I will examine the cultural expression of religion, and discuss the role that the media, through its various agencies, has played in facilitating changes in the ways that religion is performed in Australian society.

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Paul Bestwick   118984   HGA101   Assessment Task Two   Due Date 03.05.2012

            The world is comprised of various and unique bodies of individuals who by virtue of their interdependence form what we know as societies.   Every human society has its own particular culture, or sociocultural system, through which human expression is represented in fields such as art, science, religion and philosophy.  In this essay I will examine the cultural expression of religion, and discuss the role that the media, through its various agencies, has played in facilitating changes in the ways that religion is performed in Australian society.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 1901, 97 percent of the population identified with some form of Christianity data and therefore I present that as the position by which I discuss the change in religious practice since that time.  I give a brief account of church history and discuss the importance of the Gutenberg press as a forerunner to modern media.  Essentially, I compare the relationship between this early media type and religion to those same actors in the modern Australian era.  My main point discusses the manner in which the modern media has been a vehicle through which celebrities have used the power conferred upon them, through their celebrity status, to challenge the established dominant religious status quo and to influence change in spiritual practice.  I argue that in translating their personal spiritual beliefs into the public arena, these cultural meanings and associations have been assimilated and become commonplace throughout society (Turner, 2004, p.17); thus we see a rise in the popularity of these alternative spiritual beliefs whilst traditional church attendance declines.  I conclude in examining the way the Catholic Church is currently viewed in Australian society, particularly in relation to issues of sexual abuse within the ranks of the priesthood.  I contend that this issue has largely contributed to a loss of credibility for the church in Australian society and therefore a decline in the numbers attending Catholic Church services.


           The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity, around A.D. 300, marked the beginning of the legitimisation of the Christian religion, which would grow to become the dominant ideology for the majority of the Western world.  This also represented the beginning of the Catholic Church, which has over many centuries been the dominant spiritual body representing the Christian faith. During this time, the Catholic Church would occupy an indomitable position as the supposed sole legitimate repository of spiritual truth and the true authority of God.  The appearance of Gutenberg’s printing press in the mid 15th century would facilitate a challenge to the Roman church that would ultimately result in a reduction in its influence and power. Gutenberg’s invention enabled the mass printing of material such as pamphlets and books; for the first time in history, the means existed by which views that challenged the traditional authority of the Catholic Church, could be distributed widely throughout society.  To this end, Martin Luther, a German professor of theology, published his grievances against the church in the famous Ninety-Five Thesis, and also produced a multitude of pamphlets and books which spread throughout Europe, and would ultimately lead to the Protestant Reformation (Edwards, 1994, p.2).   Thus we see demonstrated from the very outset, the power of the press in facilitating change, even in deep-seated cultural traditions.  This marked the point where society moved from feudalism toward capitalism, and the beginning of the period known as modernity.  Ultimately, oral traditions would be replaced by modern methods of communication and the rise of the mass media.  Chris Rojek postulates that the end of the feudal system and the weakening influence of the church created a vacuum, in which cultural capital was transferred from the aristocracy to the self made man; “and celebrities replaced the aristocracy as the new symbols of recognition and belonging”(2001, p.14).

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             Marshall suggests that the amplified discursive power conferred by celebrity status gives celebrities “a voice above others, a voice that is channelled into the media systems as being legitimately significant” (2004, p. X).  Often, this is seen in the daily parade of celebrity news across the media, the discourse of these stars often having a profound influence over their audiences, who in many cases, have entered into unreciprocated parasocial relationships with their idols.  The term “parasocial interaction” was coined to describe the one-sided relationship in which one party knows a great deal about the ...

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