Good Reads: Religion Across Media (2013), Knut Lundby (Ed.)

Religion Across Media brings together scholars to offer a perspective which problematizes an oppositional reading of media and religion, opting instead for a more integrated approach. The edited volume approaches religion and media from a mediation perspective. This mediation of religion approach views “religion as practice of mediation between humans and the professed transcendent” (p. 8). The locus of study is not so much the belief system as it is in religious expression. Religion is always mediated, whether by text, speech, our bodies, or digital technology. Birgit Meyer poses the question in the following way (Chapter 1):

“How do new media intervene in an established practice of mediation, characterized by the use of particular media, modes of transmission, and systems of communication? How does this change normalized transmission and communication? Posing these questions is even more intriguing with regard to religion, which has long been held to be the ultimate zone for immediate, deeply existential encounters with the sacred. How do the notions of mediation and re-mediation transform our understanding of religion 'as we know it' and help us grasp the role of new media in transforming religion?” (p. 7).

The uniqueness of religion is that it is assumed that those engaging in religious practices have a direct connection to God. However, any communication with God or religious expression within a community or in interpersonal context should be understood as mediated. Even praying (silently or out loud) appears to require some bodily movement or posture. This approach helps broaden our perspective of media beyond what Ingeborg Lied (Chapter 4) identifies as the myth of the history of media beginning somewhere in the 15th century with Johannes Gutenberg. We begin to see the use of bodily mediation and religious performance (Husken's Chapter 5) as significant, and oral communication and writing prior to print.

The unique strength of this approach is that it doesn't see media and religion as the intersection of separate subjects of study. Media is not distinct from religion, and their intersection is a unique perspective of studying religion. This is especially important considering the media-saturated environment that many in developed portions of the world operate. Digital media especially pervade daily life.

How does the mediation of religion perspective contribute to our understanding of digital religious behavior? One good example of this is Lovheim's chapter on the expression of religion by female Swedish bloggers, whom negotiate their sense of authority in digital space. These actors, by participating in blogging, are not only asserting their own authority but are giving expression to religion through the blurring of the private and the public. To view the act of blogging as religious expression gives it a new meaning difficult to perceive if blogging were viewed simply as a transmission of religious ideas to a new media, for example.

Religion Across Media takes seriously the means through which religion is expressed. It is a collection of work which articulates the mediation of meaning perspective as applied to religion. It may be useful to consult Lundby chapter on theoretical frameworks for approaching religion and new media in Digital Religion (2013) to get a sense of where this approach fits along the spectrum of study.