Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia

Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia

Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia

Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia


This volume explores the effects of the religious transformation taking place in India as sacred symbols assume the shapes of media images. Lifted from their traditional forms and contexts, many religious symbols, beliefs, and practices are increasingly refracted through such media as god posters, comic books, audio recordings, and video programs. The ten original essays here examine the impact on India's traditional social and cultural structures of printed images, audio recordings, film, and video.


Lawrence A. Babb

Is South Asian religious culture changing? of course it is, which is hardly news; common stereotype notwithstanding, South Asian religions have been ever-changing. What is news is that the nature of the religious change itself may be changing. Religious evolution in South Asia has entered a new phase. Over the past couple of centuries South Asia, like most of the rest of the world, has seen a complete revolution in the means available for the propagation of information, a revolution that began slowly and now seems to have begun a phase of self-induced acceleration. Beginning with the surprisingly early (sixteenth century) introduction and somewhat belated spread of printing technology, and continuing into recent times with the introduction of television and video recording, new communications media have profoundly altered the circulation of symbols, including religious symbols, in South Asian societies. This, in turn, has affected the quality of religious life in South Asia in important and sometimes startling ways. the studies in this volume describe and trace the implications of some of the most recent of these changes.

Media and Religious Systems

Understanding the impact of communications technology on religion requires looking at religious tradition from a somewhat unusual perspective. It is possible to say that if one takes an extremely inclusive view of what a religious tradition is -- a view, that is, that includes its total range of manifestations in belief, patterned behavior, written records, ceremonial performances, iconography, traces in human memory, and so forth -- then one can visualize any particular religious tradition as a sort of "system" that retains and transmits information. the information is encoded in the form of symbols that can be propagated in various media: speech, writing, ritual gesture, iconography, and others. Thus conceived, a religious tradition can be regarded as a reservoir that retains such information, which is deposited in human memory, books, durable artifacts, carved images, and so on.

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