development Index.

Dr Bolsane receives no state support for his services, his clients often have trouble paying his modest fees and often drugs are not available.

Anyone wishing to study psychiatry still has to go to France.

“A country of 12 million people which has lived through many years of war has enormous need for psychiatric help” he said.

“But I’m just one person. There is no way I can satisfy the demand even though I feel every day I’m trying to help people.”

Civil wars

From the early 1980s until just a few years ago, Chad endured a seemingly unending succession of civil wars, rebellions and coups which have left many thousands of people traumatised.

Under the 1982-90 brutal dictatorship of Hissene Habre, who was recently indicted in Senegal on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, some 40,000 people disappeared and many more thousands were tortured and imprisoned without charge.

Both rebel groups and the national army are known to have persistently used child soldiers.

Dr Bolsane believes this background helps to explain what he’s observed about the occurrence of certain illnesses.

“I have observed that cases of schizophrenia here are much more common that you would find elsewhere, and my theory is that it’s linked to what the country has gone through.”

He has also noticed unusually high numbers of cases of paranoia, possibly brought on by substance abuse, and stress within family relationships.

Very few of these people have ever received professional medical help.

In a country which is currently battling an outbreak of malaria with 14,0000 new cases over just a few weeks, where polio and measles are still very real threats to children, and where the under-five mortality rate is 169/1000 live births, it is easy to see how resources will not be directed at mental health issues.

Dr Bolsane is disappointed that the country’s new found oil wealth has not contributed more towards improving all aspects of health provision in Chad – the country has earned some $10bn from oil sales in the last 10 years but many of the country’s hospitals are still in a parlous state.

So how does he manage to find the motivation to continue?

“The human being is not a machine which can just be easily repaired.

“Trying to understand the full range of the human experience, how emotion links to health, is one of the most exciting and challenging things anyone can do,” he said, with a smile.



In pictures: Tanzania’s traditional healers

17 June 2013


Many people in Tanzania – and across Africa – consult traditional healers for everything from curing illness to good-luck charms. Government regulations and Western medicine may have changed some of their activities, but from herbalists to diviners, they have adapted and remain important figures. Photographer Sasja van Vechgel met some of them. Here a healer, in his eighties, holds a horn containing medicine; he practises from a “kitala”, a specially made village hut for dispensing medicine.


Both men and women can be healers, and they vary in age. The most highly respected tend to have been apprenticed to a healer in their family. This man, in his forties, says he specialises in the treatment of paralysis. He travels with his herbal medicine from home to home to visit patients. Sometimes he uses a private hospital room to treat people. Although there is no scientific proof that such treatments work, many people prefer traditional healers. There is a widely-held belief among the Wahehe people of southern Tanzania that sickness is caused by supernatural forces.


“Most of those who come to me have already been to hospital,” says the young healer above. “They have not managed to get a solution for their problems. Injections and medicine that were applied have not shown any effect, it only soothes, but it does not treat. If I treat them successfully they tell their friends. I do not have any advertising,” he says.


In northern Tanzania, some healers have said that charms, especially those to make people wealthy, are more powerful if they contain body parts from people with albinism, which has led to a criminal trade in body parts. The southern highlander healers say they never suggest this. However, there are reports that the killing of a relative on the orders of a healer can bring riches. For the Wahehe it is a taboo topic, but one man told us his wife was killed by his son at the bequest of “a wizard in order to become rich”. Here a child wears a waistband, sold for about $1, which is supposed to protect against “dege dege”, the fever associated with severe malaria.



Behrend, Heike 2003 “Photo Magic: Photographs in Practices of Healing and Harming in East Africa”, Journal of Religion in Africa 33(2): 129-145.

Behrend, Heike 2009 “‘To Make Strange Things Possible’: the Photomontages of the Bakor Photo Studio in Lamu, Kenya”, in Kimani Njogu and John Middleton (eds), Media and Identity in Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Comaroff, Jean and Comaroff, John 1993 “Introduction”, in Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff (eds), Modernity and its Malcontent: Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

De Witte, Marleen “Afrikania’s Dilemma: Reframing African Authenticity in a Christian Public Sphere”, Etnofoor 17(1/2): 133-155.

Hackett, Rosalind I.J. 2006 “Mediated Religion in South Africa: Balancing Airtime and Rights Claims”, in Birgit Meyer and Annelies Moors (eds), Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Meyer, Birgit 2006 “Impossible Representations: Pentecostalism, Vision, and Video Technology in Ghana”, in Birgit Meyer and Annelies Moors (eds), Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Meyer, Birgit and Moors, Annelies 2006 “Introduction”, in Birgit Meyer and Annelies Moors (eds), Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Schultz, Dorothea E. 2006 “Morality, Community, Publicness: Shifting Terms of Public Debate in Mali”, in Birgit Meyer and Annelies Moors (eds), Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Indiana: Indiana University Press.


Religion, Media and the Public Sphere.

In my opinion, the introduction to ‘BOOK’ did well in summarising the relationship between media, religion and the public sphere in a number of contexts across religion and countries. For those of us who have limited knowledge on the topic, there was enough discussion to introduce the main ideas. What I found to be of most interest was the brief outline of chapter 11 focusing on the relationship between media and religion in Turkey whereby the term secular Muslim was adopted. This was a term I had never come across before and made me interested to read more. However, at times, I found the text didn’t quite capture my attention and it required effort to get through it. 


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.


Religion, Media and the Public Sphere – Meyer & Moors

In preparation for the groups presenting this week on Religion and the Media, I read some chapters from Meyer and Moors’ “Religion, Media and Public Sphere” (2005). Personally, having never studied politics I found the reading quite challenging and difficult to get my head around as a link to politics was made throughout the articles. From the introduction, the articles show how different forms of media, including cassette tapes, radio, video, television and the internet, are used within religious groups to spread their messages. I particularly liked the inclusion of “The Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson as an example of the integration of religion into the Hollywood film industry as a form of media on a grand scale. It seems as though in different African countries, some forms of media are more widely used than others, for example in Ghana and Nigeria it seems as though Pentecostal movies seem particularly popular. No matter which forms of media are preferred, it is clear that media has provided a vehicle for the nation-wide and even world-wide spread of religious beliefs and politics.

In the “Public Piety and Popular Media in Egypt” article focus is placed on cassette-are corded Islamic sermons which have become a part of society’s canvas – they’re played everywhere from butcher’s shops to most forms of public transportation. This is interesting as this is not something commonly seen in the UK, although it is a historically Christian country is have become very secular and it seems as though there are always disputes over one being too obvious about one’s religion such that a phenomenon such as the widespread of cassette playing would never be something that would find footing in the UK.

The “Shifting Terms of Public Debate in Mali” article describes how since 1991, following “economic liberalisation and the introduction of multiparty democracy” there has been a surge in media and religious and political groups. In Mali, Muslim actors use a number of media forms to spread the Islamic message and enter into public debates.

The reading goes to show how different areas in Africa employ media to spread a religious message and how this ties in to politics.