Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Behold. All Things New: Uppsala 1968 and Its Mediatization as Film

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Behold. All Things New: Uppsala 1968 and Its Mediatization as Film

Article excerpt

The 4th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Uppsala in 1968 took place at a time of media transformation. (1) The media were shaping society and culture more than ever before, permeating everyday actions, conversations, ideas, and worlds of faith. Large parts of knowledge transfer were now taking place through the media, borders between public and private spheres were disappearing, and the media had consolidated their role as an observer of society. Television had emerged as a means to "socialize the nation." At the same time it allowed the political public sphere in Europe to integrate more closely, (2) primarily due to international broadcasting organizations such as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which were, however, able to achieve their lofty aim of creating a European identity only to a limited extent.

Yet, the exchange of news and images they initiated ensured that Western Europe was able to converge--at least visually. (3) Moreover, modern broadcasting technologies made it possible for television viewers from neighbouring countries to watch the programmes of bordering states, leading to a substantial mixing of national media contexts. (4) Meanwhile, media consumption had also intensified. In the mid-1960s, about nine out of ten Western European households had televisions, which were turned on for an average of about two hours a day. By the end of the 1960s, television had thus become a mass medium in Western Europe, with a similar development taking place in Eastern Europe over the course of the 1980s.

The churches took account of these developments in many respects both at a national and, in the case of the WCC, an international level. They had to accept that ideas about religion and the church were increasingly being shaped by the mass media during the 20th century. Journalists more often dealt with religious questions, discussed the status of the church, and, last but not least, created expectations of reform. (6) The churches responded to this with a media policy that early on relied on the development of their own media formats. (7) Church news services, newspapers and magazines, radio programmes, and film productions were among the cornerstones of this policy.

Film work in particular could look back on a tradition reaching back to the 1920s. Marked by continuous professionalization, it now exhausted the entire spectrum of this medium. (8) The church repertoire now included feature films and cinema films, as well as series, magazines, and documentaries. Thus, film quickly developed into an interface at which the desire to adapt to media change came up against modern public relations, where the church's own media work faced journalistic reporting, and where physical realities faced media realities. (9) The documentary Behold... All Things New, produced by Swedish Radio to mark the 4th Assembly of the WCC in Uppsala in 1968, was an expression of precisely these areas of tension. It was both a promotional tool for the church and a journalistic documentary, an attempt at both convergence and delimitation.

In what follows, the traditions of church media work will first be outlined against the background of the increased mediatization of the religious in the 20th century. Second, the circumstances of production, narrative techniques and visual design of the documentary on the WCC assembly will be examined, where the film will serve as a source for the history of the WCC and for the history of the globalization of the churches.

Media and Church in the 20th Century

Since the modern mass press first developed in the late 19th century, followed by broadcasting in the first half of the 20th century, churches have been ambivalent about the mass media. Some saw the media as a means for spreading ecclesiastical messages to a broad audience. Others held that the media were a secular instrument of power conveying values that were difficult to reconcile with Christian doctrine. …

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