Religion and Media 2017 Abstracts

Digital Media Disruption and Islamic Religious Authority: Case Study of Online Contestations Over the Mawlid • Ibrahim Abusharif, Northwestern University in Qatar • This paper explores the relationship between digital media and religious authority in Islam, particularly how it relates juridical nodes of authority. The paper suggest a framework that centers on the notion (or theory) of “disruption” as a function of “mediatization,” principally as it relates to digital media and its challenge to traditional means of knowledge acquisition and conveyance. The case study presented here concerns the “Mawlid,” the controversial practice of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad as an act of veneration and piety and how online contestations demonstrate a breach in traditional religious authority and speak to the qualification threshold common to the question of religious authority, sacred law, and media. The paper helps to explain, in part, how media disruption and its relationship with religion have affected the idea of authority. Research question: How has religious authority in Islam been affected by digital disruption at a basic level? And what interdisciplinary framework bests describes the phenomenon? And the choice of the case study that symbolizes this question pivots on the celebration of the Mawlid, as explicated below.

#Hijab or #Haram? Revealing Visuals and Semantics Associated with Muslim (Self-)Representation Online • Thomas Frissen, KU Leuven; Elke Ichau, KU Leuven; Kristof Boghe, KU Leuven; Leen d’Haenens, KU Leuven • The proliferation of social media has fed the rapid expansion of what some have called a ‘virtual umma’ (El-Nawawy and Khamis 2010), or a transnational Islamic public sphere (Allievi 2003; Anderson 2003). Blurring the lines between representation, participation and reception, social media have provided Muslims worldwide with spaces and tools for self-definition and community building (Eckert and Chadha 2013; Harris and Roose 2014, Kavakci and Kraeplin 2016; Mosemghvdlishvili and Jansz 2013). The purpose of this paper is to explore visual (self-)representations of Islam and Muslim religiosity in online social networks, with a focus on the leading image-sharing platform Instagram. This was done by means of an innovative multidimensional and quantitative content analysis method, that enabled us to study both visual representations as well as semantic associations, using a dataset consisting of n=1357 unique Instagram posts marked with the hashtags #Islam, #Muslim and #Allah. Our findings are threefold. First, despite the fact that Instagram is an image-sharing platform, the most prominent visual is text, i.e. quotes or inspirational texts. Second, even though very ‘general’ search queries (#Islam, #Muslim and #Allah) were used to compose our corpus, the vast majority of occurring visuals and semantics were strongly related to female religious identity, e.g. hijabs or #Muslimah. Third, and maybe most significant, based on the analysis of both visuals and semantics, we observe a field of tension between the representation of religious experience on the one hand, and religion itself on the other.

Interfaith Monologue: A study of UK-based interfaith work on Twitter • Sofi Hersher, King’s College London • This paper explores the relationship of social media and religion by examining the use of Twitter by interfaith organizations and professionals in the UK. It introduces the concept of ‘interfaith monologue,’ whereby interfaith practitioners use Twitter to disseminate ideas, distribute relevant information, identify with the ideals of interfaith cooperation and encourage contribution to the interfaith movement via one-to-many communication that specifically does not directly encourage conversation or dialogue.

God on our side: Presidential Religious Rhetoric, Issue Ownership and Competing Gospels • Ceri Hughes, University of Wisconsin-Madison • The US, despite official separation of church and state, is a country dominated by the Christian religion. This is evident in the unbroken ranks of Christians (and also white males) to be elected to the top political office in the land. Previous research illustrates how frequently Jefferson’s “wall” is breached in presidential discourse. This research adds to this evidence and investigates whether presidents appear to adopt religious language systematically in public addresses in a manner consistent with differing biblical interpretations – the Gospel of Wealth and the Social Gospel. The research also looks at whether religious discourse use in speeches conforms to expectations from issue-ownership theory. Content analysis of speeches from Reagan to Obama shows how presidents may use God to bolster support for issues of strength, in overarching political philosophy and also to trespass into opposition issues. This research provides further illustration as to how religion may be being employed at the very highest level of the US political realm.

Power and Politics: State Baptist Newspaper Coverage of Civil Rights, 1963-1965 • Vicki Knasel Brown, University of Missouri • This study explores how Southern Baptist media covered and responded to four civil rights events from 1963 to 1965 and the relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, Baptist Press, and three selected state Baptist newspapers. Each approached news coverage and editorial response differently. The study contributes to understanding the role the editors, most of whom were also pastors, played in shaping a religious understanding of race relations among their Baptist readers

Visual media, radicalization and Islamic youth: Socially constructed meaning in Indonesia • Michael Longinow; Tamara Welter; Naniek Setijadi, faculty • This paper examines media, radicalization, and the changing role of Islam among young audiences within Indonesia’s multicultural society, as viewed through the lens of socially constructed reality and visual theory. It suggests connections between the digital visual media that young Muslims consume, the angst of their lives, and the choice of some to pursue violence—in their own country and in the Middle East—as an outworking of rage, frustration or connection to a cause that becomes a new identity.

The Islamic State in the News: Journalistic Differentiation between Terrorism and Islam, Terror News Proximity, and Islamophobic Attitudes • Christian von Sikorski; Jörg Matthes, University of Vienna; Desirée Schmuck • The present research examined the role of journalistic differentiation (between Muslims/Muslim terrorists) and proximity (place of terroristic act near/far away) for the effects of Islamic State (IS) terrorism news on islamophobic attitudes. Two experimental studies uniformly revealed that undifferentiated (compared to differentiated) IS coverage not clearly distinguishing between Muslim terrorists and Muslims in general activated negative Muslim stereotypes, thereby increasing islamophobic attitudes. However, proximity showed no effects on fear reactions, negative stereotypes, and islamophobic attitudes.

Whose “Boogie-man” is Given Flesh and Blood?: The Role of the Press in Realizing “Christianophobia” • Rick Moore • Is there really such a thing as “Christianophobia”? Given the fact that mass communication messages are typically thought to play a key role in the construction of reality, one would expect that if Christianophobia does exist, the mass media would include evidence of such. In this study, I use Critical Discourse Analysis to investigate coverage of Christianophobia in papers from around the world. In spite of the fact that many powerful people and agencies have attempted to bring the word into the common vocabulary, media usage remains low, and persistently so. The implications of this would seem to be very important for those interested in understanding the media and their power.

“Praised Be” Praised: Religious And Secular Magazine Coverage Of Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical • Alejandro Morales; Ryan Thomas, University of Missouri • There is a paradox challenging our understanding of the interplay between media, religion, and secularization: decreasing commitment to organized religion alongside religion’s increased visibility. In view of this paradox, this study compared how secular and religiously affiliated publications expressed commitment toward religion. We implemented a discourse analysis of secular and Catholic magazine coverage of “Praised Be,” Pope Francis’s 2015 climate encyclical. Commitment toward Catholicism involved commitment toward Pope Francis, “Praised Be,” and the Catholic Church as an institution. Secular and Catholic magazines expressed commitment toward Pope Francis and “Praised Be,” but they differed in their commitment toward the Catholic Church. The role of tradition in understanding media, religion, and secularization is also discussed.

No Love for the Enemy: American Evangelicals and the Hostile Media Phenomenon • Brian Watson • As Election Day approached during the 2016 Presidential contest, the members of then candidate Donald J. Trump’s coalition of support became clearer. One group in particular, Evangelical Christians, transitioned from being largely skeptical of Mr. Trump’s candidacy during the Republican Primaries, to turning out at record rates in November. This study examines one factor that possibly laid the groundwork of Evangelical support for the Republican nominee in 2016: the Hostile Media Effect. Using survey data collected in 2010, I argue that Evangelicals were unique among American religious groups in taking offence from news television. Indeed, the probability of perceiving hostility from news television among Evangelicals rivals the independent effects of partisanship. I conclude by recommending a more contemporary replication of this study using the survey items available in 2010, as well as speculating about the implications of treating religiosity, among Evangelicals in particular, as a core identity as influential as partisanship.


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