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Centre for Media Studies

Contemporary Themes in Media and Religion

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2014/15
Unit value:

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate...

  • Coherent knowledge of the main theoretical approaches in Media Studies to issues of religion globally.
  • A detailed knowledge of how academic arguments are constructed in Media Studies that pertain to contemporary forms of religion, whether the formation of new kinds of religious communities, the articulation of religious (e.g. virtual) experience or the dissemination of new kinds of knowledge of religions.
  • How to analyze the role of the mass media in the discursive diversity of contemporary religious thought and practice.
  • How to evaluate the role of the mass media in religious representations and experience in different .
  • A critical analysis of advanced techniques of reading and studying audio-visual materials to appreciate how arguments are presented and composed, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to present the findings.

Scope and syllabus

The course is the media term of the core theoretical element for the proposed MA Religion and Media. As with other core courses in the Centre and in other departments such as Anthropology, the first half of the core course is made available as an option to students on related degrees.

The course has two main objectives. The first is to provide students with a critical understanding of the main theoretical approaches in Media Studies to the phenomenon of religion in its various forms. In the modern world, not least in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, people’s knowledge of religion and engagement with others increasingly takes place through broadcast media or the Internet and mobile phones. The second is to examine how, conversely, media and film often involve implicit religious presuppositions, which are recycled under the banner of secular modernization.

The purpose of the course is to explain the main theoretical approaches in relevant to understanding the complex ways in which religion is now mass-mediated and religious ideas (often implicitly) permeate media content. The course has two distinct purposes. The first is to review the relevant schools and approaches in Media Studies. The second is to examine how media and religion are intertwined across a range of examples. The course therefore studies the complex ways in which media and religion are mutually implicated with special reference to the non-Western world.

For the Media Studies term of the core course, the proposed topics are:

  • Why do the media matter to religion?
  • Media technologies and determinism
  • Ideas of mediation and communication
  • Traditional’ media – Orality, image, text and performance (ritual, theatre)
  • media – the heyday of hierarchy and dissemination
  • New media – the return of dialogue?
  • Religion, media and politics in the contemporary world
  • Culture, religion and the rise of soft power

The course will question assumptions about the cultural neutrality of technologies of production and assumptions of the objectivity of media content to explore the extent to which specific cultural and religious presuppositions have been naturalized. The course will draw upon two broad schools within media studies, namely sociological and mass communications approaches, which are particularly relevant for understanding present changing configurations of religion and media (a notable example is the Middle East) and cultural studies, which inter alia enable a critique of textuality in an increasingly visual media world and expose the workings of hegemony in complex and increasingly ‘consumer-friendly’ ways.

The term will conclude by reviewing a range of questions. What can we learn from the study of the complex relationships between media and religion? Does a simple distinction of Western and non-Western media hold up in what is often claimed to be a global world? To what extent do the proliferation of mass media change the nature of religious experience and consciousness? And to what extent do religious ideas permeate notionally secular media production?  

Method of assessment

Coursework: one 5,000 words essay or one 4,000 words essay and not more than approximately 15 minutes of video or audio-recording, or 50 still images (100%).