Books Review


Edited by Claire H. Badaracco, Baylor University Press, USA .2005, pp. 317, ISBN: 1932792066 Reviewed by: Mirza Asmer Beg

This book tries to explore how media deal with religious news. It also looks at how traditional and emerging religions mix the language of ‘spiritual authenticity and authority’. The book questions whether the place of the religious writer has a theological or philosophical rationale and cultural consequence that leads to the formation of deep culture. It focuses on the problems of cross cultural formation of religious information and its impact on both the practices that make up surface media culture and the deeper culture.

The emphasis of this volume is on the media and the language of cultural configurations where the factors of interpretation of public texts give shape to the concept of national and individual identity. Particular emphasis is upon the production of social texts in all facets of media, with particular stress upon news, but including material culture.

The editor is interested in the cultural identity of God as ascribed to the unknown by the secular forces, chief among which is the global news and mass media industry.

While the substance of this book builds on prior academic discussion from fields where religion is not the focus of concern, it is engaged with the intellectual problem of how the public reader looks at the mystical connection between words and common language over a period and how that influences their interest in the similarities between the ancient and new, that reside in the historical and collective memory.

The essays in this book are based on field experience and academic research aimed at presenting the interaction between the spiritual and secular. The basic concern is how images in the cultural public sphere impinge upon an individual’s perception, group’s understanding and national identity.

The operational concern underlying this book is how power relationships affect the beliefs of men. ‘Personal and subjective beliefs about value and truth shape objective storytelling- construed as subjective when aesthetic in visual communication, but as objective when occurring in news reporting and ethnography.’ (p.12-13)

This book in the first section delves into the legal and constitutional parameters of national identity and the ideological preferences of those in the news rooms where the religious public square is structured. The media in the Middle East is studied and the relationship between politics and religion systematically analysed. The second section dissects the theme of reporting across cultures as active participants and observers. The evolution of religion from the private realm to the public, and its representation in the media is also discussed. Aslam Abdullah makes a brief but strong case for putting an end to the stereotypical presentation of Muslims in the western media. C. Welton Gaddy calls for the need today of mutual respect among all religious peoples in America. He argues that religious rhetoric should be prominent in a nation’s life without it getting vitiated by selfish interests.

The third section analyses the dichotomy between faith and reason. It also looks at the inadequate representation of religions issues in the media due to the complex nature of religious issues. The book has elaborate notes at the end which add up to its academic worth.

In this age when news media are generally understood to be anti-spiritual and organized religion, in turn, perceives media to be anti-moral, this book is a useful reader for those interested in understanding the interaction between the media and religion. The only shortcoming in this book is that some important issues like working of the media in the Middle East have not been dealt with as incisively as the other issues which the editor has tried to touch upon.

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