From Jesus to the Internet
From Jesus to the Internet
The documents and other survivals of the past are dead to us until we ask them a question, until we want to know something from them .
(Benedetto Croce, 1917)
What's this book about?
Interest has grown in recent decades in how media and religion interact and are connected. This interest has been stimulated by two current phenomena: the global spread and rapid take-up of new media on the one hand, and the reemergence of religion into the public domain as a significant global and cultural force on the other. The concurrence of these two phenomena has prompted people to wonder about whether and how the two are connected.
The interactions between media and religion were studied to some extent through the twentieth century. These studies tended to use a narrow view of media as primarily instruments for carrying messages or information. They also tended to view religion primarily as what was happening in religious institutions. The primary focus therefore was on how religious leaders and institutions used media to communicate their messages.
More recent studies of media and religion have taken a different approach. Working from a more cultural perspective, they view media not as individual instruments of communication but as part of a conglomerate of technological and nontechnological social mediation by which people access and contribute to processes of making meaning in their lives.
This approach also sees religion in broader terms. Rather than focusing on religious institutions, this view sees religion as something that occurs as people work with symbolic resources provided by their culture to create meaning for their daily lives, to share experiences of awe and mystery, to explore new alternative realities, and to manage the anxieties and unfilled possibilities of life.
While significant work has been performed in recent years in studying media and religion from this more cultural perspective, most of the work has lacked a historical dimension as a way of relating what is happening now to what has happened in the past. As a result, a lot of thinking about media and religion sees what is happening today as a distinctly modern issue.
This book provides some of that historical perspective through a focused study of one of the world's major religions, Christianity, examining the ways in which the processes of communication and technologies of media have conditioned how Christianity has developed historically. The intent is not to provide an encyclopedic description of all the ways in which Christianity has been mediated. It is, rather, to provide a historical survey, setting a framework within which specific instances may be examined in greater detail.
Doing so requires first clarifying some perspectives.
What do we mean by Christianity?
Christianity has its origins in the activities of Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jewish peasant who emerged as a charismatic religious reformer, preacher, teacher, faith healer, and miracle worker in the turbulent eastern Roman region of Galilee and Judea around the period 27-30 CE.
Today that Jewish peasant is revered as the founder and central figure of the global religion of Christianity, an immensely diverse religion whose adherents and followers make up around a third of the current world's population. Its members include Nobel laureates and uneducated peasants, high-income urban professionals living in the richest cities of the world and poor rural workers in the poorest countries of the world, the literate and illiterate, lawmakers and lawbreakers. The name "Christian" has been applied equally to people living within the feudalism of the Dark Ages and people living in today's globalized, technological world. Being Christian has been claimed by soldiers and pacifists, dominators and dominated, leaders who have sacrificed their lives for the defen