Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Religion in the Digital Age: Media, Performance and “Spectacular Activism”


Religion, politics, and performance have been deeply intertwined with the contemporary circulation of media in the recent unprecedented social and political upheavals in the Middle East, North Africa, and the burgeoning Occupy movements throughout the world. We have seen public spaces transformed into contested arenas for staking political, and ethical claims on the body politic through creative performances, ranging from the dramatic to the comedic. These and other sites of recent “spectacular activism” have gripped the public imagination over the past year, as have prior movements such as Gandhian satyagraha, the American Civil Rights movement, and the role of Buddhist monks in the Burmese Saffron revolution. This conference invites analysis of the role of religion in mediated performances of all sorts in these and other local political and cultural movements that have garnered attention on the world stage.

We ask: How are questions of social justice, ethics, and morality taken up/reframed/ introduced by participants who have become involved as members of religious groups? How do different performative genres drawing on religious idioms – including comedy, melodrama, political satire, narrative film, television, digital video — underscore dominant or offer alternative narratives to hegemonic understandings of what constitutes contemporary religion, and what impact does this have on these movements? What is the relationship between “liveness” and virtual circulation (such as You Tube)?