Mediated Political Religion

This week we read Stewart Hoover’s latest article for IJOC on Trump’s Lafayette Square Bible photo-op. Our conversation explored the false binary between religion and politics and the importance of mediatization to contemporary politics. Hoover claims the event “was an act of mediation, a visual articulation of an argument,” while advocating that media studies needs to take religion more seriously. This issue of the digest includes an introductory tweet about the incident and reflections from CMRC fellows.

Stewart’s recent article analyzes certain symbolically potent images like the now infamous photo of President Trump in front of St. John’s Church. This article details the recent controversy over an ad, produced by the Trump campaign, which pairs narration about how Americans “won’t be safe in Biden’s America,” with menacing background music and an image of the former Vice President kneeling in a Black church, surrounded by Black religious leaders. It is interesting, and symptomatic of hypermediation, how these very carefully staged images—what Boorstin calls pseudo-events—can connote equally legible yet  very disparate meanings among different publics. 

–– Art Bamford

I became caught up in a passing mention of W. J. T. Mitchell’s concept of images “wanting” something (paywall). Hoover connected the “want” of Trump’s images to the idea of religion as political currency. Politicos and scholars alike are familiar with the idea of politicians using religion as a tool to appeal to voters (there’s a great monologue about this in a later season of The West Wing), but this practice often gets shrugged off or mired in debates about authenticity. I think the Lafayette Square photo-op, the Trump presidency broadly, and Hoover’s article force us to finally examine how religion operates as a public currency in U.S. politics. How does our analysis of religion and politics shift if we interrogate religion as capital? How does media fetishize religion and further the economy of religion in the political market?

–– D. Ashley Campbell

Religion is complex, and, as Hoover’s recent piece demonstrates, it requires serious attention from media & communication scholars if we seek to understand the current political & cultural landscape. I was further struck with the recognition that Hoover’s insights are invaluable for those who actually identify as religious. I know of so many Christians who are completely baffled by the religiously coded actions of Trump and Trump supporters who identify as Christian. Christians don’t understand their fellow Christians, but we media and/or religious studies folks can provide resources to make sense of all the layered signifying that is taking place.

–– Rachel van de Merwe

It was an eternal month ago, but I can’t get out of my head this article on the “white power faction” that the Catholic Church has harbored—an article whose controversy, removal, and return caused the dethroning of Jim Wallis from the editorship of Sojourners magazine.

–– Nathan Schneider