II. Relation of Different Media to Religion: (1) Print

By Soukup, Paul A. | Communication Research Trends, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

II. Relation of Different Media to Religion: (1) Print


Soukup, Paul A., Communication Research Trends


A. Print Media

Lawrence Babb and Susan Wadley's collection of essays, Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia (1995), examines how various "new media" affect religion in India. Considering everything from religious posters and comic books to television and video, they and their contributors argue that the "new communications media have profoundly altered the circulation of symbols, including religious symbols, in South Asian societies" (Babb and Wadley 1995: 1). Whereas, prior to print, religious symbols tended to remain within very localized groups, their wider availability allowed them not only to spread geographically but also to transcend social boundaries. This "social mobility" has "disembedded" religious traditions from particular locations and from particular groups and castes and spread religious observances in new ways throughout India (ibid., p. 3). In introducing several of the chapters that deal with print, Babb and Wadley explain the importance of these iconic symbols within South Asian society:

   Central to religious observance in the Hindu tradition
   is darsan, the auspicious seeing of a
   divine being. Given that fact, it is hardly surprising
   that the mechanical reproduction of pictures
   of deities (and other sacred entities) has become
   one of the most ubiquitous manifestations of
   modern religion in South Asia. (ibid., p. 6)

H. Daniel Smith traces the design, content, production, and marketing of these religious images and explains how they evoke devotional responses (Smith 1995: 35-39). Stephen Inglis complements this treatment with a close study of one particular artist whose work carries great weight in India. Where in previous times, an artist might decorate a particular temple and be known in one village or city, the work today carries a much wider influence. In addition, one artist can affect the religious practice of a multitude: "The ubiquity, portability, and mobility of these images have drawn Hindus closer to one another in the ways they perceive the divine and have provided a more unified vision of the Hindu pantheon" (Inglis 1995: 67).

Another important print format for religion in India has been the comic book, particularly one long-running series, Amar Chitra Katha (an "immortal illustrated story"). Frances Pritchett (1995) describes the origin and history of the series, begun to teach children the religious tradition of India when the series' founder discovered that Indian children knew more about western religions and heroes than they did about their own culture. John S. Hawley (1995) examines the content of these comics. In addition to teaching religion, the series also covers famous individuals from India, stories of nationalism, and morality tales.

B. Journalism

Apart from Bible printing, the print form most associated with religion in the west is journalism. As reported in Communication Research Trends in 1995, this association has not always been a happy one, with religious leaders and even reporters themselves criticizing press coverage of religion. More recent scholarly attention asks how the news media have reported religion, why the news media report religion as they do, and what people expect of religion reporting.

The Practice of Reporting

As a way of situating the reporting of religion, Judith Buddenbaum and Debra Mason (2000) assembled a collection of news stories on religion from colonial to modern times in the United States. They describe their work as "an anthology of news stories that illustrates both the role of religion in shaping public opinion and the role of the media in spreading religious beliefs and opinion through society and in shaping people's opinions about religion" (Buddenbaum and Mason 2000: xiii). Sections include reporting on the Great Awakening; the role of religion in the American revolution; the nineteenth-century anti-Catholicism of parts of the press; the debate over the Mormon Church; the faith and science debates; the twentieth-century coverage of divisive issues like gays in the churches, liberation theology, the electronic church, and the religious right and politics.

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