Religion and Media Seminar Day

Religion and the Media: Seminar Day

14 August 2012


Room B.23

Department of Biblical Studies

45 Victoria Street

11am-12 Welcome followed by James Crossley and Jackie Harrison: ‘Religion’ and ‘atheism’ according to the British media

12-1 Tim Hutchings: The role of new media in death and mourning

1pm-2 Lunch

2-3 Caitlyn Gifford: Reporting ‘religion’ in the Arab Spring

3-3.30 Tea, coffee etc.

3.30-4.30 Katie Edwards: ‘Religion’, Bible and advertising


Bible, Zionism and Palestine: Registration Open

The registration details are to be found here. Here is a convenient summary:

The full cost for the conference (for non-students) is £70. Please note that the cost of the conference covers lunches, dinners, receptions, tea and coffee breaks and attendance to the whole 3 days, but does not include evening meals or accommodation…The basic student rate (without tea, coffee and lunches) is £15, and the student rate including tea, coffee and lunches is £30.

The full program will be up shortly but details of a number of confirmed speakers (well worth a look…) are available here.

Beyond Belief: the Bible and the Humanities Curriculum

Not quite media but well worth mentioning:

Beyond Belief: the Bible and the Humanities Curriculum

Join us for a day-colloquium of papers and discussion on the role of the Bible in the Humanities and the Curriculum. The colloquium will be of particular interest for postgraduates and academics researching and teaching literature, history, biblical studies or theology more broadly. Speakers will address literature ranging from the medieval through to the contemporary period.

Convenor: Dr Nicky Hallett, University of Sheffield

Our Keynote Speaker is Professor Helen Wilcox, University of Bangor. Professor Wilcox is a leading authority on George Herbert and a pioneer in the field of gender studies and women’s literature. Her three main areas of research interest include early modern English devotional writing, particularly lyric poetry; Shakespeare, particularly the tragicomedies; and women’s writing, particularly poetry and autobiography.

Where: University of Sheffield, Humanities Research Institute, 34 Gell Street, Sheffield, S3 7QY

When: Wednesday, 7 March 2012, from 10-4

Registration: £15 (Students: £10), which includes tea/coffee and lunch (vegetarian)

To secure a place register online no later than 2 March:

An HEA Philosophy & Religious Studies Subject Centre Funded Project

Extraordinary Christian Puppeteers

“The most bizarre, horrible, extraordinary piece of Christian puppeteering that I think you’ll ever see” – Andy Nyman

I’m not sure where to begin with an analysis of this so it is simply presented for your perusal…

Thanks to American Jesus (‘Your Daily Dose of Rapping Christian Puppets’), today’s interest in Christian puppeteering on TV began with a viewing of the Wiser Family Puppet Band:

I was instantly reminded of Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson reported on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, thus giving us a double dose for today (and there are more examples to click should you wish to up the dosage):

We don’t usually get this sort of thing in the UK.

Religion = Religious Affiliation?

The BBC has a report with the headline, ‘Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says’.The report claims:

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Their means of analysing the data invokes what is known as nonlinear dynamics – a mathematical approach that has been used to explain a wide range of physical phenomena in which a number of factors play a part.

Notice, in the reporting of this study, there is the equating of ‘religion’ with ‘religious affiliation’. We might think that if ‘religious affiliation’ is on the decline, that is one thing; if ‘religion’ is on the decline, then that is something else, is it not? Several commenters clearly thought something like a human phenomenon called ‘religion’ was due to become extinct.

If, hypothetically, ‘religious affiliation’ did disappear in these 9 countries, what would that mean for ‘religion’? Would it mean that symbolic systems were exinct? Belief in the supernatural were no more? ‘Myths and legends’ gone? What if someone had no affiliation but believed in a supernatural creator? Already we are at that endless problem: defining ‘religion’. But whilst this definition may be difficult/impossible as a precise essentialist definition, it is clear that how ‘religion’ is constructed by interested parties is much more plausible, and probably much more fruitful.  In the case of this report, there is probably much more that could be said beyond the equating of ‘religion’ and ‘religious affiliation’ but one feature is that this is filed under ‘science and technology’ which may in part account for reporting and interpreting the data in the language of ‘extinction’.

Two Postdoctoral Fellowships at the University of Sheffield

De Velling Willis Fellowship, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Sheffield

Available to work in any area relevant to the disciplines covered by our constituent departments

Contract Type:  Fixed term for two years.

Salary: Grade 8 £37,012 – £44,166 per annum pro-rata.  .

Closing Date: 17 February 2012

From the advert:

The two post-doctoral fellows will work to develop their research beyond their doctoral studies, generating new publications and establishing the next stage of their career as researchers. Outreach and public engagement work will be encouraged, and, in line with the ethos of the Faculty, the fellows will also be encouraged to engage and work with new audiences, particularly in the local region.  This is an opportunity both for the fellows to make significant career strides in a research-intensive environment and for the faculty to benefit from the vision, dynamism and enthusiasm the fellows will bring to the role.

Fellows will already have an impressive track record in research, evidenced by high-quality publications.  They will be people who are clearly able to communicate their ideas to a range of audiences, from funding agencies to non-specialists.  They will be researchers with the capacity to motivate and inspire others and who are clearly destined to be research leaders of the future.

Applicants should possess (or be close to completion of) a PhD in a relevant discipline (or have equivalent experience) and specify their area of expertise/interest in their online application.

The post is fixed-term for two years.

For full details see here.

What the Pope Really Thinks about Gay Marriage: Roman Catholic Denial of Human Rights in the Guise of Human Rights Advocacy

A guest post by Deane Galbraith (University of Otago)

The speech by Joseph Ratzinger on 9 January 2012, delivered to some 180 international diplomats assigned to the Vatican [1], was widely characterised by the media as the Roman Catholic Pope’s clearest condemnation of gay marriage to date. According to reports, Ratzinger not only spoke against gay marriage, but in alarmist terms described it as ‘a threat to humanity’s future’.[2]

Yet Ratzinger’s condemnation of gay marriage was hardly as clear as most media reports initially suggested. In fact, it was downright cagey. Ratzinger veiled his condemnation of gay marriage in terms of an encomium to heterosexual marriage, an institution which he praised as the ideal setting for the education of youth. Yet by explicating ‘the family’ as that which is ‘based on the marriage of a man and a woman’, and then further commenting that this social structure is ‘not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society’, and in the same breath criticizing those who ‘undermine the [heterosexual] family’, Ratzinger was engaging in some decidedly shrill ‘wolf-whistle politics’—the technique employed by reactionary politicians, at least since the Willie Horton advertisement in the 1988 US Presidential campaign, to communicate racist, sexist, or homophobic messages via covert language recognized by like-minded individuals which nonetheless remains invisible or oblique to the wider public.

Notably, Ratzinger employs here the same ‘pro-family’ language employed by the opponents of the recent legalisation of gay marriage in European countries such as Holland and Spain. These words may form only a minor portion of Ratzinger’s speech, but it is naïve to conclude, as did Andrew Brown writing on his Guardian blog, that the Roman Catholic Pope made no especial reference to gay marriage as the cause of humanity’s imminent destruction. [3] Thus, Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella was quite right to characterise Ratzinger’s description of those who ‘threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself’ as a condemnation of gay marriage.

Moreover, Ratzinger has been wolf-whistling these anti-gay-marriage proclamations for some years now. Take, for example, his 2011 speech to the same group. Buried in a discussion of ‘principles’ guiding Roman Catholic diplomats assigned to influence various intergovernmental organizations is this vague yet allusive condemnation: ‘Even less justifiable are attempts to counter the right of religious freedom with other alleged new rights which, while actively promoted by certain sectors of society and inserted in national legislation or in international directives, are nonetheless merely the expression of selfish desires lacking a foundation in authentic human nature.’ [4] While even less explicit than the veiled comments against gay marriage contained in his 2012 speech, for the Pope’s more morally conservative listeners the allusions are clear: his reference to a ‘certain sector’ involved in ‘active promotion’ has overtones of that conspiratorial phrase, ‘the gay agenda’; references to ‘new rights’ and ‘legislation’ evoke the recent European gay marriage reforms (and it is no coincidence that this reference follows closely on Ratzinger’s ambiguous mention of ‘certain European countries’); the reference to ‘selfish desires’ reflects the longtime Roman Catholic stereotyping of sexual intercourse which is not for the ultimate purpose of procreation as mere ‘selfish’ concupiscence.

Although these connotations may have been lost on many who listened to Ratzinger’s speeches, they speak with a clear wink and a nod toward conservative Roman Catholics who oppose gay marriage. In addition, Ratzinger’s carefully chosen words allude to the phrasing of other more explicit Catholic pronouncements against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. For example, when Ratzinger indirectly addressed the legalization of gay marriage in Europe, while he appeared to emphasise the right of ‘the family’ to ‘educate the young’, he was employing the same connection between education and heterosexual marriage made in an article within the Catechism of the Catholic Church which deals with ‘marriage’ and ‘adultery’. [5] When Ratzinger addressed same-sex marriage so indirectly in a passage which may have seemed to most outsiders to simply deal with the right to educate children, he allowed the already-existing connections in the Catechism to fill in the blanks for those who were ‘in the know’. What else does that particular article of the Catechism contain? It also happens to explicitly describe ‘the conjugal love of man and woman’ as the properly ‘ordered’ form of sexuality and, conversely, ‘homosexuality’ as a ‘disorder’. While Andrew Brown’s Guardian blog was correct that gay marriage was not explicitly mentioned in Ratzinger’s 2012 speech, what he misses is the way in which Ratzinger’s allusive wolf-whistle rhetoric speaks all the more forcefully to those Catholics who have a persecution complex that leads them to interpret ‘secular’ developments such as the legalization of same-sex marriage as an attack on their own ‘religious rights’.

Although Ratzinger adopts the guise of ‘human rights’ language, it is here, in what he duplicitously terms ‘religious rights’, that we discover his true concern. Underlying Ratzinger’s speeches to the diplomatic corps is a disingenuous defence of the language of ‘human rights’ to oppose certain human rights. The language of ‘human rights’ pervades the literature produced by the diplomatic service of the Holy See. But what markedly distinguishes the human rights discourse of Ratzinger’s own diplomats (‘nuncios’)—apart from the exclusion of women from their ranks —is their proclamation of what is ‘authentically’ human. According to Ratzinger, the ‘religious rights’ of Roman Catholics can be compromised merely when countries or intergovernmental organizations recognize rights which are contrary to Catholic doctrine, which as such are not properly ‘human’ rights at all. For Ratzinger, the protection of purported ‘religious rights’ demands that the rights of some humans should not be recognised. Foremost among these human rights precluded by religious (Catholic) ‘rights’ is of course the legalisation of gay marriage, which affords all the legal entitlements available in heterosexual marriage to those who want it. For Ratzinger, heterosexual marriage is authentically human; homosexual marriage is inauthentically human.

The use of this rhetoric of dehumanisation to deny certain groups of people their rights has some horrific examples in recent history, including Germany’s holocaust of Jews, Roma, and homosexuals; the Hutu extermination of Tutsi; and the United States’ torture and sexual abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Professor Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite deadpans, ‘to have a rigorous concept of “human rights” you have to see other people as human.’ Thistlethwaite’s Dreaming of Eden sketches how ‘the conservative theological view of “big sinners” and “the innocent people” actually helped in the justification of torture [by the US in Iraq].’ [6] Similarly, Ratzinger’s speeches to the diplomatic corps perpetuates a division of humanity into the ‘authentically’ and ‘inauthentically’ human—those acting in accordance with God’s will for humans and those who do not—as an attempt to justify the denial of legal rights to the latter.

Behind Ratzinger’s opposition to gay marriage is the doctrine that humans were created imago dei (in the image of God), which is how the creation of humankind (both ‘male and female’) is described in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:27). Although some theologians employ the imago as a basis for according unqualified respect for all humans, Ratzinger’s approach demonstrates how the concept can just as easily be deployed to depreciate actually existing humans and actual human sexual relationships by excluding rights and dignity from those deemed to improperly reflect the divine image, that is, humans who fail to be properly human. Ratzinger, along with his worldwide diplomatic corps, have justified their denial of human rights to a sector of society, while maintaining the guise of being advocates for human rights. Now that is a level of convolution and tendentiousness that truly deserves the name ‘theology’.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, ‘Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See’, Vatican: The Holy See, 9 January 2012,

[2] Philip Pullella, ‘Gay Marriage a Threat to Humanity’s Future: Pope’, Reuters, 9 January 2012,

[3] Andrew Brown, ‘Yes the pope is Catholic. But he didn’t say gay marriage threatens humanity’, Andrew Brown’s Blog; The Guardian, 11 January 2011, See further the letter sent in reply to Andrew Brown by Philip Pullella, published by Andrew Brown (‘Why I shouldn’t have been upset about the reporting on the pope’s speech’, Andrew Brown’s Blog; The Guardian, 15 January 2012,

[4] Joseph Ratzinger, ‘Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps’, Vatican: The Holy See, 10 January 2011,

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, part 3, section 2, chapter 2, article 6,

[6] Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Dreaming of Eden: American Religion and Politics in a Wired World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Deane Galbraith

David Cameron’s Liberal (King James) Bible

Yvonne Sherwood [1] has shown that a powerful tradition of understanding the Bible, certainly among political establishments but also more widely still, has been what she calls ‘the Liberal Bible’. For Sherwood, the Liberal Bible is supportive of ‘freedom of conscience’, ‘rights’, law, and consensus. This has produced the mistaken assumption that the Bible is the foundation of Western democracies, or at least complements Western democratic thought, and masks the modern origins of this strand of biblical interpretation in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. Sherwood’s reading of this powerful interpretative tradition echoes a number of readings (e.g. McCutcheon, Martin, and the work we’ve been doing at CFOM) of the ways in which ‘religion’ has been constructed in relation to the nation state and politics: removal of any problematic otherness to make religion more palatable.

There is increasing evidence (including some forthcoming) that this Liberal Bible continues to dominate the handling of the Bible in the British media and political establishment. An excellent example of this liberal accommodation of the Bible was David Cameron’s recent suggestion at the closing of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible that Britain needs to be understood as a Christian nation. What is particularly interesting about this notion is that the nation is Christian not in the sense that we should all be going to church, singing hymns, praying to God, fasting, dealing with heretics, vigorously converting non-believers and so on but rather a thoroughly liberalised (in the political sense) notion of what a ‘Christian country’ ought to be, with anything unpalatable to this notion of the nation state removed. In Cameron’s speech, ‘Christianity’, along with the King James Bible, is viewed (anachronistically, of course) as bringing forth attributes of a modern vision of the ‘secular’ nation state:

…human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy…the first forms of welfare provision… language and culture… the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy…the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women… Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities these are the values we treasure. Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that. But they are also values that speak to us all – to people of every faith and none.

In other words, it would presumably be pointless asking what would Cameron have made of the book of Joshua, smashing babies heads against rocks, labelling Gentiles ‘dogs’, condemning the rich to Hades, or weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Bible, and this understanding of ‘religion’, has effectively been colonised and drafted in to the service of liberal democracy.

[1] Yvonne Sherwood, ‘Bush’s Bible as a Liberal Bible (Strange though that Might Seem)’ Postscripts 2 (2006), pp. 47–58

James Crossley

Welcome to Religion and the Media

This new blog is going to be dedicated to all things media and religion, usually with some connection to issues relating to media freedom, linked as it is with the Centre for Freedom of Media at the University of Sheffield. In addition to news and updates, there will be regular analysis from a variety of people both linked to the Centre in someway and guest bloggers. For (marginally) more detail see the About page.

More to follow…