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Jione Havea (Ed.): MEDIAting Theology (Leseprobe)

This collection engages the challenges and opportunities for doing theology in the context or age of media. The intersection of media with theology is reciprocating: media boosts theology in its functions to inform, connect and educate; theology humbles the globalizing media with a reminder – media is in mediation but not in domination. Media and theology thus intersect at mediating (negotiating, interceding, resisting, protesting) and they should avoid the temptation to colonize. The essays are presented in two overlapping clusters: Mediascapes (intersection of media and a selection of land- and sea-scapes) and Mediations (implications of mediating theology for interrogating hegemonies). The topics addressed include social media and #tag cultures, the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence, homiletics, social resistance, Palestine, Latin America, climate change, and Covid-19.

This collection engages the challenges and opportunities for doing theology in the context or age of media. The intersection of media with theology is reciprocating: media boosts theology in its functions to inform, connect and educate; theology humbles the globalizing media with a reminder – media is in mediation but not in domination. Media and theology thus intersect at mediating (negotiating, interceding, resisting, protesting) and they should avoid the temptation to colonize.
The essays are presented in two overlapping clusters: Mediascapes (intersection of media and a selection of land- and sea-scapes) and Mediations (implications of mediating theology for interrogating hegemonies). The topics addressed include social media and #tag cultures, the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence, homiletics, social resistance, Palestine, Latin America, climate change, and Covid-19.

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Jione Havea (Ed.)

MEDIAting Theology

Contact Zone


Contents

Preface

Introduction 9

Mediating the Real – A Native Take

Jione Havea 21

I. Mediascapes

Religion and Media in a Digitally Polarized Landscape

Miguel M. Algranti 45

Mediating Politics, Media and Religion – The Protestant

Mediascape in Brazil

Magali do Nascimento Cunha 57

Displaced Persons and Refugees – #JESUIScentrism and the

Argentinian Landscape

Fernando Martin Chinnici 75

Can’t We All Just Get Along? – The Caribbean Mediascape

Marsha Nathalee Martin 83

When Pulpit as Media Fails – The Kiribati Seascape

Tioti Timon 93

II. MEDIAtions

Talking Back to Hegemonic Constructed Lies

Anthony G. Reddie 105

Fourth Industrial Revolution – A Missiological Critique

Roderick R. Hewitt 125

Plasticity and Neoliberal Subjectivity – A Theological Critique

Zachary Thomas Settle 143


6 Contents

The Palestinians, Israel and the Bible – The Software that Fuels

the Occupation

Mitri Raheb 161

The Colonial Oppressiveness of a Biblical Concept – Hospitality

Miguel A. De La Torre 175

Epilogue

Covid-19: New normals, Old platforms

Jione Havea 193

Contributors 207


Preface

MEDIAting Theology is one of the outcomes of the DARE (Discernment

and Radical Engagement) forum hosted by the Council for World Mission

at Mexico City (May 24–26, 2018). The contributors presented

their papers and received feedback from one another and from other

participants at the DARE forum (but not all of the papers presented at

the forum are included here). Following the DARE forum, contributors

revised their essays for the (long) processes of peer review and publication.

Two of the essays were not presented at the DARE forum

(chapters six by Tioti Timon and twelve by Jione Havea). The delay in

the publication processes allowed time for an epilogue to be added, in

response to Covid-19.

The work on this collection was facilitated by encouragements

from Collin Cowan and Sudipta Singh of the Council for World Mission.

This publication comes with gratitude to both colleagues. This

collection also benefited from, and with much appreciation for, the

helpful comments and insights of blind reviewers. The warm welcome

and critical discernments by the editor of the ContactZone book series,

Volker Küster, enabled this collection to come out on this platform. Finally,

to the contributors and to everyone who helped make this

publication possible, simply, Shukran jazilan.


Introduction

Media makes religions tick. In many forms – ancient, old and recent

forms – media (as a conglomeration) is in the fibers of religions, and it

streams (stalks, hacks) in all menus of life. Media does not discriminate

between religious and non-religious bodies, sacred or secular contexts.

It crosses, negotiates and trades products, workforces, interests, societies,

corporations and empires. In other words, media mediates, a

function that itemizes (or, it is in the barcodes of) all religions; all religions

mediate between myths of origin and belonging, between bodies

of knowledge and belief, between loci of meaning and reasoning, between

grounds and spheres of existence, between states of being,

between sovereignties, between creations, between species, between

races, between narratives, and between many other things. Media does

as religions say (through many-colored theologians and interpreters)

they do: mediate.

This collection of essays comes at, and plays with, the intersection

of media and mediate (as function), with suggestions for and illustrations

of doing theology and hermeneutics in the age of media. 1 Media

– one of the arms of globalization, where it intersects with capitalism,

development, [neo]colonialism, and so forth – is a force to reckon with

in the current contexts of theology and hermeneutics. Media is not a

new phenomenon, for religions constructed and functioned as media

bodies in ancient societies. Religions continue to depend on media for

their propagandas, and media also benefits from religious projects (e.g.,

megaprofits from the publication of scriptures and religious literature).

There is codependency between religions and media; in other words,

religions and media help each other tick, even if the click between them

are not always obvious.

1

While most of the contributors are located in the Christian traditions (but not all would pass

as Christians of good standing), the following chapters invite conversations with theologians

and interpreters from other religions as well.


10 Jione Havea

This collection takes the intersection of media with theology (from

here forth, it includes hermeneutics) as reciprocating: media boosts theology

in its functions to inform, to connect and to educate, and theology

humbles the (globalizing) media with a reminder that, to coin a pun,

media is in mediation but not in domination. In other words, media and

theology intersect at mediating (negotiating, interceding, resisting, protesting)

rather than at rousing occupation or colonization. The topics

addressed in this collection range from social media and #tag cultures

to political movements, to the fourth industrial revolution and artificial

intelligence, to homiletics, to social resistance, to occupied lands (especially

Palestine and West Papua), to the procession of refugees and

migrants (to Latin America, and from the Caribbean to Britain), to climate

change, to Covid-19, and to the need to joder (to screw)

imperializing powers. 2

1. Flows of the book

After an opening chapter that necessitates theologies that mediate and

locates the rest of the essays in that need, the chapters are divided into

two overlapping parts: the essays in Part 1 discuss examples of the functioning

of media on a selection of land- and sea-scapes from the global

south, and Part 2 contains essays that showcase mediating theologies

by interrogating hegemonic ideologies, practices, theologies and governments.

The opening chapter by Jione Havea reflects on the links between

media and theology with a “native take” on the question of “What is

real?” In the age of media, “fake” dominates and problematizes the inquiry

for “what is true,” which intertwines with the question of the real.

Jione launches from several starting points: from “the Real” in the footsteps

of Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek; from the not fully postcolonial

Pasifika where “the real” drowns in troubled waters, thanks to

nuclear testing nations and global climate injustice; from (is)lands

where “the real” has been wiped out by the “great white flood,” and the

2

Miguel A. De La Torre explains that joder is a Spanish verb that one would never use in polite

conversation, basically meaning “to screw with.” In De La Torre’s work, an ethics para joder

is an ethics that “screws” with the prevailing power structures. The undocumented immigrant

who stands before the vastness of domination has few ethical alternatives. When the undocumented

start to joder, they play the trickster role, literally creating instability, upsetting the

prevailing social order designed to protect the power and privilege of the gracious hosts providing

hospitality. To joder refuses to play by the rules established by those who provide a space

for orderly dissent, pacifying the need to vent so that the power relationships within the existing

social structures are not challenged and changed.


Introducion 11

land and its resources have been stolen with the sanctions of the “doctrine

of occupation”; from West Papua (still under occupation by

Indonesia) where “the real” is ignored by international neighbors; and

from the desktops of children and young people who obviously know

more about the media world than older theologians. From these starting

points, what’s real? How has media hidden and/or exposed the intersections

of these real points?

Several “homing devises” (ideas that home) emerge: For the sake

of critical theory, “the organic real” is obligating. For Pasifika, the cry

for climate justice includes condemning nations that deposited 24,000

years half-life nuclear waste into the ocean that links all lands in the

world. For postcolonial (is)lands, the settler ideologies and theologies

that still govern them require decolonization. And for West Papua,

simply, Merdeka – real, thorough, freedom. These homing devises are,

easily, real in ideological and symbolic ways. To move them into materiality

(which requires compensation) and justice (which requires

negotiation) is a task for mediating theologies. Finding resemblances

between media and nativehood (to coin a term), as in the features of

liquidity and fluidity, Jione imagines that mediating theologies would

devise as well as offer provisions for the organic real, including subjects

who live under occupation and minded by carers who see them as empty

and worthless (e.g., children and young people).

Mediascapes

The essays in the first part of the book discuss the presence and functions

of media in religions (Algranti), in public places (Cunha,

Chinnici), and in local communities and churches (Martin, Timon). The

experiences and voices shared in these essays rise from the global south,

where the tolls of the globalizing media are disturbing and unavoidable.

Media is like a wave that one has to surf, drink and/or dunk, and hopefully

resurface.

Miguel M. Algranti (chapter 2) interrogates a dominant narrative

about social modernization which credits media technologies with an

important role in the historical disappearance of religion from public

life, and its late repositioning inside the private fences of middle-class

domestic life. For some, this is a tale about moral crisis that comes with

the lack of structures of religious authority. For others, it is a heroic

story about the empowerment of social groups to challenge the repressive

apparatuses of religious bodies (especially churches) and

oppressive regimes. However, in the current fall of secularizing prophecies,

it is hard to ignore the deep engagement of religious


12 Jione Havea

communities, movements, institutions and cultural forms in the horizons

of modern communication technologies, and their associated

systems of signification and power. This new landscape transforms traditional

definitions of religion and sacred spaces into digital, and online

borderlands where interactions arise between the online and offline

worlds, between the digital and the embodied.

Borderlands are not just at the walls and fences that divide nations,

or only manifested in the teachings and doctrines that separate religions

and denominations; media has brought the borderlands onto the screens

in kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms. Media has made

religions tick in private spaces, with opportunities to spread their missionary

positions far and wide.

Magali do Nascimento Cunha (chapter 3) reflects on the emergence

of progressive Protestant political activism in Brazil, beyond partisans

and electoral campaigns, expressed in digital media. The object of the

study is to identify these activists, the theology that nurtures them and

how their action takes place particularly on Facebook and Twitter.

Previous studies by Cunha and by religious scientists provide the

theoretical basis for understanding the context of the political participation

of Brazilian Protestant in the present time. These approaches

present Protestants in Brazil as “Evangelicals” – a term used in the missionary

era to create a strong identification of the new faith brought to

the country with the Evangelhos (“Gospels” in the Portuguese language).

In this sense, “Evangelicals” are those who preach the Gospel

and are faithful to it. Nowadays “Evangelicals” is used in Brazil to represent

Christians who are non-Catholic and non-Orthodox;

Evangelicals in Brazil are known as “Protestants” in other contexts.

Cunha presents approaches that relate communication and politics

with an understanding of the senses of activism and digital activism.

Evangelical/Protestant activists base their political involvement in theologies

born in Latin America such as Liberation Theology and Integral

Mission Theology that strongly relate faith and life, faith and political

commitment.

Based on a mapping of Protestant activists in two social media, Facebook

and Twitter, Cunha focuses on twenty-two Protestant

influencers who dedicate themselves to political activism, and profiles

their action and demonstrate the contents that they accentuate in their

posts in social media. Social media is an intense space of action for this

group, but it is invisible in the mainstream media which delineates the

character of counter-hegemony to its action. This case offers a subsidy

to the reflection on how alternative media can be seen as a means to


Introducion 13

oppose the hegemonic occupation of the public space by the logic of

the empire. The activism of Protestant individuals and groups represents

a sign of resistance to this logic and an effort to open grounds that

contribute to redefine the predominantly Protestant conservative ideology

in Brazil.

Fernando Martin Chinnici (chapter 4) analyses the impact caused

by current immigration movements in Argentina, historically known for

its complex identity matrix, configured over the last centuries by receiving

massive amounts of immigrants. Chinnici’s study deals with the

social processes involved in the design of state policies and strategies

for reception and integration of displaced persons and refugees.

When we speak about humanitarian crises such as the situation of

large groups of people seeking asylum after a war or another extreme

situation – beyond focusing our attention on the impact that these movements

produce on the recipient countries – we should also analyze the

causes and origins that led to their dispersion. In the world of

#JESUIS(x), not all causes have the same symbolic weight. The massive

expressions of support for victims of violent, critical or

catastrophic events, become visible or invisible through small “viral”

phrases in the field of social networks. Whatsoever at first impression

can be considered as a simple manifestation of solidarity, or as a personal

stance against the impact produced, in some cases it turns into

#JESUIScentrism indicators; giving clear evidence of the profound differences,

explaining the “explosions” of #JESUIS posts, and the cases

where these have not been identified. It is virtually impossible to address

these issues without regard to “religion” and “the religious,” as

decisive factors for classification and reification of facts and social

groups.

Marsha Nathalee Martin (chapter 5) brings attention to the ongoing

colonial legacy of the Caribbean. As ancient as smoke, verbal communication

(human sounds) and drum signals through to organized moguls

aimed at sharing information, and to modern and emerging web-based

communications and platforms – the existence, discovery and occupation

of the Caribbean isles depended on media to frame, package and

share the story of how they came and continue to be. The reliance and

dependence on media to educate, often dictating the ideals, and to preserve

the cultural norms, lend itself to expressly embracing media as a

developer, shaper, transformer and communicator of the ideologies of

the isles. With such a major role, media becomes an opportunity to dismantle

perceptions that ideologies from one place or another is more

suited for this or that locale.


14 Jione Havea

Media also turns the lights and waves on itself bringing exposure

to whom or what the players and powers are. The occupation of the

Caribbean, generally, and Jamaica in particular, possesses ideology that

is either affirmed or suppressed. In that context, Martin presents a case

for whether ideology and media can exist harmoniously; where users

and consumers are not left in terror and fear that they will awaken and

discover next to them, an invasion of or by foreign ideals.

Martin touches on several matters of concern in the Caribbean context:

whether media (as a source of information) and ideology (which

islanders share through their stories) are or should be separate; the suitability

of an ideology for a context, and the place of the media

(celebrated among the most important achievements of globalization)

in making that decision; whose stories, values and attitudes matter in a

context, and the place of media as the determiner and regulator of those

in the isles; what other entities outside of modern media could participate

in the dissemination of ideologies (stories), as a sign that the

islands are mature, learned and confident that another way is possible;

how faith systems shape island ideologies, so the twain (ideology and

theology) could meet without the fragmentations in the “right” or

“wrong” theologies or the “rightness” or “wrongness” of ideologies;

and for what good might come from the three – media, ideology and

theology – intersecting. At the current time, media makes the Caribbean

tick (by shaping and controlling ideologies). The driving question then

is this: Could theology get along with media in shaping Caribbean ideologies?

Tioti Timon (chapter 6) shares Martin’s concern, from a different

context, on the other side of the world – from the islands of Kiribati,

where the definition and reaches of media has widened. Words go out

through innumerable channels to a greedy and unsuspecting public. The

spoken word has immense importance, and one place where this applies

is the church. The pastor’s weekly sermon is a powerful media that does

not only inform the people of what is happening but also shape the mentality

of the people on what to think and do. In Kiribati, almost all of

the citizens are Christians and words from the pulpit carry a powerful

message. While media has a responsibility to report accurately, what

happens if the messages communicated by preachers are confused,

twisted, or even simplified, so that they are not consistent with the biblically

inspired messages of the church? What happens when the pulpit

broadcasts fake news?

On these questions, Timon looks to church administrations and theological

colleges. In Kiribati, the bug or virus stops there. It is not


Introducion 15

enough to be inspired by biblical teachings and church traditions (qua

sources of ideologies); it is necessary to also pay attention and be inspired

by what happens around the island, especially the doom that

climate change promises and media disseminates. In other words, it is

not helpful to look upward and heavenward but not take notice of what

happen downward and seaward.

This cluster of essays calls attention to media waves of different

contexts, and invites theologians and interpreters to surf, drink and/or

dunk them.

Mediating hegemonies

While the essays in this second part also stomp on the grounds of the

media, they take a turn to the mediating function of theologies. This

turn includes calling out racism (Reddie), development (Hewitt), capitalism

(Settle), occupation (Raheb) and oppressive biblical theologies

(De La Torre). While the call for mediating theologies expects patience

to negotiate and to relate, there is room in this function to also joder

(screw) with the system.

Anthony G. Reddie (chapter 7) reflects on the ways in which Blackness

as a construct has been demonized and Black people of African

descent have been subjected to forms of objectification and non-being.

Reddie explores the framing optics of media, occupation and ideology

in the construction of Blackness. This framing optics help us to explore

the various forms of religio-political negation of Blackness, which have

their roots in the imposition of empire and colonialism that has sought

to “fix” Black people as the aberrant other.

Reddie outlines the continued role that Black religion has played as

a means of both critiquing the spurious axiomatic normativity of Whiteness

alongside the rehabilitation of Blackness and its concomitant

subjective liberation of Black selfhood. The essay explores how the fixity

of Blackness has shifted and mutated from the “Dark Continent” of

Africa to the cosmopolitan and cross-cultural realities of Diasporan experience.

Blackness across the globe has become a transnational reality

that poses hermeneutical challenges around our perceptions of sameness

and difference.

Reddie, a well-known Black liberation theologian, critiques the

means by which imperial, mission Christianity colluded with White

western forms of hegemonic, ideological control in order to promote a

racially demarcated hierarchy that has positioned Black people as “less

than” in the world order. He outlines the ways in which aspects of Black

religion continue to operate as a form of anti-hegemonic resistance


16 Jione Havea

against continued neo-liberal colonized Whiteness. Particular emphasis

is placed on Black liberation theology as the most radical manifestation

of Black religion across the African diaspora.

Also from African and Caribbean heritage, Roderick Hewitt (chapter

8) explores the effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4 th IR)

of cyber-physical systems that is impacting industry and business may

have on the human identity and relationship. Hewitt postulates an intersectional

and missiological reflection that incorporates the broad

themes of media, ideology and communication:

• Media: How will the fast changes in communication technology unleashed

by advances in the 4 th IR affect human relationship and trust

of each other?

• Ideology: Who sets the agenda of the ideology for the 4 th IR and what

are its key objectives? To what extent does it take into account the

diverse and complex nature of human identity and relationships that

are formed by different cultures?

• Communication: With artificial intelligence (AI) being able to provide

human-like interactions and decision making, do augmented

humans equipped with AI constitute the next phase of being human?

What are the implications of AI for human identity and relationship

building?

The 4 th IR is part of, and co-progenitor to, the media age. In that context,

our challenge is not just how do we as humans relate in a world that is

run by technologies and machineries but how (echoing the questions by

Martin and Timon) to shape theological minds and pastoring souls for

the media age.

Zachary Thomas Settle (chapter 9) brings attention to the economic

and capitalist sides of the media age. Drawing on Karl Marx’s detailed

account of the nature of capitalism and Michel Foucault’s sketch of

subjectivation, Settle sketches the nature of neoliberal subjectivity (that

is, the normative vision for human being under the guise of neoliberal

capitalism – the normative form of subjectivity that capitalism seeks to

foster for its own maintenance).

Marx spends a great deal of time in the first volume of Capital explaining

the ways that society is structured around capitalism’s drive

for labor. Settle draws on Marx’s analysis to demonstrate the plasticity

of time, space, and relationality by demonstrating capitalism’s manipulation

of each of those categories for the sake of extending and

accumulating surplus labor. Capitalism, functioning as a disciplinary

structure, also has profound influence over the formation of subjects.


Mediating the Real –

A Native Take

Jione Havea

Media is a mass. I use “media” in this essay to refer to a massive conglomeration

of technologies (tools, skills, knowledges) that are

susceptible to being (or may have already been) conscripted into the

service of empire, as Joerg Rieger defines it: media, like empire, are

“conglomerates of power that are aimed at controlling all aspects of our

lives, from macropolitics to our innermost desires.” 1

Appealing to a biblical imagery, media is one of the modern answers

to Qoheleth’s ancient question, “Who knows the interpretation of

a matter?” (Eccl 8:1): media knows and disseminates interpretations

(read: technologies). Media also constructs alternative interpretations,

as well as alternative texts. Media operates as if it knows everything

from the top of the sky to the bottom(s) of the sea, and all the way to

the floor of the underworld, and to the edge of the deep. It can see and

map every corner, and it manoeuvres as if it is capable of revealing what

Jesus wanted to conceal in the domains of humans (Gospel of Thomas,

Saying 3): 2

If those who lead you say to you: “Look, the kingdom is in the sky!”

then the birds of the sky will precede you.

If they say to you: “It is in the sea”

then the fishes will precede you.

Rather, the kingdom is inside of you

and outside of you.

When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known

1

Joerg Rieger, Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, Minneapolis, MN 2007,

vii.

2

See full translation in Stephen J. Patterson, James M. Robinson and Hans-Gebhard Bethge,

The Fifth Gospel: The Gospel of Thomas Comes of Age, Harrisburg, PA 1998, 7–32.


22 Jione Havea

and you will realize that you are the children of the living Father [and Mother].

But if you do not come to know yourselves, then you exist in poverty

and you are poverty.

In a way, media operates as if it is “the All” who is “over all” (Gospel

of Thomas, Saying 77):

I am the light that is over all. I am the All.

The All came forth out of me. And to me the All has come.

Split a piece of wood – I am there.

Lift the stone, and you will find me there.

In the modern world, media is omnipresent and omniscient. It is present.

It sees. It knows. It codes. It devises. It maps. It constructs. It has power

to define what are real. Yes, knowledge is power, and Michel Foucault

was correct 3 way before PlayStation gamed the concept. Knowledge

constructs. Knowledge discovers. Knowledge decides. Knowledge disciplines.

And nowadays, knowledge is at the mercies of the media – a

point that will hopefully turn Foucault and company in their graves.

Media is so massive that it reaches into all pockets of life. Media is

everywhere – for instance, in the following chapters: media is in the

forming and in the unravelling of religions (Miguel M. Algranti, chapter

2) and governments (Magali do Nascimento Cunha, chapter 3), in

public places and the waves of refugees and migrants (Fernando Martin

Chinnici, chapter 4), in the sharing and distorting of news and information

(Marsha Nathalee Martin, chapter 5), in the gatherings of

worshipping communities (Tioti Timon, chapter 6), in the technologies

of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Roderick R. Hewitt, chapter 8), in

the tentacles of capitalism (Zachary Thomas Settle, chapter 9), and in

the truths about and the lies of empires (Anthony G. Reddie, chapter 7;

Mitri Raheb, chapter 10; Miguel A. De La Torre, chapter 11). Because

media is “the All” of the modern time, i call on behalf of the contributors

to this book for mediation of our praxis and ways of thinking, of

our missional leanings and theological duties. In this chapter, i bring “a

native take” to this call for mediation and in the process locate the views

presented in the following chapters.

1. The real

In the public domain, there is a popular assumption that something true

must be real. But in recent information media events, it seems to make

no difference if something was true or not and much less whether it was

3

Cf. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge: And the Discourse on Language, New

York 1972 and Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, New York 1977.


Mediating the Real – A Native Take 23

real or not. Many nontruths (lies, fakes) are real and they get disseminated

(tweeted) as if they are truths; on the other hand, many truths are

clearly unreal. Needless to say, many real claims (e.g., ideologies and

theologies) are not physical and visible to the eyes. 4 There are more to

“the real” than what the eyes see, and this assertion invites disassociating

“the real” from the tests of truth and materiality (or reality).

I here shift to one of the significant turning points in Western psychoanalysis

and philosophy: “the Real” in the works of Jacques Lacan

(who was under the influence of Sigmund Freud) which, to appropriate

one of Jesus’s insights cited above, may be conceived as “the All that

is behind and beyond all.” Lacan distinguishes three registers (compare

to Freud’s stages of development): 5 the Imaginary order refers to who

or what one imagines others/things to be or mean; the Symbolic order

refers to how others/things are embodied and mediated through speech

(langue in comparison to langage, logics and structures); and the Real

order refers to whatever is behind but also beyond both the appearance

(Imaginary order) and the naming (Symbolic order) of someone or

something. For instance,

• Imaginary order: whatever

signifies for someone, by

association with and differentiation from objects that are not-

(the ability to differentiate is associated with the contrast

between presence and absence in the Freudian “mirror stage”

of development);

4

Many well-constructed doctrines and theologies make no difference in the lives of normal

peoples; those doctrines and theologies are not edible and thus make a difference to the poor

and hungry.

5

For a helpful synthesis of Lacan’s psychoanalysis see Adrian Johnston, Jacques Lacan, in:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2018 Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (https://

plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/lacan/).


24 Jione Havea

• Symbolic order: the terms and names that the

imagery

brings into speech e.g., fish, ika, poisson, etc. (in other words,

what an imagery brings into the realm of language);

• Real order: whatever comes through (from behind, below and beyond

the Imagery and Symbolic orders) at the intersecting of

-and-fish (e.g., lunch, longing, anticipation, satisfaction,

disgust; water, swim, drown, gag, etc.).

The Real in the Lacanian sense is not about being present or absent,

being there or not-there (conditions of reality), so it is not always obvious

or possible, but about the affect sparked by the Imagery and

Symbolic orders. Another way to conceive the Real is to locate it in the

realm of the sublime:

While eluding precise definition, the sublime can be described as a complex

feeling of intense satisfaction, uplift, or elevation, felt before an object or event

that is considered to be awe-inspiring. Although the sublime is sometimes

characterized as a complex combination of satisfying and discomforting elements,

it is on the whole a positive and pleasant experience: perceivers

typically desire the experience to continue. Related concepts are elevation,

wonder, reverence, awe, and admiration – perhaps one could think of the sublime

as a kind of “aesthetic” awe. An example of the feeling of the sublime

would be the exaltation or excitement felt before a vast or powerful object, a

natural wonder like the Grand Canyon, or a work of architecture such as the

Great Pyramid of Giza. Contemporary psychologists have sometimes studied

the sublime under another name, “awe.” (1) 6

In the shadows of the sublime, the Real is about affect – feeling and

sensation; similarly, the permutation of the Real-sublime-awe-affect is

at the bullseye of modern communication media – sensationalism.

I come as a native from outside of the Western world to the intersection

of the Real and the sublime, and my awes and sensations are not

always uplifting (in the jouissance ways of more comfortable people).

6

Robert R. Clewis, Editor’s Introduction, in: The Sublime Reader, Robert R. Clewis (ed.), London

2019, 1–13.


Mediating the Real – A Native Take 25

For instance, my awe with the Grand Canyon is with the power of water

to dig into mountains and valleys – a power that we see in the rising

sea-level on the shores of Pasifika (for Pacific, Oceania) islands; and

my awe with the Great Pyramid relates to the workforce required to

erect it, through a practice that continued into the transatlantic slave

trades, the end of which in the 1800s coincided with the beginning of

the abduction of blackbirds from the waters of Pasifika. Yes, i 7 am at

awe and uplifted but, as a native, onto the paths of activism and in the

direction of mediation.

2. Going native

I have quietly affirmed my nativehood as an empowering identity (or

“brand”) and tried to pull it free from under the romanticizing sketches

(by some anthropologists) and demonizing gazes (by some missionaries)

of non-native politics and scholarship. I have attempted this by,

first, identifying myself as a native (from Tonga) in all of my academic

publications and, second, by foregrounding aspects of Pasifika native

(especially oral) cultures that shape my thinking about the subjects of

my study.

I use the native brand proudly, for two main reasons. First, in order

to contest the assumption that natives are naïve (suckers), foolish (rash)

or barbaric (savages). Natives have technologies and civilizations (see

also, essay by Miguel A. De La Torre), for we too can think and construct,

remember as well as teach. A personal anecdote makes this

point: during a conference in Parramatta (NSW, Australia) a few years

back, a white man inquired as to what i was doing there. I responded

that i was part of the organizing team. He pushed me further, so i told

him that i was a lecturer at that college where the conference was held.

To which he replied, “I didn’t know that Tongans can teach.” Serious

or not, he was voicing a common assumption – that Tongans (read: natives)

are not enlightened, and so we cannot teach. My return to him

was sharp: “I teach white people as well” (see also, essay by Anthony

G. Reddie). My response was not in order to stir up racial or color tension,

but to expose the default assumption of many white people that

native people are backward and unintelligent. We may look different,

smell unusual and act aggressively, but we are also people with

7

I use the lowercase with the first person when i am the subject, in the same way that i use the

lowercase with “we,” “you,” “she,” “he,” “it,” “they” and “other.” There is no justification for

privileging (by capitalizing) the first person individual (a leaning of English grammar) who is in

relation to other subjects.


26 Jione Havea

intelligence and civilizations – this position was recently highlighted in

the 2008 movie Black Panther, directed by Ryan Kyle Coogler, an

American. So my affirmation of the native brand is in order to be a thorn

on the side of white supremacy.

Teaching is something that traditional academics and White societies

value. What is more significant (and signifying) in native societies

is the gift of memory and remembering. This is powerfully portrayed in

the Mexican based animation, Coco (Disney 2017). It tells the story of

young Miguel finding his great-great-grandfather Héctor in the world

of the dead, discovering that Héctor wrote the songs that made Miguel’s

hero (Ernesto de la Cruz) popular, exposing that de la Cruz poisoned

Héctor (preventing him from returning to his family), and returning to

the world of the living to assure that Héctor will not be forgotten. There

are more to this captivating story, but memory and remembering are

foregrounded in this revealing movie; memory and remembering are

also the winds on the sails of native oral cultures. Put another way – our

emphasis is not so much about teaching as it is about working so that

the wronged are remembered.

Second, i affirm nativehood because it helps me see the maneuverings

of media. In the networking of globalization (market, politics),

media “holds” the world in a state of liquidity, with fluid walls. Time

and space feel synthetic, and distance seems immaterial if not irrelevant,

for the happenings in one city are instantly projected live in

another city on the other side of the world. Liquidity and fluidity are

capital and technological advancements in media’s globalized world;

similarly, liquidity and fluidity are the textures of the webs and flows

of the world of natives. Our physical world in Pasifika is a liquid world,

and our ways and practices manifest our fluid cultures.

An example of fluidity in native thinking is how we in Pasifika understand

stories, legends and songlines as myths of belonging rather

than as myths of origin as European anthropologists and historians assume

when they interview in our waters. This is my way of saying that

i do not take (the truths about) origins as the primary interest of natives.

I am not interested in origins nor in truths but in “points of entry” (starting

points) and in “homing devises” (ideas and plans that make one

belong and feel at home).

Every person, no matter the task, works from multiple points of entry

and need homing devises. One does not enter from only one point;

one does not have only one myth of belonging. Even when one thinks

she or he is reentering an old point of entry, in a liquid world that point

has shifted since the last time. There is no rigidity, no fixity. One enters,


Mediating the Real – A Native Take 27

lands and homes at a point that is always shifting. Fluid. Flux. And

multiplying. Such is the way things (net)work in the native Pasifika

world, and similarly in mediascapes. On this occasion, i affirm my native-hood

because it enables me to “awe” at media.

In light of the foregoing reflection, it is not enough to name and

reach the Real order or to be moved by the sublime; it is necessary also

to be at home, and to enable others to feel that they belong and are at

home where they are. This is a critical concern for natives in diaspora

(to a foreign land or internally, as with West Papuans and Palestinians),

whose struggle is with naming where “home” is, and for islanders who

are expecting to become climate refugees, whose struggle is with what

will “home” mean when their home(is)land is no more (so Seforosa

Carroll).

In the following subsections, i offer a native take on “entry points”

and “homing devises.” I am forced by the conditions of writing to procced

in a linear manner, from point to point, but the points made in the

following subsections would flow into each other in the world of orality.

To facilitate the flow of orality, Table 1 presents the titles for the

following subsections, with an invitation to read them as currents that

flow into each other.

Table 1

Entry points

Many reals

Real context

Real whitewash

Ignored real

Homing devises

Going organic

Merdeka or bust

Negotiate and bust

Children and young people

One of the oral practices shared by Pasifika natives is talanoa, which

refers to three oralizing events – story, telling (storying), and conversation

(story-weaving). In this native frame, each of the currents in Table

1 is a talanoa – a story, a storying, and a story-weaving. Taking the

term talanoa as an example of Lacan’s Symbolic order, to move into,

with and beyond talanoa is a native example of the Real order.

Entry points

I muse in the following subsections on several starting points for envisioning,

and nativizing, the Real. I expect that the imagery of the Real

changes depending on one’s point of entry and, like Maui the shape

shifting demigod in Disney’s Moana / Vaiana, the Real would also

change its shape and its character in the currents of talanoa. In talanoa,

the same character of the Real may serve opposing functions, like the


28 Jione Havea

fire throwing Te Kā who was also the goddess Te Fiti in Moana /

Vaiana.

(1) Many reals

The Real is more than one. Lacan and Žižek 8 offer opportunities for

envisioning the Real materially, rhetorically, politically, and ideologically.

I take Lacan and Žižek as my entry point here, and in the currents

of talanoa add native twists to the Real:

• The material (physical) Real has to do with economics as well. Madonna’s

“Material girl” (note the lines “the boy with the cold hard

cash is always Mr. Right” and “only boys who save their pennies

make my rainy day”) is an example of the economic side of the Real,

and this invites closer attention to pillars of society and faith. In the

case of Abram, for example, critical attention to his wealth in the

Genesis narrative is warranted. Abram was a “material man” in Genesis,

with wealth and slaves (see Gen 12:5).

• The rhetorical Real has to do with acts of scripturalization: 9 what

and whose stories get told, and which ones get scripturalized? 10

Which of the scripturalized are noticed and privileged, and which

are ignored and set aside? As expected, some details of the rhetorical

Real do not receive appropriate attention, e.g., “There were Canaanites

in the land” (Gen 12:6) when Abram arrived is part of biblical

memory that many readers do not notice. Abram was both a material

man as well as an occupier of another people’s land. In this regard,

the fact that something has been scripturalized does not mean that it

will be recognized and taken seriously.

• The political Real is about power and control. And power has to do

with economy, color, race, rights and privileges: e.g., the removal of

rights from Ishmael has a lot to do with the political Real (in the

interests of Isaac) and with rhetorically disempowering the Egyptian

slave woman who was his mother (see Gen 16).

8

Slavoj Žižek expanded Lacan’s theories into three modalities of the Real – imaginary Real,

symbolic Real, real Real. (Cf. Slavoj Žižek, Interrogating the Real, Rex Butler and Scott Stephens

(eds), London 2006 and The Žižek Reader, Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright (eds),

Oxford 1999).

9

Cf. Vincent L. Wimbush (ed.), Scripturalizing the Human: The Written as the Political, New

York 2015.

10

Talanoa sits on this side of the Real, and so does US President Trump’s fake news – both are

mythologizing attempts, but for different purposes.


I. Mediascapes


Religion and Media

in a Digitally Polarized Landscape

Miguel M. Algranti

This essay analyzes the linkage between religion and digital media 1 in

a social context where occupation, 2 gender inequality, 3 exploitation,

displacement, xenophobia, racism and religious bigotry 4 are the order

of the day. 5 Religion, as both a concept and lived experience, is recreating

itself 6 in both digital and non-digital spheres of existence through

the use of hashtags and search queries, and congregations gather together

not in person but rather online, around the world, and numbering

in the millions. 7 The study of the reach and limitations of the medium

itself opens up new ways and challenges in which religious identities

1

Cf. Heidi Campbell, Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media

Worlds, New York 2013; Clifford G. Christians, Religious Perspectives on Communication

Technology, in: Journal of Religion and Media 1, 2002, 37–47; Daniel Stout and Judith Buddenbaum

(eds), Religion and Mass Media: Audiences and Adaptations, Thousand Oaks, CA

1996; Jeremy Stolow, Religion and/as Media, in: Theory, Culture, and Society 22, 2005; Stout

and Buddenbaum, Genealogy of an Emerging Field, 5–12.

2

Cf. Jeremy Stolow, Nation of Torah: Proselytism and the Politics of Historiography in a

Religious Movement, unpublished PhD, Toronto 2000.

3

Cf. Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance,

Ithaca, NY 1993.

4

Cf. Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11, Chicago, IL

2002.

5

Cf. John B. Thompson, The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media, Cambridge

1995.

6

Cf. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in: Illuminations,

Hannah Arendt (ed.), New York 1968.

7

Cf. José Casanova, Globalizing Catholicism and the Return to a ‘Universal’ Church, in: Transnational

Religion and Fading States, Susanne Rudolph and James Piscatori (eds), Boulder, CO

1997, 121–143; Kenneth M. Wolfe, The Churches and the British Broadcasting Corporation:

The Politics of Broadcast Religion, London 1984.


46 Miguel M. Algranti

can be both deconstructed and expanded upon to include communities,

displaced practices and processes of cultural adaptations that are often

overlooked.

Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given;

and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth

to have (Luke 8:18).

1. Religion

It’s been canon for the sociology of religion, since the work of Emile

Durkheim (1858–1917), that religion, as a social phenomenon, relies

on the ontological duality between the sacred and the profane. These

two categories are considered to be so radically opposed that any possibility

of a middle ground is heresy itself. One could argue that this

pair of opposing classes are the basic unit for religious discourse and

the substance from which religious symbolic networks are made. 8

Moreover, according to Paul Ricoeur, myths are the specific form in

which religious symbols acknowledge this duality through narration

and dramatic structure. 9 The eternal struggle between good and evil offers

a narrative contour to religious symbols where the distinction

between the sacred and the profane need to be continuously reenacted

in rituals. Similarly, it’s been canon for information theory and digital

communications since the works of John Tukey (1915–2000) that a bit

or “binary digit” is the basic unit of information. One bit is typically

defined as the uncertainty of a binary random variable that is 0 or 1, or

the information that is gained when the value of such a variable becomes

known. It’s between 0 and 1 that every piece of code finds

correspondence between these values and the physical states of the underlying

storage or device. In many ways, salvation and digital

information use the same form of a binary unit to link the spiritual with

the mundane.

As Jeremy Stolow foresees, in today’s world of digital media, it is

essential to remember that religion always involves techniques and

technologies that we consider as “media” just as, by the same token,

every medium necessarily participates in the realm of the transcendent,

if nothing, by its failure to be fully subject to the instrumental intentions

of its users. It is also worth noting, in at least one etymological account,

that both the words “religion” and “communication” refer to the work

8

Cf. Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The exploit: A theory of networks, Minneapolis,

MN 2007.

9

Cf. Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, Boston 1967.


Religion and Media 47

of binding together, and it is in this sense, that religion in many ways

informs and hold the imaginary and figural archive for all techniques

and technologies that render the world available to human will. 10

Whether as the transmission of a numinous essence to a community of

believers, the personal experience of the divine, or the exchange between

heavenly powers and earthly practitioners, “religion” can only be

manifested through some process of mediation. Through history, in

countless forms, communication with and about “the sacred” has always

been enacted through written text, 11 ritual gestures, images and

icons, architecture, music, incense, unique garments, saintly relics and

other objects of worship, markings upon flesh, wagging tongues and

other body parts. 12

This interdependence is simultaneously complemented and challenged

by a dominant narrative about social modernization which

credits modern media – starting with the printing press 13 – with a critical

role in the world-historical dis-embedding of religion from public

life, and its late relocation inside the walls of the interior, invisible universe

of the individual believers. Some consider this as a tale about the

loss of meaning and moral crisis that comes with the dematerialization

of palpable structures of religious authorities. Others think it is a heroic

story about the empowerment of social groups to challenge the repressive

apparatuses of church and state. In both cases, the metanarrative is

structured around the assumption that the mere expansion of modern

communication technologies is somehow commensurate with a dissolution

of religious authority and fragmentation of its markers of

affiliation and identity.

However, even the most prosaic description of what is going on in

the world today is likely to provoke some doubts about the myth of

modern media as agents of secularization. We cannot help but notice

the deep entrenchment of religious communities, movements, institutions

and cultural forms in the horizons of modern communication

technologies and their resultant systems of signification and power. In

10

Cf. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, New York 1964.

11

Cf. id.Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, Toronto

1962; Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone (eds), McLuhan: Escritos Esenciales, Barcelona

1998.

12

Cf. Sarah Coakley (ed.), Religion and the Body, Cambridge 1997; Bryan S. Turner, The Body

and Society: Explorations in Social Theory, London and Thousand Oaks, CA 1996; Michel de

Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley, CA 1984.

13

Cf. David Tracy, Writing, in: Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Mark C. Taylor (ed.),

Chicago, IL 1998, 383–394.


48 Miguel M. Algranti

the context of our contemporary geography of digital information

flows, virtual reality, panoptical visualization, concentrated media

ownership and fragmented audiences, it seems no longer possible to

contain religion within the confines of “traditional” social logic of institutional

loyalty, the performative demands of face-to-face

interaction, the controlled circulation of sacred texts, or the localized

boundaries of “ritual time.”

2. The Lamp under the Bushel

There is an absurd paradox that sits at the center of our modern world.

While technological progress has produced the infrastructure for a free

international communications network, people are more disconnected

than ever. Occupation, gender inequality, exploitation, displacement,

xenophobia, racism, and religious bigotry are at the order of the day.

The futuristic utopia that digital media was predicted to bring for humanity

has been, instead, replaced by radical political segregation based

on information technologies. The current state of extreme political polarization

is a secondary consequence of these technological transformations

that we don’t fully understand. The real power of digital

media is not what it allows us to see but what it can strategically hide

from our sight. Understanding the form and dynamic of this digital polarization

pushes our chances forward for constructing a critical

approach to the subject.

The possibilities are endless; on the internet you can find an audience

because you can segregate across the world. Little niche audiences

of every country can come together and support an enterprise. As we

share content online, there is some form of evolution within the circulation

of user-generated information: we can make a picture of a cat

with a catchy phrase like “he got tuna,” but as the picture spreads people

can tweak the image or the phrase until the best iteration get shared and

spread across the internet. The same process happens with religious,

theological, political or ideological arguments, different versions of the

same case can and will pop out. Debates on the internet are a pantomime;

14 people are not debating at all. Communities create what they

think their opponent’s argument is, then agents within that community

can tweak that argument to evolve it until it becomes a version of itself

that triggers an emotional response that compels the user to share it with

everyone else. “Look at what the other side thinks, see how awful it is.”

Content in the digital networks keep evolving ideas until they get

14

Cf. Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, in: Public Culture 14, 2002, 49–90.


Religion and Media 49

terrible – those are the ones that get shared and shared. Like in evolution,

we are changing arguments to make the worst of themselves and

then share it. This dynamic is leading polarization across the world.

Moreover, the internet is organized by algorithms that are designed to

distribute the most engaging content, the one that compels an emotional

reaction and gets us liking or sharing and promoting those even further.

This dynamic is where fake news comes from, instead of bringing people

together fake news tear the social fabric apart. The World Wide

Web let us form social groups and evolve our prejudice further and further.

While the rise of digital communications blurs the lines between

the transmitter and receptor, our ideas and debates had been radicalized

and polarized to the point of no return. 15

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) put each of us at

the center of an extensive web of connections and make the consequence

of our moral decisions much more immediately manifest.

Instead of hearing about one alarming thing a day, we hear about 500

disturbing things. We are obliged to engage with the dark side of modern

society by clicks and emojis while in the comfort of our private

walls. Humanity is seriously networked together more than we ever

have been, and the subject choices are amplified and distributed not

only far faster than ever but with far more impact.

A few years ago, the interplay between social media and militarist

politics was relatively anomalous, mainly located in the Internet’s margins,

infrequently covered in the media, and poorly understood. Over

these years, the militarization of social media and other digital communication

tools grew on a massive scale, commensurate with the global

spread of social networking and mobile technologies. From the utopian

horizon of a connected world, where information flows freely, a new

level of social engineering has emerged. These past few years have been

a testament to the hijacking of democracies (Cambridge Analytica) and

the interplay between military occupation and digital media as in Israel.

A new type of occupation is taking place in the virtual space of our

sensibilities, the occupation of subjectivity.

In today’s technological landscape, scholars of religion have been

emphasizing the modalities in which religious, faith-based congregants

and laypeople can engage with one another. This process allows for the

deconstruction of lived religion in the twenty-first century as well as

resignifies its importance in everyday life in a way which emphasizes

15

Cf. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (eds), Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science,

Religion, and Art, Cambridge 2002.


50 Miguel M. Algranti

that religion no longer needs to be strictly experienced in pews and

houses of worship, but on digital platforms without geographical

boundaries. There is a positive academic approach to digital media that

empowers people to take part in the world around them, to exist in both

community and cross-cultural identities not based on geographical location.

For example, regardless of one’s religious affiliation,

individuals can reach out, and both connect with or debate between

members of different faiths and communities. Facebook and other digital

platforms opened the doors to how individuals connect with not

only their religious communities but also the leaders of other movements

they might have never known about. Digital platforms like

Twitter are said to break down both socioeconomic barriers that prevent

interreligious dialogue from occurring in person by encouraging or allowing

for religious dialogue, critique, and sharing to be not only

experienced by the individuals but also shared with their digital community.

Twitter is an interdisciplinary space that is not just restricted to

one mode of thought but various modes through the growing interconnections

that individual and organizational users can experience to gain

better access to further their spiritual or religious lives.

What is sacred or religious has been changing fast. Studying the

reach and possibilities of the medium where it is manifested opens an

opportunity for new ways of understanding what type of discourse and

practices are sacred in this time and era.

3. The Sacred and the Digital

On the internet, as a medium, the sacred is lived and experienced

through online rituals and constant circulation of “religious” content.

Deconstructed, tweaked and reconstructed through different flows of

information, what is sacred emerges from digital interactions under new

forms. From our analysis, we perceive that faith practiced in digital environments

points to a change in the way believers experience and

express what they think is sacred. Change that occurs through new temporalities,

new spaces, new materialities, new discursivities, and new

rituals. Religion as we traditionally know it is transforming, and the

“new religion,” which is uncovered, can help us to characterize digital

mediatization (its ways of being, thinking, act, etc., in the digital age).

On the one hand, temporarily, the traditional times and periods of

the liturgical life of the Church change actively on the internet. Now, a

religious ritual can be celebrated at any time of the day, regardless of

the timetables and the location of other members of the community. The


Religion and Media 51

system is responsible for mediating this interaction. The logic of absolute

speed is now replacing the slow and vague processes of spiritual

asceticism (the “centuries of the centuries,” “until death do them part”).

We thus move to live faith in the expectation of omnitemporality and

immediacy (everything must be available now, already).

On the other hand, there is a spatial deviation of the religious experience:

the believers can assist a celebration held on the other side of

the world, led by someone who decides when to start, with a click on a

digital play button. Thus, a new form of presence is established: a

“telepresence,” made possible by the production of a co-presence embodied

in the representations of the sacred available in the online

system and the interactions with other users. But the essence of this new

form of presence is non-presence, the “anti-presence”: it is not necessary

for the faithful to be physically there, together with the other users,

to be there, along with them digitally. 16 In this way, a logic of spatial

condensation has been established.

In addition, the digital faith brings with it a totally own materiality:

numerical, of digits that can be altered, switched off, recombined according

to the will of the system and/or of the user, albeit with remnants

of a pre-mediatic religiosity (such as the use of “candles,” for example).

Thus, new layers of mediators between the faithful and God, now

techno-communicators, are growing. But all that can go unnoticed by

the users to reinforce the transparency of the technique: the sense of the

sacred constructed by the system promotes (or reinforces) the belief that

the users are in front of (and only in front of) God, without threatening

against all the protocols and logic of the communication technique. Instead

of a logic of substitution, faith is presented with a logic of

complexity. The Internet does not substitute the material supports of

traditional faith practices, but it generates new modes of perception, expression,

practice, experience and faith. 17

Discursively, the users build a sacred sense in the online systems

through fluid and hypertext narratives marked by a constant transformation.

This process opens religious imaginaries and symbolic

universes to innumerable interpretations, to an endless hermeneutic

dance of reading, tweaking, and producing new meanings. Thus, a theopolitical

dimension of online religious experience is manifested: in it,

the common believer also has the “power” to name and narrate the

16

Cf. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, London 2000.

17

Cf. Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America,

New Haven, CT 1995.


52 Miguel M. Algranti

divine. In addition, the relationships and bonds created by the discourse

in that environment are also fragmentary, since the faithful selects and

chooses their discursive alterity (earthly or divine). The deviation, in

short, is in the direction of a logic of access in which belonging-participating

is not structured by geographical location, but by a fluid

ambiance. And they are communities established communicationally:

without digital interaction, the links are undone.

Ritually, sacred acts and practices of faith developed by the faithful

through actions and operations of meaning construction in interaction

with the system now occur in digital media. This manifest itself not only

as a liturgy assisted by the media, but also a liturgy centered, lived and

practiced by the media, in which they also offer models for gestures,

space or the liturgical imaginary. Online rituals, therefore, are marked

by a logic of selection, in which the faithful are invited to co-construct

their religious experience from a sacred pre-molded, pre-configured by

the system; and, on the other hand, by a database logic in which the

sacred is symbolically transformed into a collection of data and contents

that can be searched and found by the system in an instant, with the

click of buttons. Thus, an algorithmic religiosity is explicit, in which

the faithful make the system do what is already programmed from a

sequence of liturgical gestures followed by the faithful and performed

by the system.

In this context, the devotees are not only co-constructors of their

faith but also perform a creative work on their own religion as a whole,

stressing the “ecclesial interface.” This makes possible the perception

of the imbalance between how the religious macro-system is thought in

terms of the Church and how it is understood and practiced by the faithful.

In this sense, the “interface” of the religious macro-system is

energized by these users. The turbulence, instability, and deviation

caused by the faithful connected in online spaces also encourage and

instigate the evolution of discourse and religious structures – in this

case, in relation to the reality of the religious pluralism of the macrosocial

system. Therefore, the apparent religious homogeneity of Church

authorities (marked by creeds, laws, precise liturgical practices) is resignified

in these much more plural, fragmented and porous

reconstructions.

The networks establish a new form of communication, activating a

“secular discourse advertising device” on the religious. “Thanks to the

‘collective intelligence’ provided by the network, a simple lover [profane/laic]

can mobilize knowledge identical to those of the [religious]

specialist.” It manifests in those cases the “reconstruction of the


Religion and Media 53

religious” by the common Internet user that acts on the knowledge and

develops original practices, social inventions from the reconnections.

The activities of the common user “do not depend on the construction

of a work or an institution, but on a choice.” He is guided by curiosity,

by emotion, by passion, by adherence to practices often shared with

others.

This is in addition to the “transformations of modern society – pluralism

of world conceptions, privatization and subjectification of the

religious phenomenon – [which] force everyone to be ‘heretics’, that is,

to make a ‘free choice’ (in Greek: hairesis) between the religions and

the existing world conceptions in a given society.” That is what Berger

calls “heretical imperative.” 18 If, in pre-modernity, heresy was a possibility,

in contemporary society it becomes a necessity since it is

necessary to choose and decide in front of multiple possibilities (not

only religious in general, but also “Spiritual”) in which definitions and

filiations are no longer given a priori. “In pre-modern situations, there

is a world of religious certainty, occasionally broken by heretical detours,

on the contrary, the modern situation is a world of religious

uncertainty, occasionally avoided by more or less precarious constructions

of religious affirmation.” 19 Therefore, marginal, “heresy”

becomes universal and general.

This process becomes more complex on the Internet when we see,

through reconnections in connected devices, not only a religious experience

but also a religiosity in experimentation. A religiosity marked by

little institutional and doctrinal fidelity, by the fluidity of the symbols

in religious transit and by the subjectification of beliefs: from the traditional

heresy, we turn to the e-rejía, that is, “digital bricolages of the

faith” in which “the individual produces, autonomously, the device of

meaning that allows him to orient his life and respond to the ultimate

questions of his existence” establishing “a link between his personal

believing solution and a believing tradition instituted to which he reports

freely.” 20 In this way, the faithful cuts out the symbolic universes

– the ones of their group and the others, all equally virtual and multiplies

the collages, the taste of an idiosyncratic creativity, radically

individual, even if it is articulated in tribes of free choice.

18

Peter L. Berger, Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation,

New York 1980, 28.

19

Ibid.

20

Daniele Hervieu-Léger, O peregrino e o convertido: A religião em movimento, Petrópolis

2008, 156f.


The cover design makes use of art works by Solomon Raj, Hendarto, Nyoman Darsane,

André Kambaluesa, Hong Song-Dam, an unknown Ethopian Ikon painter and Lee Chul-Soo

(in clockwise order and on backcover; by courtesy of the artists; photos by Volker Küster).

This publication is sponsored by Council for World Mission (CWM).

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbiographie;

detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://dnb.dnb.de.

© 2021 by Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH · Leipzig

Printed in Germany

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Cover: Kai-Michael Gustmann, Leipzig

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ISBN Print 978-3-374-06811-1

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