Religion has become a matter of intensified public concern, and a vehicle for diverging opinions in public discussions. How do various media condition public engagement with contested issues about religion? This is the overarching question for the CoMRel project (Co for Conflict, M for Media, Rel for Religion).
Findings and results from the project are published in the book Contesting Religion. The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflicts in Scandinavia from De Gruyter in Berlin and Boston (2018). The book is available as paperback and in Open Access for free from www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/478981
CoMRel has done case studies in Norway, Denmark and Sweden within three different environments: public service media, local contexts for civic participation, and classrooms in public schools. Public service broadcasting has a strong position in Scandinavia, extended to the internet. The book highlights these studies:
The Norwegian case is an online ethnography of a Facebook group established to campaign for the right of a television news anchor to wear a cross pendant. A range of participants (conservative Christians, nationalists, humanists, fervent secularists, and ardent atheists) with various agendas can be said to be 'hijacking religion' and contesting the role of religion in multiple ways. This study sheds light on the role of affect and trigger themes (such as immigration) in amplifying and subduing mediatized conflicts about religion.
The Danish case study of the TV documentary Rebellion from the Ghetto focuses the inclusion of minority voices and how framings of religion influence the discussion. By consciously downplaying the role of 'religion' and framing conflicts in terms of personal experiences and universal themes, the documentary managed to set the scene for a debate in which young Muslims' various experiences were given authority.
The Swedish researchers analyse how the radio programme People and Belief enables and structures the actors and issues that become heard in debates, particularly with regard to Islam. The programme aims to present an alternative to the dominant negative media discourses. Despite these efforts, the programme tends to reconstruct, rather than challenge, the dominant frames of Islam as a problem for society and for the relations of power between the majority and minority voices in public debates.
Conflicts over religion in civic settings are researched in studies on how local Christian publications relate to national debates on asylum seekers, and on minority tactics applied by young Muslims faced with negative media framing of Islam. The former indicate that local Christian groups welcome and support arriving refugees and asylum seekers, in contrast to national policies. The other study investigates dynamics of minority-majority religious interaction in two localities in Norway with a strong Muslim presence. Newly arrived Muslims enter interreligious dialogue initiatives to counter media portrayals of their minority group and to perform belonging to the Norwegian nation.
The third field under study is upper secondary school interactions on religion and ethics. The researchers explore how a media-saturated classroom intensifies and broadens dynamics of academic boredom. Media materials primarily chosen for their entertaining and attention-grabbing qualities make up a substantive part of the observed lessons. Focusing on conflicts and controversies around religion, these media materials are used in competition with a multitude of options provided by laptops with internet access. In the observed classrooms, this use of conflict and entertainment-oriented media materials result in the reproduction and reinforcement of stereotypical and exotic representations of religion. In the teaching on Islam, by constantly addressing the news coverage with the intention of nuancing and correcting problematic representations, the result may in some instances rather be to reinforce and confirm the association of Islam with terrorism, conflict, and controversy established by the media.
Islam is perceived as a threat to national culture by approximately half of the Scandinavian respondents, according to CoMRel's survey from 2015. At the same time a large majority in all three countries expressed that hostile attitudes towards foreigners should not be accepted.
Despite a general awareness among media producers and teachers to overcome the negative media framing of Islam and Muslims, the case studies show that the frame is difficult to overcome: the dominant images of Muslims and Islam are continuously reproduced and remediated in all of the Scandinavian settings.
CoMRel is informed by theories on the mediatization of religion, and of mediatized conflict. This concerns how culture and social relations are shaped by the intensification of mediated communication in contemporary society.
More at: www.hf.uio.no/imk/english/research/projects/comrel/
Engaging with Conflicts in Mediatized Religious Environments (CoMRel) har tematisert medienes rolle i samfunnskonflikter om religion på utvalgte arenaer: rundt programmer i allmennkringkasting i Skandinavia, i lokalmiljø i Danmark og Norge, og i undervisningen om religion og etikk i videregående utdanning i Sverige og Norge. Prosjektet har formidlet til brukermiljøer på alle disse tre arenaer, og gjennom sluttkonferanse i Litteraturhuset i Oslo. Denne fikk forholdsvis bred mediedekning. Prosjektet får virkning over tid inn i akademiske miljøer gjennom boka fra prosjektet, CONTESTING RELIGION. The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflicts in Scandinavia. Boka er tilgjengelig som rimelig paperback fra De Gruyter i Berlin og i Boston, og for gratis nedlasting kapittel for kapittel som Open Access. Manus til boka ble brukt i masterundervisning for studenter i medievitenskap og religionsvitenskap ved UiO våren 2017.
This project addresses the SAMKUL call on religious environments by focusing on the intertwined role of media and religion in contemporary conflicts and tensions.
The main aim of the project is to examine how religion in public spaces becomes thematised and enacted through the media and further articulated in social interaction, both as objects of conflict and resources to handle tensions. Through this, the project develops knowledge about the changing patterns of social interaction and communication du ring times of conflict in Norway and the other Scandinavian societies
The conflicts that are addressed are around the legitimate uses of public spaces. The empirical studies relate to three arenas where people engage with conflicts over religious symbols , artefacts and claims made visible through the media:
1) contested media voices in the main public service broadcasters in Scandinavia,
2) local communities with mixed religious population and a large segment of Muslim citizens, and
3) classrooms in pu blic schools with pupils from varied religious backgrounds.
Researchers from Uppsala and Copenhagen contribute to the international comparison. The national collaboration is between the University of Agder, MF Norwegian School of Theology and the Univers ity of Oslo.
The project is theoretically informed by research on the mediatization of religion. This concerns the restructuring of culture and social relations following the intensification of mediated communication in contemporary society, including th e moulding of religious imaginations and interactions.
In secular Scandinavia conflicts over religion always carry with them a tension to the secular. This project understands religion to be clustered around religious groups but also present in disperse d forms where religion as symbols and discourse create environments for communication and contestation over common values and identities in the current differentiated public sphere.