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


4th Annual Conference for the Mediating Religion Network

June 24-26, 2012
NYU Center for Religion and Media

The conference is being held by invitation. 

Organized in collaboration with the international Mediating Religion Network. Funding provided by the Henry R. Luce Foundation initiative in Religion and International Affairs.

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)?

We also asked several other questions that we have reproduced before the panel sessions below that seemed especially to address them.  But the  papers track among these concerns and speak across panels as well: we look forward to some good discussion over the two days we have together.

Presentation abstracts can be read here.

Presenter biographies can be read here.


Additional Readings.

The conference will be held in D’Agostino Hall, New York University School of Law, 108 West 3rd Street, between MacDougal Street and Sullivan Street. (View a map here.)


Evening drinks and hors d’oeurves, 5 – 7 pm
North Square Restaurant, Deco Lounge, ground floor of Washington Square Hotel, 103 Waverly Place

MONDAY June 25

9 –  9:30 Registration, breakfast

9:30  Welcome from Faye Ginsburg (Anthropology and CRM, NYU) and Marie Gillespie (Open University and MRN) Opening remarks, Angela Zito (Religious Studies and Anthropology, and CRM, NYU)

10 – 12 Pre-Occupied by the borders of art, religion and activism

How do we understand religion’s presence in various forms of cultural/political activism? How do religious modes give meaningful structure or authority to performative politics, particularly politics based on various ethical positions?

10:00 Ayala Fader (Fordham University) and Owen Gottlieb (NYU)
Occupy Judaism: “Bringing the Jews to Occupy Wall Street, Bringing Occupy Wall Street to the Jews” (Facebook, Occupy Judaism, 2011)

10:25 Nathan Schneider (The Immanent Frame, SSRC)
Is Occupy Wall Street All a Giant Art Project?

10:50 Elizabeth Drescher (Santa Clara University)
“Church as Occupied or Occupier?: The Ethics of Religious (Mis)Appropriation in the Trinity Wall St./Occupy Controversy”

11:15 Jolyon Mitchell (New College, the University of Edinburgh)
Contest @ St Paul’s: representations, descriptions and interpretations

11:40  Discussion: led by Faye Ginsburg (NYU)

12 – 1:30 LUNCH

1:30 – 3:30 Mass mediated sacrality

How do digital forms amplify religious influence in volatile political contexts, where the capacity of new technologies renders these processes visible and audible on the political stage?

1:30 Gordon Lynch (Religious Studies, University of Kent)
Media and the performance of the sacred in public life

1:55 Maria Jose de Abreu (University of Lisbon)
TechnologicalIndeterminacy: a comparative perspective on time and causation in religion, politics and media

2:20 Sean O’Callaghan (Politics, Philosophy and Religion, University of Lancaster)
Massacre as Performance Art: The very theatrical debut of Anders Behring Breivik.

2:45 Deborah Whitehead ( Religious Studies, University of Colorado)
“Tebowing” as Conspicuous Religious Practice”

3:10 Discussion: led by Angela Zito

3:30 – 3:45 Coffee/Tea Break

3:45- 5:45 Networking toward revolution

How is knowledge about religion and its implications for international politics, diplomacy and human rights being transformed via online commentary, citizen journalism, and the blgosphere?

3:45 Ramesh Srinivasan (Information Studies, UCLA)
Tahrir’s Networks of Faith

4:10 Yasmin Moll (Anthropology, NYU)
The Ethical Revolution: Islamic Televangelists and the Performance of  “Sincere” Citizenship in Egypt

4:35 Steve Knowles (Theology and Religion, University of Chester)
The Arab Spring, Digital Revolution and Fiscal Meltdown: Signs of the End or Symptoms of World Risk Society?

4:50 Nabil Echaibi (Journalism and Mass communication, University of Colorado)
Coffee Shop Islam: Salafyo Costa and the Promise of a Unified Egypt.

5:15-5:45 Discussion led by Faye Ginsburg

6:15 Keynote by  Charles Hirschkind
Salafi Islam, Online Ethics, and the Future of the Egyptian Revolution


TUESDAY June 26, 2012

10 – 12:00   Mediating ethical challenges and antagonisms

How does the eruption of violence associated with these contested arenas itself becomes the object of performative ethical critique, especially when particular events become memes re-presented and circulated in mediated form? How do ethical notions slip into the religious as they make their way into the very fabric of the performative?

10:00 David Herbert (Institute of Religion, Philosophy and History, University of Agder)
Spectacular and Banal Activism: Islam, Islamophobia, and the role of social and mass media in the Dutch culture wars

10:25 Ruth Deller (Meida, Sheffield Hallam University)
Portrayals of Religious Activism and Politicisation on British Television

10:50  Patrick Eisenlohr (Department of Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University)
Religious mobilization and minority activism: the “Muharram Awareness Campaign” in Mumbai

11:15 Elizabeth Poole (Media Studies, Keele University; co-written with Siobhan Holohan, Joanna Redden and Justin Schlosberg)
Do Diasporic or Minority Media Matter? Everyday Media Use among British Muslims

11:40 Discussion led by Marie Gillespie

12 – 1:30 LUNCH



David Herbert (University of Agder)
The history of the network

John Zavos (South Asian Studies, University of Manchester)
The MRN website – its growth and potential uses

Anita Greenhill (Business School of the University of Manchester)
Networks and publications – is this a route to sustainability?

Marie Gillespie (The Open University)
Established networks and funded research – what role can networks play in successful bids for funding? Or, How do funders view the developing role of research networks?

1:30 -3:30 Online live with worldly consequences

What new senses of self and community become available through online, digital networks and practices that are named as religious? What are the consequences for politics, power and authority, inside and outside religious enclaves? 

1:30 Sam Han (Sociology, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
The Performance of Christianity Online: “Liveness,” Banalization and Immanence

1:55 Alexandra Boutros (Communication Studies, Wilfred Laurier University)
Religion, what is it good for?: The reclaimed religiosity of a black digital counter public

2:20 Rachel Wagner (Religious Studies, Ithaca College)
Shooter Religion: changing the rules of inter religious encounter

2:45 Emilio Spadola (Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University)
SHOCKING JIN GHOST VIDEO!!!!!! Exorcism in ISLAM!!!!!!!: jinn, black magic, spiritual,  (Online Exorcisms as Call to Islam: Call to Islam as Exorcism)

3:10 Discussion led by Angela Zito

3:30 – 3:45 Coffee/Tea Break

4-6 Rites of citizenship

How does the mediation of religious engagement inform senses of “moral citizenship” and dissent? How can the global visibility of media either support or distort the recognition and representation of religious organizations and their particular ways of operating in localities?

4:00 Paul-François Tremlett (Religious Studies,  The Open University, UK)
Occupying the Neo-Liberal Frontier: Moral Citizenship, Digital Organization, Spectacular Indignation

4:25 Jone Salomonsen (Theology, University of Oslo)
Massacre and Media in Oslo on July 22, 2011.

4:55 Stephen Pihlaja (The Open University, UK)
Freedom to offend: The use of antagonism in the performance of free speech on You Tube

5:20 Marie Gillespie (Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at The Open University, UK) co-written with Mina Al Lami and Latefa Guemar
Dissenting Citizens, Islamist Politics and Social Media Activism:  The Egyptian Elections 2011-12 and the BBC Arabic Service

5:45 Discussion: led by John Zavos

Farewell drinks at the Law School, 6-7