Monday, January 10, 2005

Paul Teusner - Religious Language

Hi everyone. I'm Paul and I'll be joining you at the Colloquium in February.

A small bit about me for starters. I'm a Uniting Chruch minister working in a youth service agency in Shepparton, Victoria, as chaplain and doing some work in suicide prevention and grief counselling in schools, as well as some work with young people from multicultural backgrounds. I'm also a student undertaking a TheolM course at the Melbourne College of Divinity, under the wise watch of Dr Horsfield. The title of my research thesis is Crossing Over or Crossing Out? The Media's Influence in Young People's Religious Language and Imaginings. It's a lengthy title that presents an exciting challenge for a fledgling student commentator amongst all that has been finely studied and written before me.

Now about what I have to offer. George Lindbeck(*) writes that from a cultural-lingiustic point of view, religious change is not understood as emerging from new religious experiences. It is rather seen as coming out of changing situations within a cultural-linguistic system. When a certain way of ordering or explaining the religious character of a cultural group creates anomalies in its application to new contexts (eg. new media, new places and times of reception), new concepts, symbols and ideas are discovered that solve the anomalies.

I want to see how well this theory fits when we examine the differences in the language employed to communicate religious ideas in different conexts, and how this may impact on the way audiences receive and interpret the information to form a religious identity. The contexts I want to identify are:

1. Traditional mainstream protestant communities

2. Evangelical protestant communities (I know, I know: we could go to town trying to delineate between the two. I don't want to dwell on it, but will acknowledge that the definitions of such words, and the line drawn between them, are not clear, and both "mainstream" and "evangelical" streams exist in the same denomination)

3. Secular popular media (eg. film, tv shows - I'll just use a couple of examples)

4. Religious television, and

5. Religious web sites and accompanying discussion outlets

Basically, I want to know what the conditions are that create new ways of talking about, interpreting and experiencing religion in these media spheres.

Since the spectrum is so broad, I will be brief on each one, to the point of perhaps simplifying too much. But my intent is start a discussion and see where it goes. In the meantime, please send in your comments.

Paul Teusner

(*) George A Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine. London: SPCK, 1994. P. 39.