Hjarvard, Stig. ‘Mediatization and the Changing Authority of Religion’. Media, Culture & Society, vol. 38, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 8–17.
Religion has become more publicly visible over the past decades in several parts of the world, including the predominantly secular Nordic countries, and has acquired a continuous presence on various political and cultural agendas. The increased visibility is not least due to the presence of religion in the media, including news media, entertainment media, and social network media. For some scholars of religion, the growing public visibility has been used to claim a resurgence of religious belief in general and to denounce the idea of secularization in particular. Peter Berger (1999), himself once a proponent of secularization theory, has stated that the world is ‘as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled “secularization theory” is essentially mistaken’ (p. 2).
In this article, I will pursue a more cautious line of reasoning and address the role of media in the growing visibility of religion. In short, I will argue that the visibility of religion is in part a reflection of a general mediatization of religion through which religious beliefs, agency, and symbols are becoming influenced by the workings of various media. There are, of course, many other and in some respects more important reasons for the increased presence of religion in modern societies, such as global migration, politicization of religious organizations, and the international war on terror. But the presence of religion in the media is not just a mirror of a religious reality ‘outside’ the media. It is also an outcome of a complex set of processes in which the importance of religion and particular religious beliefs and actions are contested as well as reasserted, both in and by the media, at the same time as religion undergoes transformation through the very process of being mediated through various media. I will focus my attention on the question of to what extent and in what ways religious authority may undergo transformation in view of the general process of mediatization. The argument will rest primarily on research conducted in the Nordic countries (Hjarvard and Lövheim, 2012), in which the Protestant Lutheran church has historically occupied a dominant position and in which a wider range of religions have become visible in more recent times, not least Islam. Since my discussion of a changing religious authority is closely linked to the theoretical framework of mediatization, I will briefly introduce the main tenets of mediatization theory and the general characteristics of the mediatization of religion. This outline of the mediatization of religion will also serve as a reference for contributions by Knut Lundby, Mia Lövheim, and Günter Thomas in this issue of Media, Culture & Society.