- Religion and Media:No Longer a Blindspot in Korean Academia
Guest Editors' Introduction
In contemporary social life, religion and media cannot be said to be separated. Contrary to the long-lasting understanding that the two are independent from each other, the spheres of religion and media are closely intertwined. Dynamic and increasing connections have been observed and reported by a range of scholars. Indeed, the scholarly interest in the relationship is a fairly recent one. Only thirty years ago, religion was just a blindspot within media studies (Hoover and Venturelli 1996). Similarly, media were an overlooked issue in religious studies.
However, the new millennium witnessed a fast-growing attention to the interactions in both fields, demonstrated by two simultaneously released pieces of literature. On the one hand, Journal of Media and Religion was launched in 2002 by a community of media scholars who had investigated the religious dimension of media-related phenomena. In the preface to the inaugural issue, the respected media scholar James Carey noted that "[N]one of these religious phenomena can be understood without reference to media that organize religious community, transcribe and embed religious belief, and create both collective memory and modern politics" (Carey 2002, 3).
On the other hand, a year earlier, a group of religion researchers collected twenty-five articles in an edited volume entitled Religion and Media. Hent de Vries and Samuel Weber, the volume's editors, summarized their efforts as confronting "the conceptual, analytical, and empirical possibilities and difficulties involved in addressing the complex issue of religion in relation to 'media,' that is to say, ancient and modern forms of mediatization such as writing, confession, ritual performance, film, and television, not to mention the 'new technological media,' of which the Internet is the most telling example" (de Vries and Weber 2001, vii). [End Page 5]
Certainly it is not true that the study of religion and media belongs solely to these two fields. The emerging academic concern with their intersection covers more diverse disciplines, such as communication studies, cultural studies, cultural anthropology, and literary criticism, to name but a few. The growing and interdisciplinary interest in the relationship between religion and media is now establishing a new and independent research "field."
Unfortunately, this is not yet the case within Korean academia, where the study of the intersection is still an unpopular and, in a sense, unauthorized subject for both media and religion students. Although the Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies, the largest organization for media/ communication studies in Korea, has a division of Religion and Communication, its visibility in the Society remains marginal. In religious studies, although there are some researchers exploring the religious dimensions of journalism and popular culture, their understanding of media is not sufficiently comprehensive.
In 2016, there was a promising sign in support of the contention of a bright future of the study of religion and media in Korea. The International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture, the most recognized academic group within the field, held its biennial conference in Seoul, the first time it had convened in Asia. Over a hundred researchers across the globe, including twenty-three from Korea, gathered in the city to discuss the significance of these intersections in explaining social life at both the local and global levels.
The Society's decision to meet in Seoul was based on their firm belief that Korea was an appropriate venue when it came to the group's development. First, Korea could be a useful hub for the group's hope to expand its boundaries beyond North America and Western Europe. With its longstanding cultural and religious traditions, Asia is a high-interest area in the field's effort to collect data on and analyze a wide variety of interrelations between religion and media. Second, they also believed that both the religious and media contexts of contemporary Korea per se would produce many insightful and promising findings, which could prove a great contribution to the field. Following Korea's so-called "compressed modernization," the social and cultural environment experienced by Koreans in their everyday lives has recently gained global attention, largely due to the country's...