“When I read a book, I try my best, not always successfully, to let the wall crumble just a bit, the barricade that separates me from the book. I try to be involved”
― Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman
Last week I received copies of my book, “Blogging My Religion: Secular, Muslim, and Catholic Media Spaces in Europe.” I spent so much time writing the book that by now I should be tired of it, but the truth is, I really enjoyed the process. I had great people supporting me and writing is my favorite thing to do (weird, isn’t it? All those “you should be writing” memes, and for me it really is “you should stop writing and go grocery shopping”)
The book is available as hardback and ebook, and if you are interested there is the possibility to order review copies here: http://pages.email.taylorandfrancis.com/review-copy-request
In this post, I will summarize the theory I elaborate in the book, “hypermediated religious spaces.” Please continue reading if you are thinking about requesting the book (or, just between me and you, even if you are too lazy to read 174 pages but think a blog post might be worth it).
Blogging My Religion: Secular, Muslim, and Catholic Media Spaces in Europe
In my book, I wanted to explore how religion is changing in Europe. While many scholars say that Europe is increasingly secular, there are some circumstances in which religion becomes more public. My argument is that digital media, such as blogs, are venues that some groups use to discuss religion in new ways. I decided to study blogs in French and Italian focusing on three phenomena that I see as exemplifying some aspects of religious change in Europe:
- Young Muslims born in Europe find strategies to show that Islam can be compatible with Western values
- Atheists become increasingly organized and create events against religion, but that somehow follow religious structures
- Some Catholics organize anti-gender demonstrations to oppose same-sex unions, establishing an informal type of Catholic militancy
These three groups often have very different ideas from each other. In particular, they see Europe in different terms: for some, Europe is not enough multicultural; for others, it is too Catholic; for others, it is too secular.
Therefore, I started my research by asking: how do I define religion?
I know many scholars have discussed what religion is. In my case, I wanted to look at groups that discuss religious ideas together with politics, social change, gender and cultural identities. So, by using the work of Kim Knott (2014), I think of religion as entangled with secular and post-secular. In this way, I can analyze groups that are not part of religious institutions, but at the same time are involved with religion. This is how it looks like:
Religious, secular, and post-secular spaces are often created on the Internet, or with the help of digital technologies. This leads to a second question: how do I define media?
There are various theories that people in religion and media apply to their work, such as mediation (Meyer 2011), mediatization (Hjarvard and Lovheim 2012), and religious-social shaping of technology (Campbell 2007). What I find useful in these theories, is that they consider various aspects of media:
- Media can be materiality: books, images, computers are material forms that can help people to experience religion
- Media can be institutions: structures that produce news, entertainment, pop culture, and allow the audience experiencing the world, including religion
- Media can be technologies: smartphones, apps, social networks help religious groups and individuals to interact with each other and with society.
The blogs I explore are created in societies where media are almost everywhere and have an impact on how people relate to each other. So, they include all these different media forms to talk about religion and the secular. This is how it looks like:
The theory of hypermediation, which the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado Boulder started to elaborate in relation to religion, can help to understand the relationships between these different media forms. People can now use many media platforms in a fast and emotional way. Blogs are connected to what happens in physical spaces, to national and international news outlets, and to discourses articulated on other media platforms.
Therefore, these blogs create what I call hypermediated religious spaces. They have some characteristics:
- They are alternative spaces, but they also try to address mainstream culture
- They are public spaces, but often talk about private experiences
- They are real spaces, but they are used to imagine a different society
This is how it looks like (you probably noticed by now I like triangles):
In the book, I give some examples of hypermediated religious spaces. For instances:
- After the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, claimed by ISIS, some Muslim students felt that they needed to distance themselves from violence. They used their blogs and social networks to diffuse videos and messages of solidarity. With the hashtag #NousSommesUnis (we are united) they managed to get the attention of several French and international newspapers, and to organize mourning and marches offline.
- In Italy, Mrs Soile Lautsi sued the public school her children attended because it displayed a Catholic crucifix, and she is an atheist. The case became famous at international level and forced Italy to think about secularism, given that all public schools and many other non-religious buildings display religious symbols. The case was amplified by the blogs of several atheist associations, which also offered support to atheists involved in similar battles and used social networks to advocate in favor of Lautsi.
- Throughout Europe, some Catholic-inspired groups protest against same-sex unions by standing in squares in silence and reading a book. They refuse to talk to media institutions, but, as silence becomes a powerful way of communication, they attract the attention of journalists. They criticize technology and prefer to read a material book, but they use blogs as the main venue to talk about their ideas and involve new participants.
I consider these as examples of hypermediated religious spaces because they embed religious and secular discourses together. They embed different media forms, from materiality (e.g. books), to institutions (e.g. national newspapers), to technology (e.g. social networks). They form hypermediated religious spaces because the blogs put in contact individuals and groups, diffuse messages from the Internet to physical spaces and other media spaces, and create networks of actions that would not exist without digital media.
In a nutshell, it can be represented in this way:
I hope the theory of hypermediated religious spaces can help scholars to think about new forms of contemporary religion and the media connections they create. If you have any suggestion or idea (or terrible criticism) please leave a comment or send me an email.
These are the works I quote in this post:
Campbell, Heidi. 2007. When Religion Meets New Media: Media, Religion and Culture. 1st ed. London ; New York: Media, Religion and Culture.
Hjarvard, Stig, and Mia Lovheim, eds. 2012. Mediatization And Religion: Nordic Perspectives. Göteborg: Nordicom.
Knott, Kim. 2014. The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis. 1 edition. Routledge.
Meyer, Birgit. 2011. “Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies and the Question of the Medium.” Social Anthropology 19 (1): 23–39. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8676.2010.00137.x.
This is the full reference for my book:
Giulia Evolvi. 2018. Blogging My Religion: Secular, Muslim, and Catholic Media Spaces in Europe, 1 edition (New York: Routledge).
These are the blogs I talk about in my book:
Etudiantes Musulmanes de France: www.emf-asso.com
Manif Pour Tous: www.lamanifpourtous.fr
Sentinelle in Piedi: www.sentinelleinpiedi.it/category/blog
Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti: www.blog.uaar.it
Union des Familles Laïques: www.ufal.org
Yalla Italia: www.yallaitalia.it