Professor Peter Horsfield has just completed a major work looking at the influence of media in the historical development of Christianity.
It's the first systematic survey of the place of media in the evolution of a religious tradition.
What is your current research focus?
The interaction of media and religion has been a field of growing interest in recent decades because of the rise of new religious movements that are using media very effectively, and increased youth interest in mythology, spirituality and the esoteric in general through social media and popular culture.
Much of the thinking about these phenomena deals with them as if they are new, because the media being used are new media. What's been lacking is a historical perspective. My work provides that historical perspective.
My approach was to take a religious phenomenon, in this case Christianity, and track how its use of media and its interactions with the technological and cultural requirements of media, shaped what it has become. No one has done such a systematic historical survey of media and religion before.
Have there been any unexpected outcomes from your research?
Strangely, most studies of Christian history simply ignore the influential role that media played in some of the key events that shaped Christian development. My study casts a new light on some of those events.
It's been good to do a study like this in a school of media and communication, rather than a school of theology or a school of history. It brings new tools, new disciplines and fresh perspectives to an old field and in the process throws new light on current social and political developments.
How is your research relevant to current issues?
Sexual abuse by church leaders is a not new phenomenon. What's different is media changes that have undermined the power of churches to control people's information in order to protect their cultivated public image. The challenge for churches today is to act in ways that demonstrate that they have genuine integrity in a media age of transparency where they can't control information.
Similarly, the way religious groups use the media today to promote fear and enlist members also has links to Christianity’s past. The Christian crusades that ran for 500 years and the Inquisitions that ran well into the 19th century were mediatised religious terror activities that are still remembered and set models for other religious media uses today.
Professor Horsfield’s new book From Jesus to the Internet: A History of Christianity and Media will be launched at RMIT on June 17 by the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.