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Aesthetics of Civil Religion: On Brand Cults, Martyrs and National Media Production

Panel Chair: Anne Koch | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

This panel enquires into aesthetic ways of newly creating or re-shaping and re-presenting civil religion and its central characters, symbols or figures. Normally, civil religion addresses value-orientation and social integration. In addition to these features, the papers make the aesthetic performance of civil religion the subject of discussion. The reason to take this path are altered aesthetic circumstances of highly mediatized and consumerist societies. Before this backdrop, images, literary figurations, movie sequences, and brands in media, public and national discourse are examined in various case studies from Italy, Finland, and Switzerland. At the same time the negotiation and aesthetic plausibility of aesthetic styles, pragmatic power and particular (new) media logics are evaluated.

The concept of civil religion deserves this closer re-defining also with respect to past and recent (post)secularization and non-religion discourses. Hopefully, this multi-layered analysis of aesthetics and aesthetic pragmatics of civil religion will shed some light on the persistent appropriateness of the civil religion concept and its capacity to be introduced into various methodological contexts in combination with the aesthetic perspective.

Baldassare Scolari

Martyrs in Public Space. Aesthetics and Performativity of Political Violence

The paper analyses medial representations of the assassination of the leader of the Christian Democratic Party in Italy, Aldo Moro, in 1978 by the Red Brigades, with the aim of highlighting a two-fold moment: the presentation of Moro as a martyr of the State, and of the Church. In the past 35 years, Moro has been staged in different media both as a victim in the war of the sovereign State against terrorism and as a Christian victim in the war against unbelievers. This double meaning reveals an overlapping of profane and sacral representation. The investigation postulates a connection between procedures of legitimization of political authority and martyr figurations, considering martyr representations of Aldo Moro’s death as performances through which the event acquires a metaphysical meaning. It is assumed that through the use of statements and images iterating the Christian semiotics of martyrdom, the death of Moro is constructed as an act of self-sacrifice for an ahistorical and absolute cause or principle.

Jenny Ponzo

The Intersection of Religious and National Symbolism: The Motif of the Procession in Italian Contemporary Novels (1948-2011)

One of the five types of civil religion identified in modern Italy by Robert Bellah (1974) is a pre-Christian substrate called “basso continuo”. To explain this system of beliefs and loyalties deeply rooted in the Italian mentality, Bellah cited a novel by Carlo Levi, Cristo si è fermato ad Eboli, and in particular the religious procession episode. As shown by a lively academic and media debate started in the 1990s, the notion of civil religion as applied to Italy remains controversial. However, the study of literary texts can help to reflect on its expression in Italian culture. This research focuses on the representations of some symbols and rituals in a corpus of Italian novels written between 1948 and 2011 and set during the national unification period (Risorgimento). The analyses of the recurring theme of the procession shows how sub-Christian, Catholic and civil motifs interact and overlap: the national symbolism often borrows religious rituals and symbols in order to solve revolutionary tensions and to foster people’s identification with the institutions.

Michael Ulrich

The Impact of Religious Symbolism on Marketing. An Enquiry into Analogies between Religious Motivation and Consumers’ Brand Loyalty

This research focuses on strategies driving some of the most successful recent marketing campaigns. Market shares of 20% and more, successfully built and defended by using religious symbolism, are exceptional and need an explanation that goes beyond marketing-budgets and brand-identification. The project asks how some of these extremely successful marketing strategies operate within a framework of visual semiotics that charge a seemingly profane commodity with religious symbolic attributes. The theoretical frame is based on the ideas of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum concerning capabilities for self-realization and common welfare, and on James M. Buchanan’s club good theory, introducing the insider-outsider pattern as a prerequisite for any notion of doing ‘the right thing’. Enquiring into the potential appropriation and high performativity of religious symbolism for the business community in a civil religion setting, this research also outlines the often-overlooked economic dimension within the study of religion.

Jerre Kyyrö

Aesthetic Strategies of Mediatized Civil Religion: The Case of the Marshal of Finland

In the first decade of this century, the figure of Field Marshal Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim (1867–1951) gained much attention, aesthetic transposition and visibility in Finnish art and media. One example is the cross-media production The Marshal of Finland, 2012, including a film of Mannerheim’s life made by a Kenyan production crew. The paper examines different strategies adopted by media actors (authors of the project, representatives of the media) to relate audiences to the concentration of national symbols, of which Mannerheim is a central part, which are often presented in the media because of their ability to evoke emotional responses. The paper examines how in mediatized environments social and cultural fields are subsumed to media logics. It is hypothesized that aesthetics plays a prominent role in this process of mediatized civil religion, in which (ritualized or non-ritualized) practices are invented to represent national symbols. Part of this is also a meta-discourse about how symbols should be represented.


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