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Media, Religious Communities, and Society: Adaptation and Transformation

Panel Chair: Andrea Rota | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.

The question of the adaptation of religious communities to changing social contexts draws attention to the development of new forms of religious communalisation. In this respect, the production, distribution, and use of different print and electronic media by the leaders and the members of religious communities represent an important source of potential innovation, extending the limits of the group beyond face-to-face interaction and redefining the common sociological understanding of the congregation (e.g., Chaves 2004). However, the actual impact and scope of these practices cannot be simply deduced from some universal logic of the media, but instead they represent a field of empirical investigation (Hepp and Krotz 2012). Drawing on the recent research of different religious communities in various geographical and cultural contexts, the panel explores the dynamic interplay of direct and mediated communication in reshaping the “subjective feeling of the parties […] that they belong together” (Weber 1978 [1921]).

Oliver Krüger

The Mediatisation of Religion: A Critical Consideration of a New Paradigm

Recently, the concept of mediatisation was presented as a new approach in studying the relationship between the media and religion. Stig Hjarvard sees media as strong agents of social and cultural change, so that “society to an increasing degree is submitted to, or becomes dependent on, the media and their logic.” This approach has been largely received in the Scandinavian and German study of religion. I intend to ask for the new perspectives and the epistemological consequences of the mediatisation paradigm. This partly deterministic understanding of the media as agents is evidently challenged by the empirical approaches that seek the general perception and actual use of certain media, the production, and the reception of media contents in a cross-media perspective.

Fabian Huber

Local and Translocal Christian Communities: Media Profile and Media Use among Jehovah’s Witnesses and Vineyard Churches

Despite the crisis of the traditional church, several Christian communities are able to thrive in the contemporary European religious landscape and on a global scale. This is the case with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the evangelical Association of Vineyard Churches. However, on the organisational level, these communities are quite dissimilar. The Watch Tower Society is an example of a centralised institution aiming at theological and social uniformity. On the contrary, despite a regional coordination, the Association of Vineyard Churches allows for a great internal diversity among the affiliated churches. Both of the communities present a diversified media profile while displaying diverging attitudes regarding the use of media. This contribution discusses the preliminary results of an ongoing research project on the production, interpretation, and use of different media within these two communities in Central Europe with relation to their local and translocal forms of communalisation.

Frank Neubert

Belonging to a “Billion Strong Global Religion”: Hinduism Today, Hindu Communities and Conversion to Hinduism in the Śaiva Siddhānta Church

The Śaiva Siddhānta Church (ŚSC), based in Kauai, Hawaii, USA, has been holding rites of conversion to Hinduism since the 1960s. These rites include studying one’s “former” religion, officially declaring severance from it in the presence of a minister or mentor, choosing and officially adopting a new Hindu name, and aligning with “the Hindu community”. Starting from here, this paper will address the question of community with respect to (1) the meanings of the term, (2) the idea of Hinduism as “a global religion” upheld by numerous “communities” worldwide, and (3) the relevance of “community” in the conversion process. To do so, I will draw on source material published by the Himalayan Academy, a branch of the ŚSC, in the global magazine Hinduism Today, in book publications and on their various websites.

Martin Ackermann

Approximating the Guru: How Devotees of Amma Overcome Distance through Mediatisation

The Indian guru Amma (Mātā Amṛtānandamayī) has devotees all around the globe. Her fellowship has continuously grown through her extensive travels since 1987. With the exception of die-hard devotees who make arrangements to be with Amma wherever she is, most of her followers are apart from her for most of the year. This study will show how being apart from Amma is overcome by different forms of mediatisation. For instance, Internet services, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, keep followers up to date on the latest events with Amma. Devi-Bhāva events are even streamed to different ashrams, where devotees join in the chanting and sometimes get the chance to shortly interact with their guru. In addition, some devotees use media, such as pictures or dolls, to communicate with Amma, or they altogether turn to their “inner Amma” and become a medium themselves.


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