Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


7 June 2018

Religion as Political Communication

Presented By Dr Line Nyhagen (Social Sciences), Dr Alexandre Christoyannopoulos (Politics, History and International Relations), PhD student Richard Li (Social Sciences), Loughborough University
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About this event

Religion is communicated politically in multiple ways: by religious institutions and individuals, by governments with different approaches to religion, via various artistic and cultural expressions, by secular news media, and via digital platforms and communities (Lundby 2017). The types and contents of politically communicated religion are diverse and complex, ranging from the Church of England’s conservative stance on marriage as reserved for heterosexual couples, French lawmakers interpreting religious symbols such as the veil as ‘too political’, the West-End musical success ‘The Book of Mormon’, terrorist acts of violence committed in the name of religion, to representations of ‘Muslims’ as a non-diversified group. Religion can communicate political stances in both direct and indirect ways, such as when drawings of the Prophet Mohammad are considered as unacceptably irreverent expressions of free speech, or when specific positions on abortion, creationism, stem-cell research and euthanasia are inferred when someone declares their stance as ‘religious’. In this symposium, internationally leading scholars on religion and politics are invited to address and debate religion as political communication. 


10:00 Welcome and introductions

10:15 Dr Elizabeth Poole (Keele University)
Contesting #stopislam: Political frictions and appropriation in online spaces

10:45 Professor Jolyon Mitchell ((University of Edinburg)
The Ambivalent Role of Religion and the Media Arts as Political Communication in Israel /Palestine

11:15 Q & A session

11:45 Lunch and networking

13:00 Dr Jasjit Singh (University of Leeds)
The construction of ‘Sikh radicalisation’ in Britain

13:30 Professor Mia Løvheim (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Religion, mediatization and a changing political landscape 

14:00 Q & A

14:30 Coffee break and networking

15:00 Roundtable discussion

15:45 End of programme

Speakers’ abstracts:

Elizabeth Poole: Contesting #stopislam: Political frictions and appropriation in online spaces
This paper sets out the findings from a research project which examines the circulation and dynamics of a racist online campaign that subsequently provoked counter-narratives against right-wing populism. Using #stopislam, a hashtag that trended on Twitter after the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, the research shows how particular discourse communities emerged from attempts to spread and counter hate speech. As well as analysing the specific narratives and counter-narratives contained within this ‘discursive event’, the paper discusses the extent to which participants succeeded in establishing alternative frames that informed mainstream media reporting. 

Seeking to explore the role of online platforms in the self-representation of marginalised groups, the research also advances recent work that examines how activists navigate tensions associated with digital platforms (Dencik and Leistert, 2015).  Our findings suggest that while the contestation of #stopislam is a productive instance of online appropriation, these campaigns are difficult to sustain in the face of the tight-knit extreme-right networks.

Jolyon Mitchell: The Ambivalent Role of Religion and the Media Arts as Political Communication in Israel /Palestine
Through this illustrated presentation Professor Mitchell will explore how the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine is represented and interpreted by religious leaders, journalists and artists in Israel / Palestine. In particular, how political communication and religious beliefs can be combined and then embedded in local reflections on contested spaces and contested histories. Recent original interviews and research in Jerusalem, and beyond, will be drawn upon to illustrate different aspects of the ambivalent role of both religion and the media arts in inciting violence and promoting peace.  

Jasjit Singh: The construction of ‘Sikh radicalisation’ in Britain
In the lead up to the November 2015 visit of the Indian Prime Minister to the UK, Indian media claimed that Mr Modi would be presenting a dossier on ‘Sikh radicalisation in Britain’ to his counterpart David Cameron, asking for strong action to be taken against British Sikh groups trying to revive the demand for a separate Sikh state, Khalistan. Alongside this, a number of recent incidents and protests have taken place involving Sikhs in Britain, indicating for some, rising levels of ‘Sikh extremism’ and ‘Sikh fundamentalism’.

In this paper I examine the construction, framing and realities of ‘Sikh radicalisation’ in Britain. Beginning with an analysis of the representations of Sikhs in British media I present a model of Sikh activism in Britain based on a literature review, ethnographic fieldwork and a series of semi-structured interviews with ‘Sikh activists’. What is meant by ‘Sikh activism’ in its various forms? Who or what are targets of such activity?

Mia Lövheim: Religion, mediatization and a changing political landscape
Scandinavia, often perceived as the most secularized corner of the world, is undergoing profound changes in the public discourse on religion. In the last decades references to religion, in particular Islam, have increased in parliamentary debates as well as in secular media. While news media focus on Islam in a context of terrorism and migration, debates on opinion pages and social media tend to cluster around religion and national identity, and the relation between freedom of religion and liberal-secular democratic values such as gender equality. These debates show how new lines of conflict and actors emerge in the political landscape, often drawing on personal and affective rather than rational and (perceived) objective arguments. Drawing on findings from recent Scandinavian research projects this lecture will discuss how the theory of mediatization of religion can contribute to understanding the change from religion as a “non-issue” to a vehicle for political communication in Scandinavia.