Philosophy & Religious Media

           In Religion and Media, Hent de Vries and Samuel Weber have edited a volume of essays that situate themselves at the various intersections of religion and media. Though primarily philosophical, they are aimed at an interdisciplinary approach to studying religion and media. De Vries notes that religion has reappeared on the contemporary geopolitical stage as a highly ambiguous force and has thus prompted recent investigation. Technology has changed things, as well: “Surely, new media never merely convey the same message, albeit on a different scale at a different pace; they bring about a qualitative leap and instantiate a certain supplementary ambiguity as well” (33).
Samuel Weber traces the emergence of media in the place and site of mediation, or repetition. “In media advertising—and such message are increasingly inseparable from the media—the promise of happiness is tied to repetition under the very conditions [of] staying tuned in” (46). The development of electronic media, like all technology, is an extension of human capacities, simultaneously distancing and undermining what it extends. As the audience of modern media, we are suspended in tension: we are spectators, called upon to frame and give meaning to the spectacle, while being a part of the show. “The spectator is never merely a spectator, any more than merely a performer, and at the same time, a bit of both” (54).
After musing that God must have told Abraham to keep quiet (after testing Abraham with the near-sacrifice of his son Isaac), Jacques Derrida notes that there was a secret and unconditional alliance between God and Abraham that was never to be made into “news” or information for outsiders. He contrasts the prohibition of the image in Judaism and Islam with Christians’ acceptance of the distinction of icon/idol.  “In Christian televisualiation, we confront a phenomenon that is utterly singular, that ties the future of media, the history of the world development of media, from the religious point of view to eh history of the ‘real presence,’ of the time of the mass and of the religious act” (59). This is uniquely Christian (and in some cases uniquely American) to have an actual hierarchy in place (Pope) to deliberately and globally distribute religious discourse. He likens the sending and receiving of information, a medium and mediation (especially of television), to that of the Spirit of Christ that distinguishes Christianity. “Spectrality permits the remote dispatching of bodies that are non-bodies, non-sensible sensations, incorporeal” (61). Television places the viewers at the scene of an event; there is no longer a need for faith, one can see for him or herself. Belief is simultaneously suspended and reinforced, in the name of intuition and knowledge.
Manfred Schneider declares that the fundamental opposition between Judaism and Christianity is because of the opposition of Jewish oral culture and Christian visuality. He utilizes McLuhan’s notion of hot and cold media to describe how Luther broke away from the church: “The printed word, which is accessible to everyone, is now a hot sign. The traditional Church understanding of the sacraments remained caught in the cool, elaborate ritual…” (209) The successful execution of a war requires proselytizing, which thrives on the violent imposition of new media and semiotics. Thus, Luther’s great revolution heated up a cool medium, much like the leap from Saul to Paul marked “the transition from Jewish orality and letter-magic to the pure and absolute visual spirituality of scripture” (212).
Jenny Slatman discusses the visual medium of television that asks us to believe in that which we have not personally, thereby blurring the distinction between faith and seeing. “Vision presupposes faith and faith expresses itself in vision” (219). The one who sees is also a visible entity, therefore the principle of reversibility it important. Reversibility rejects the notion of a person who comprehends the world by objectifying it (220), for seeing something means that the visible thing remains remote. The “tele-being” is thus akin to the “transcendent being”. Transmission from the camera lens to the spectator’s eye, then, “crosses the chiasm of the visible and the invisible, seeing and being seen, the human and the inhuman (226). Television simply offers another kind of vision that brings something remote closer to us, but never all the way.
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804734976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804734974