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Journalism and Religion: Critical Terms in Public Discourse (2/2)

Panel Chairs: Kerstin Radde-Antweiler, Xenia Zeiler | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Academic concepts and terms concerning religion, so-called critical terms, are dynamically applied in public journalistic discussions and contexts. To demonstrate and discuss their public and journalistic use, comprehension, and development, this panel analyzes four case studies. To integrate a broad and comparative perspective, each term will be discussed on three levels, contrasting (1) emic and etic use, (2) different media genres, and (3) European and non-European discourses. This second panel analyzes the critical terms ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’, linking each term to two case studies. The first case study on ‘secular’ analyzes Western debates on religion, secularism and Public Service Broadcasting while the second case study discusses debates of secularization in Nepali papers and the blogosphere. ‘Sacred’ as term and concept is analyzed in a case study on the Holy City and the Holy Family as sacred themes in a German newsmagazine and on press releases on the “trivialization” of Hindu deities in the USA.

Judith Stander

The Holy City and the Holy Family: Sacred Themes in German News Magazines Stern and Spiegel

In the secular field, as in advertising or mass media, pictures and language referring to “sacredness” can often be found. They produce discourses that address and strongly influence the reader on an emotional level. Thus, this paper focuses on how issues concerning “sacredness” are linguistically and visually transformed into the mass media. For instance, in Germany’s largest magazines Stern and Spiegel the term “sacred” first appeared on the covers during the 2000s, for example in relation to Jerusalem or the Holy Scriptures. Which issues are further referred to as “sacred” and how are they received in the magazines? Based on the theoretical approaches of (image)linguistics the term “sacred” as used on title pages and in selected articles will at first be described, in order to answer the question how “sacred” issues are linguistically and visually presented in the secular media discourse.

Xenia Zeiler

“Displaced Hindu Gods”: Press Releases on the “Trivialization” of Hindu Deities in the USA

The understanding of what is 'sacred' and needs protection from profaning or trivializing is obviously diverse, and especially in cases of severe dissent it is also negotiated in public journalistic contexts. For instance, Heidi Klum dressing up as the Hindu goddess Kali at a Halloween party or the deity Hanuman being included in a video game may result in press releases criticizing “displaced Hindu gods”. This paper discusses critics on “trivialization” of Hindu deities in the USA made public through a specific journalistic genre, press releases. For this, it contextualizes and analyzes press releases by the Nevada based Universal Society of Hinduism which refer to the group's understanding of how Hindu deities should be held sacred, and to their accused profaning in diasporic contexts.

Tim Karis

Secular Voices On Air? Western Debates on Religion, Secularism and Public Service Broadcasting

Regulatory frameworks of public service broadcasters (PSBs) across Europe are full of references to religions. In Germany, for example, the Catholic and Protestant churches as well as the Jewish communities are legally provided with air time on PSB television and radio. In times of increasing religious diversity as well as growing secularization, criticisms of such regulation is spreading as many consider it to run counter to the principle of separation of state and religion. Others argue that existing privileges for religions should be extended to secular groups who have hitherto often been excluded from direct access to PSBs either by law or by common practice. In this paper, recent examples of such debates from the German, British and Dutch contexts are presented. As it is argued, an analysis of such debates reveals how different and often ambiguous notions of religion, secularity and the public space are competing in Western discourse.

Johanna Buss

Debates of Secularism in Nepali Papers and Blogs

Nepal is currently undergoing a substantial political change after Nepal was declared a secular republic. The new Nepali state, which formerly proudly presented itself as the only existing Hindu kingdom, has now to cope with the challenge to act as a secular state and establish regulations. The public debate about secularism focusses mainly on questions of national identity and the inclusion of different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. Moreover it is strongly influenced by events where old and new understandings of the stately functions and responsibilities collide, such as the curious situation of Maoist ministers replacing the former king in Hindu state rituals. In my article I will analyze the debate about the concept and restructuring of the Nepali state as secular in the main print media between the two elections of the constituent assembly in 2008 and 2013.


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