Michael Bailey and Guy Redden, eds. Mediating Faiths: Religion and Socio-Cultural Change in the Twenty-First Century (Burlington: Ashgate, 2011), 239 pp.
Reviewer: Louise Connelly
The editors, Michael Bailey (lecturer in Sociology at the University of Essex) and Guy Redden (lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney), alongside seventeen other contributors, draw from the fields of cultural studies, religious studies, sociology, anthropology, communication studies, and other social science disciplines. The first chapter (“Editors’ Introduction: Religion as Living Culture”) underlines the purpose of Mediating Faiths as a complement to “other ongoing explorations that are bringing religion back into frames from which it has largely been excluded” (5), such as the relationship between “religion, media and popular culture” (5). The term ‘mediation’ refers to “the intersection of multiple, co-determining factors amid any set of relations in which religiosity is implicated” (6). Therefore, the breadth and depth of expertise presented in Mediating Faiths provides an alternative perspective to understanding how faith and religion are mediated in everyday life.
Mediating Faiths comprises sixteen chapters presented in four sections, namely new media religion; consumption and lifestyle; youth; and politics and community. A number of critical questions are raised and a wide variety of topics are explored, including Christian beauty pageant queens, Muslim youth culture, and the relationship between religion and politics. Primarily, the discussion focuses on Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and although the topics are diverse, it might have been beneficial to widen the discussion to include other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or New Religious Movements. Nonetheless, the contributors engage the reader and demonstrate the complexity of examining religion, faith, media, and culture in the twenty-first century.
Section one, “New Media Religion,” contains four chapters and focuses on different media and how these are being received, used, or treated with distrust. The first chapter of this section focuses on religious broadcasting in Britain over the past three decades and how it has been confronted by increased secularization and regulation within the “growing competitive environment” of a global market place (25). Chapter three examines how Muslims use the Internet. This is contextualized within the wider socio-political cultural arena and focuses on the decentralization of traditional Islamic authority via “alternative Islamic voices” found online (37). Chapter four examines how new media can be used to engage Norwegian youth culture through storytelling and how this helps them to differentiate between faith and traditional religious belief structures. The use of new media, such as ‘Digital Faith Stories’, can transform our understanding of religion and faith (55). This process is defined as ‘mediatization’ (50). In chapter five, the discussion centers on the Israeli Haredi Jewish community and their negotiation of the Internet challenging the traditional way of life while being used according to agreed controls and boundaries.
Section two, “Consumption and Lifestyle,” highlights how faith and religion are engaged with consumerism and everyday life choices and in doing so brings to the fore how certain areas of religion and faith are changing. The section is comprised of five chapters and covers a number of areas, including alternative therapies as a quasi-religious or religious endeavor (chapter six); the case study of the Catholic World Youth Day Celebrations in Cologne in relation to sacred brands, such as the figurehead of Catholicism, the Pope (chapter seven); and the sometimes controversial relationship between feminism, identity, evangelism, and beauty queen pageants (chapter eight). In chapter nine, traditionalism and the use of media are explored in relation to three neo-Pentecostal churches in the United Kingdom. Questions are raised as to whether “congregations are becoming consumers” and whether “religion of choice is replacing religion of birth” (119). Lastly, chapter 10 explores the themes of popular music, individualism, authenticity, and experience in American Evangelicalism and considers whether “worship itself [is] being redefined” (131) in relation to “consumer choice” (134).
Section three, “Youth,” is the shortest of the four sections and includes two chapters that outline what organized religion can offer the younger generation. Both chapters in this section highlight a number of challenges that need to be overcome, including the opposition to traditional forms of religiosity, as well as competition from everyday popular culture. This section discusses Muslim Youth in Europe (chapter eleven) and presents a case study on two Christian megachurches in Singapore—City Harvest Church and Faith Community Baptist Church (chapter twelve)—in order to demonstrate how religion is appealing to the younger generation.
Section four, “Politics and Community,” includes four chapters focusing on the relationship between religion, society, and politics and the inter/co-dependence of these facets. The relationship between these domains is often complex, as illustrated by the political and ethical representation of British Muslims in literature (chapter thirteen), as well as the role of the media and the tension between secularity, political activism, and the apostolic Destiny Church and Brethren in New Zealand (chapter fourteen). Following this theme, chapter fifteen questions whether Australian politics might be seen to represent “Christian values”; and chapter sixteen concludes the section by discussing the interplay between the Catholic charismatic movement, El Shaddai in the Philippines, and the use of mass media to create a de-traditionalized form of Catholicism.
This book is invaluable for those interested in the intersection between media, religion, and culture in the twenty-first century. Significantly, Mediating Faiths argues that “mediation is part of religion” (49) and that “religious communication and experience has always been mediated” (7). The format in which mediation of religion materializes has, in some instances, moved beyond the institutional face-to-face community, to one that may include the use of technology (internet, television, and new media). The contributors to this book have highlighted how mediated faith and religious belief needs to be “interpreted through its place in socio-historical formations, not against universalist benchmarks that themselves prove to be creations of very particular histories” (7). Scholars and students from different disciplines will benefit greatly from this insightful contribution and will hopefully engage with a wider understanding of how religion and faith are being mediated in everyday life.