SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Issues in Religion and Media

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Coherent knowledge of the main theoretical approaches in the Study of Religions, and particularly religions in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and diasporic communities globally.  
  • A clear recognition of the different disciplinary approaches of the Study of Religions, and to analyze materials making use of each, while also learning to appreciate the different presuppositions involved and also their respective uses.
  • A detailed knowledge of how academic arguments are constructed in the Study of Religions, how to analyze their presuppositions and how to approach religion globally without introducing Eurocentric assumptions.
  • A detailed knowledge of specific aspects of how religions have used traditional and new media (including mass media) in religious thought and practice in a global context, both historically and in the present day.
  • How to analyze discursive diversity: that of academic intellectual practice as against religious practices in different societies.
  • 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 Study of Religions term of the core theoretical element for the proposed MA Religion and Media. The first half of the core course is made available as an option to students on the following Masters’ degrees in the Department: MA Religions; including the Christianities of Africa and Asia Pathway, the Gender Studies Pathway, the Study of Religions Pathway.
The course has two main objectives. The first is to provide students with a critical understanding of the main theoretical approaches in the Study of Religion that help understand the role of media practices and objects in religion. 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 main objective 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 the Study of Religions. The second is to examine how religion and media are intertwined across a range of examples. The course therefore studies the complex ways in which religion and media are mutually implicated with special reference to the non-Western world.
For the Study of Religions term of the core course, the proposed topics are:

  • Theories of Religion, particularly anthropological approaches examining religion in the public sphere
  •  Religious notions of mediation, transcendence and immanence
  •  How different media shape religious practice; issues of embodiment, ritual, performance, sensory and aesthetic disciplines
  • Graven Images; religions’ refusal of mediated faith
  • Transnational and global faith communities, and the internet
  • Representations of religion in the news media, both within the West and more widely; a particular emphasis on the representations of religious revivalism and violence
  • Politics of media representations of diasporic religious practice in the United Kingdom. Particular case studies: coverage of African traditional religions (especially ‘witchcraft’), and British Muslim ‘radicals’.

The course asserts that religions continually assert themselves in the public sphere. Religious practice in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and in global diasporic communities, call into question the distinction between sacred and secular. Media practices stand at the interface of religions’ engagement with the non-religious. Through using a wide range of traditional and new media to represent themselves to each other, and to outsiders, religious practitioners assert themselves as distinctive forms of public life, and often contend the hegemony of nations. At the same time, outsiders, observers, critics, sceptics and state-builders craft their own representations of religion in the public square through broadcast and news media. The course investigates the politics of such representations, particularly evaluations of religious practice proffered by media institutions located in the Western world.

The term will conclude by reviewing a range of questions that lie at the heart of the course. What difference do a variety of media technologies and practice make to religion? How do media practices shape issues of immanence and transcendence; enable embodied faith; engender the creation and refutation of religious orthodoxies and knit together faith communities? Equally, how does the use of traditional and new media complicate a simple distinction between religious and secular?  In what ways are religious belief and practice increasingly represented, and commented upon, in the public sphere by a range of ‘secular’ media? What are the political implications of these mediated acts of representation?

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%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules