Are all media inherently religious?

           In Rethinking Media, Religion, And Culture (1997) Stewart M. Hoover and Knut Lundby have collected essays that explore the oft-neglected analysis of media, religion, and culture. Traditionally, theories and research have only been proposed for two of these themes (religion and media, religion and culture, or media and culture), but their view in this text is “that media, religion, and culture should be thought of as an interrelated web within society.” (3) Part of the decline of religious structures and institutions can be attributed to the fact that, in much of the Judeo-Christian world, emphasis has long been placed on the individual authority and autonomy; therefore now individuals have more say in their own practices of faith and belief and rely less on complete guidance and identity from a single monolithic institution.
            Media relates to religion in two possible ways. The “substantive” view understands media as a potential delivery system for messages, whereas the “functional” view sees media as providing the raw material for construction of religious meanings (deliberate or not) for various people in various settings. Hoover and Lundby describe rallies (e.g., televangelism), rituals (phenomenological engagement in which media consumption assumes a quasi-religious role), and resistance (audience negotiation in the reading of a media text) as points of cultural construction that intersect the aforementioned “web” of media, religion, and culture.
            Clark and Hoover question traditional notions of secularization, asserting instead that “religion is integrated into everyday life, although not necessarily in the forms assumed by conventional scholarship…[it] is the site of the synthesis and symbolism of culturally meaningful belief systems.” (17) Underlying their analysis is the understanding that the shift into postmodernity has led to individual and collective identity negotiation. This involves a “creative reworking of the text at the site of the audience.” (32) In White’s essay he attempts to answer the question of how we are to conceive of “the presentation of the religious and the sacred in the public sphere in an era of radical pluralism that is suspicious of civil religions and equally suspicious of denominational revivals and other cultural revitalization movements” (61).  From a cultural studies standpoint, the phenomenology of religious studies resists the tendency to reduce all reality to flat rationality and is a reminder that cultural construction is a paradoxical, continually reversing process of image making and breaking.
            Murdock addresses the re-enchantment of the world. He posits that it results from “science’s failure to provide a coherent system of meaning comparable to those offered by religion.” (87) Martin-Barbero continues this discussion, noting that media have eliminated any distance between the sacred and the profane, and suggests that “we should look for the processes of re-enchantment in the continuing experience of ritual in communitarian celebration and in the other ways that the media bring people together.” (108) Mass media have created myriad symbols of the sacred, and we (young people especially) are becoming adept at forming our identities around these dynamic totems. Goethals and Bar-Haim discuss ritual as a “springboard for self-transcending, for an escape from time that cannot be denied to those who play the game—human or divine—with passion.” (131) The crisis of the ritual in contemporary society, however, is the conflict that arises when one’s individual identity is at odds with one’s collective identity. This has resulted in the triumph of the spectacle as a means for possible resolution.
            Horsfield examines religious institutions during periods of media convergence, noting that currently “confusion about their public role has further diminished church institutions’ relevance and visibility in public debate and issues.” (178).  Churches have attempted to compete with the secular and consequently commoditized its own message. Arthur notes that meaning can be made of virtually anything, and suggests that careful approach to religious studies will not adopt one single perspective but be open and agile.
            Linderman examines several models in which individual meaning is actualized. He wants to retain the idea of conventional signification systems as a key factor in facilitating human communication, since “each act of communication is related to one or more socially established signification systems.” (265) He says that in postmodern society, conventional systems are more functional than substantive. That is, the user constructs his or her own meaning in front of the text, instead of passively accepting the given meaning. Hoover traces how religious studies have been marginalized and how breaking “religious media” out of its genre classification is necessary since all media is inherently religious.  
Hoover, S. M., & Lundby, K. (1997). Rethinking media, religion, and culture. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.