Religion and media are increasingly converging because of the changing nature of an integrated, globalised world, according to several experts who presented their views at an international conference on religious communication - writes Chris Herlinger.
Religion and media "are integrated because they're both part of the culture, part of the fabric of everyday life", Stewart Hoover, a researcher of religion and the media based at the University of Colorado, said during the the Religion Communication Congress 2010, held 7 to 10 April in Chicago.
"One of the reasons religion persists is because of the media," noted Hoover at the once-every-10-years conference, saying people live in a world where things are "fluid" and "interactive".
Still, in a digital age, religious institutions are not only becoming "media-ised", as Hoover called it, but are facing the challenge of loss of authority, partly the result of a media-fuelled "marketplace of symbols".
Asked by Ecumenical News International about the implications of these changes on historic, non-evangelical Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church, Hoover said the changes had proven challenging to both.
"We talk too much," Hoover, himself a Protestant, said about why historic Protestant churches have not fared well in the new environment. As for the Catholic Church, he said pre-existing weariness and suspicion of institutions is a contributing reason for the degree of recent anger over the Catholic Church's response to its handling of sexual abuse cases.
Hoover stated that one reason for a decline in institutionalised religion is that "for too long, we believed our mediation of the message was significant.
"It's not," he argued, asserting that Buddhism is now attractive to many, in that "in some quarters, it is seen as not being sullied by institutions. It is seen as 'pure religion'."
The professor stated that, "There has not been a decline of religions, but of authority."
Still, authority can also be "built through the media", said fellow Colorado University researcher and scholar Nabil Echchaibi, noting the media's key role in what he called a wave of Islamic revivalism.
Religion Communicators Council website: www.rccongress2010.org
Chris Herlinger, who writes out of New York for ENI, is a member of the New York chapter of the Religion Communicators Council, one of the congress' supporters.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]