New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa

New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa

New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa

New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa

Synopsis

New Media and Religious Transformations in Africa casts a critical look at Africa's rapidly evolving religious media scene. Following political liberalization, media deregulation, and the proliferation of new media technologies, many African religious leaders and activists have appropriated such media to strengthen and expand their communities and gain public recognition. Media have also been used to marginalize and restrict the activities of other groups, which has sometimes led to tension, conflict, and even violence. Showing how media are rarely neutral vehicles of expression, the contributors to this multidisciplinary volume analyze the mutual imbrications of media and religion during times of rapid technological and social change in various places throughout Africa.

Excerpt

Francis B. Nyamnjoh

Prior to the current proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) since the 1990s, “God” —singular, plural, and delegated— was accessible in standardized, routinized, and predictably more conventional ways, with a clear hierarchy of credibility and infallibility. the technologies of communication available at the time were relatively tame and embodied so as to ensure and assure such a system of communication and sense of hierarchy and authority. There was face-to-face transmission of knowledge of “the divine” by and through priests, pastors, imams, and other religious figures from and to members of their congregations, schooled to internalize and reproduce beliefs and practices on and around “salvation” and its possibilities as shaped by virtue and vice. Previously, there was the conventional printed word such as books—the Bible and the Quran, for example; newspapers (popular and religious, tabloid and broadsheet) owned by or sympathetic to churches, mosques, or religious authorities; newsletters, bulletins, tracts, pamphlets, hymnals, and sermons; and music (in audio- and videocassettes). Terrestrial national radio and national television were there to ensure a measure of mass communication beyond the modesty of the loudspeaker. Places and spaces demarcated and delineated as holy and for worship (churches, mosques, shrines, sacred monuments, etc.) were understood to be where one went to pray seriously and where the spirit world, regardless of beliefs about omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, was most likely to be present or accessed, to answer prayers, and to demonstrate power, benevolence, and munificence.

Today, Africa bears witness to individuals, acting alone or as part of religious groups or communities committed to various causes (often without instigation or encouragement from their religious leaders), combing the internet, downloading and sharing (via email, as cell phone text messages, Facebook postings, printouts, faxes, and word of mouth in prayer sessions or in other face-to-face contexts) prayers, inspirational spiritual texts, religious music, ringtones, photos, podcasts, and videos. Away from the church, mosques, or formal prayer grounds, ordinary Christians and Muslims are able to evoke, sense, and access the divine presence on their own terms and without always feeling that they need the “enabling” presence or “blessings” of the hierarchy of the churches, mosques, and temples. Media technologies themselves become intermediaries through which humans can experience “the divine.” They have provided for a greater sense of openness and interreligious conviviality as religious contents spread across . . .

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