Media 1: Religion in a Media Age

Course code:
Period 1
Language of tuition:
Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid
dr. M. Klaver
dr. M. Klaver
dr. J.H. Roeland
prof. dr. W.T. van Peursen
dr. M. Klaver
Teaching method(s):

Course objective

The student:
• develops an understanding of the mediated nature of late-modern
(religious) life;
• describes historical and recent changes in media and media culture and
the consequences of such changes on religion;
• describes and critically evaluates the current state of the art in
social-scientific research on the relationship between religion and
media, including the main theoretical approaches and debates;
• defines and distinguishes the main concepts being used in these
theoretical debates;
• can apply theory on manifestations of religion in media and media in
• critically evaluates theory on the basis of research and personal
knowledge and experience, in order to develop well-defined problem
• initiates research independently, resulting in a research proposal
including a problem definition, research question, theoretical and
conceptual framework, and methodology;
• communicates clearly and precisely in order to reach both academics
and a broad interested public.

Course content

In our contemporary media age, religion and media (understood in the
broadest sense as material forms of communication and mediation
practices) can no longer be perceived to be two distinctive domains. In
a globalised world, religion holds sway over the public debate in which
both old and new media have a strong impact on everyday constructions of
religion. Moreover, religious institutions, organizations, groups and
individuals use (new) media to communicate their messages, to bind
believers in (online and offline) communities, to create (virtual)
environments where believers develop and express religious identities,
and to relate to political, social and cultural life.

This course starts with a critical examination of concepts such as
‘media age’ (Castells), ‘digital age’ (Castells), ‘information society’
(Webster) and ‘network society’ (Van Dijk) – concepts frequently used to
characterise late-modern society as being defined by media technologies
and cultures. Such a claim is critically discussed by adding a
historical perspective in order to compare contemporary with earlier
media technologies and cultures and their impact on everyday life.

Next, the consequences of media technologies and cultures on religion
will be discussed, both by turning to ‘old’ technologies (printing
press, radio, television) and new technologies (Internet, social
media).Six aspects of religion are discussed in particular: text,
authority, community, ritual, identity, and representation. The
recurrent question in this course is: what happens to the everyday
practice of religion when confronted and/or constituted by new media
technologies and cultures?

Three theoretical approaches are distinguished to discuss this question:
technological determinism (associated with McLuhan), the mediatization
of meaning approach (Steward Hoover, Birgit Meyer), and the social
shaping of technology approach (Heidi Campbell). Theory is discussed on
the basis of personal knowledge and experience, knowledge attained in
bachelor education, and empirical (primarily sociological and
anthropological) case studies on mediated religious practices.

Form of tuition

A combination of small-scale interactive lectures and seminar-style
meetings. The lectures will provide a solid theoretical basis; in
seminar-style meetings students will interpret complex social, cultural
and religious phenomena on the basis of theoretical knowledge, and
discuss theoretical insights on the basis of empirical case-studies.

Students are expected to participate actively, by selecting and
presenting empirical studies (scientific articles, books, or papers),
evaluating their scientific quality, and relating them to the
theoretical debates under study. In discussing these studies, students
differentiate between the several distinctive elements of the scientific
construction of theoretical knowledge (in particular problem definition,
research question and methodology).

Type of assessment

Weekly assignments based on literature (40%) and students write a final
paper (60%) of 2000 words) on one of the six topics discussed in this
course (religious text, religious authority, religious community,
ritual, religious identity, and representation of religion). Students
who participate in the Media Master write this paper as a research
proposal. It includes a problem definition, research question,
theoretical and conceptual framework, and a rudimentary methodology, all
written in an accessible language. Other students write a research paper
of 2000 words.

Course reading

Heidi Campbell (ed.), 2012. Digital Religion: Understanding Religious
Practice in New Media Worlds. London, New York: Routledge.
Selected articles and book chapters.

Recommended background knowledge

Students are expected to have some basic knowledge of research
methodologies in religious studies, sociology of religion and media
studies. Students with deficiencies are strongly recommended to cursory
read one or more (depending on one’s deficiencies) of the following
Berzano, L., and O. Riis, eds. 2012. Annual Review of the Sociology of
Religion: Volume 3: New Methods in the Sociology of Religion. Leiden,
Boston: Brill. A collection of essays on methodology in religious
Droogers, A., and A. van Harskamp, eds. 2013. Methods for the Study of
Religious Change: From Religious Studies to Worldview Studies.
Sheffield: Equinox. A collection of essays on methodology in the
social-scientific study of religion.
Stausberg, M., and St. Engler, eds. 2011. The Routledge Handbook of
Research Methods in the Study of Religion. London, New York: Routledge.
Bainbridge, J. 2008. “Media Texts”. In Media & Journalism: New
Approaches to Theory & Practice, edited by J. Bainbridge, N. Goc, and L.
Tynan, 155–173. South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. A very
short and very simple and basic introduction to text analysis.
Devereux, E. 2007. Understanding the Media. 2de ed. Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE. A good introduction to the
theory and methods of media studies, examining a couple of themes
typically associated with media studies, namely media globalization,
media production and media professionals, media ideology, and media
representations of social class, ethnicity and gender. These may not be
the central themes of this course, but next to the thematic contents,
this book offers good sections on text and content analysis, as well as
qualitative audience research.
Emmison, M., Ph. Smith, and M. Mayall, eds. 2012. Researching the
Visual. 2de ed. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington
DC: SAGE. A good introduction to the analysis of 2D and 3D visual
material, including online visual data.
Priest, S.H. 2010. Doing Media Research: An Introduction. Los Angeles,
London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE. Offers an
introduction in both qualitative and quantitative methods in media
research. Includes chapters on the philosophical and disciplinary
foundations of media research.
Boeije, H. R. 2010. Analysis in Qualitative Research. Los Angeles,
London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE. Discusses all the
relevant steps of qualitative research in a very accessible way:
developing a research design, ethical issues, data collection, analysis
and writing.
Hennink, M., I. Hutter, and A. Bailey. 2011. Qualitative Research
Methods. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE.
Perhaps the best text on qualitative research methods. Discusses the
most relevant methods and the relevant steps of qualitative research,
following an elegant research cycle that involves three subcycles: the
design cycle, the ethnographic cycle, and the analytical cycle.
Liamputtong, P. 2009. Qualitative Research Methods. 3th ed. South
Melbourne, Vic.; New York: Oxford University Press. A comprehensive
introduction to qualitative research methods. Provides an overview of
the most important methods, including ethnography, in-depth interviewing
and focus groups. Describes the research process from start to end.
There is one chapter on qualitative research online.

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