Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

Tele-Faith: Mediated Religion in Brazil

Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

Tele-Faith: Mediated Religion in Brazil

Article excerpt

This essay provides an overview of mediated religion in Brazil, focusing on people's responses to the "Life Network" (Rede Vida) in Porto Alegre. In addition to a general overview, a case study offers a glimpse into how countries and cultures outside of the U.S. experience the interaction of communication and religious practices. Based on dissertation research (Sierra Gutierrez, 2006), the text falls into six parts: the first part reviews past research in North and South America; the second explicates the context and the general problem encountered in this kind of study; the third part lists the central questions and objectives. Part 4 reviews the theoretical implications of mediated religion while Part 5 reviews methodology for studying the topic. Finally, the last section specifies some conclusions based on the investigation and some more general observations about televised religion and the post-modern challenge it presents.

1. Historical Approaches to the Study of Mediation of Religion on Television

The representation of religion on television is still relatively recent, along with its scholarly debate (Kunsch, 2001). Existing studies articulate two visions that tend toward convergence: one bearing the stamp of an Anglo-Saxon or North American vision, represented by the interdisciplinary team known as The International Study Commission on Media, Religion and Culture and, the second, bearing a Latin American stamp, with studies more or less dispersed, but incarnated in authors recognized and valued among Latin American researchers.

A. The Anglo-Saxon Vision

The Anglo-Saxon school, composed of academics, researchers, pastoral agents, and media producers, represented in the International Study Commission (www.jmcommunications.com and www.iscmrc.org) since 1996, has attempted to analyze the impact of electronic media culture on faith and Christian practices. [White, 2007, reviewed this general perspective in COMMUNICATION RESEARCH TRENDS, Vol. 26, No. 1--Ed.] Their work describes four central topics: first, the ways the media fill the spaces traditionally occupied by religion, that is, religion's functions replaced by the media; second, the relationships of religious authority with symbolic practices; third, the relationships between religion and media, as spiritual-religious dimensions of media practices; and fourth, the epistemological implications of this new relation. These topics reflect solid convictions, which the researchers organize as an agenda of problems for analysis and as an agenda for international meetings.

According to the research of the International Study Commission, we are now experiencing a crucial paradigm shift in a global culture molded by an enlightenment ethos and by a new technological-electronic media ethos. If the Christian faith has played a significant role in the history of cultures, it now has been strongly molded in its practice and organization by the characteristics of the present media culture. A new media system has emerged based in electronic technologies with immeasurable potential of appropriation and reproduction of information and with serious implications for models of thought and the construction of meaning; this new electronic media culture presents significant challenges to the ideals, practices, and organization of the Christian faith (Horsfield, 2000).

The International Study Commission focuses attention on three approaches of their members: Lynn Schofield Clark, (2002), Stewart Hoover (1998, 2002, 2004, 2006), and Robert White (1995, 2002, 2004). Clark (2002) highlights the "Protestantization" of the research in media, religion, and culture. She refers to the inter-relation of the foundations of religions with the values of collectivity, individualism, and capitalism which begin with the Protestant Reformation. Protestantism of the 16th Century was one of the first movements not only to mark an independence from religious institutions, but also to begin a long process of privatization or personal autonomy in religion, contributing in this way to a general reordering of society that held sway until mid-way through the 19th century when mass media refocused relevance on democracy as a significant object of study. …

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