- Quoting God: How Media Shape Ideas about Religion and Culture
Quoting God: How Media Shape Ideas about Religion and Culture, edited by Claire Hoertz Badaracco, is a volume that explores the vast array of "conversations" among religion, culture, and media. The main idea of the text explores the position that "mediated religious culture is not just a two-way street—two [End Page 173] oppositional forces of theoretical and applied views in creative tension or dialogue—but a confluence of multimedia, social attitudes, political climates, and public opinion" (7–8). Through diverse essays and articles, the reader is drawn into these overlapping conversations.
A fundamental theme of this book is the production of "social 'texts' in all facets of media, with an emphasis on news, but including material culture" (10). Emphasis is placed on the protean identity of the storyteller—those reporting a story to an audience—through the exploration of social texts and the formation of cultural identity. This approach is a great strength of the text. In doing so, it offers an ethical challenge to the creators of media, particularly journalists, to report in responsible ways on issues regarding religion and culture.
Each chapter is structured as an essay/view from the news desk couplet. These couplets are paired by related, but not identical, topics. In each case a lengthier article precedes the view from the news desk. For example, the first essay is by John Schmalzbauer, who writes about "Journalism and the Religious Imagination." He explores the presumed narrative amorality of journalism and suggests that narratives are never neutral. Immediately following Schmalzbauer's essay is one by John B. Buescher, "Radio in Tibet: A Portable Window on the Sacred," in which he discusses his experiences in radio broadcasting. He emphasizes the responsibility radio broadcasters must embrace inasmuch as the broadcast can both inform and give identity to a fragmented community.
These chapter couplets serve not only as examples of the "conversations" Badaracco discusses but also as examples of the diversity within those religious/cultural/media conversations. In particular, Schmalzbauer's and Buescher's essays highlight a main theme of the book—the nature of the identity of the storyteller ("never neutral") as well as the technologies employed by those narrators. The couplets also critique a current lack of ethical responsibility that is common among many reporters when it comes to religious matters.
The text highlights the ethical responsibility on the part of the storyteller in the essays by Howard Dorgan and Adam Phillips. What these two essays provide is a critical commentary on the often intrusive—and abusive—manner in which media reporters attempt to get information for their stories concerning religion, religious beliefs, and spirituality. In response, they offer an alternative approach to ethical responsibility that seriously considers the Self/Other relationship as one that must be built upon trust gained through shared experiences between the narrator and the Other.
A second major theme stresses the changing nature of media because of technological advances. Badaracco writes, "technology has changed the role of media from agenda setter and gatekeeper to an as-yet-unnamed role that has [End Page 174] to do with the perception of self-identity and the scale and scope of the self in relation to the local, regional, and universal community" (2). What Badaracco asserts here, and the remainder of the book assumes, is that religious attitudes and beliefs are necessarily shaped and re-shaped by media, and the main reason for the media's increasing influence is because of technological advances that are all-pervasive in our culture and within our intricate social contexts.
Badaracco's observations are indeed important and relevant to discussions of religion and culture, and the media that influence them. In our society, it is typically believed that media are simply meant to be used/utilized/consumed, and audiences are typically blinded to the influential messages contained within the media they consume. Put another way, media are "texts" the audience believes can be conquered by consumption and...