Mediascape of Religion

I presented a historical overview of religious media and mediated religions in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, looking at how the different mediascapes reflect different political and social backgrounds, in my paper ‘Media Games. Projecting Faith in Space and in Time’, in the panel ‘Religion and Media in Translation’, presented at The 20th World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (15-21 August, 2010, Toronto, CANADA).

Given my extensive fieldwork in Taiwan, I have done in-depth research on Buddhist documentaries and cartoons produced by the local Buddhist organisations. Preliminary results of my research were presented in paper ‘Dharma into Motion Pictures. Hermeneutics of Animation in Contemporary Chinese Buddhism’, paper delivered at the International Conference Visualizing and Performing Buddhist Worlds (2-4 November, 2007, Toronto, CANADA). A revised version was presented under the title ‘Dharma in Motion Pictures: Buddhist Cartoons and Documentaries in Contemporary Taiwan‘, at the Conference of the International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture (4-7 August 2014, Canterbury, UK). This work has become a chapter in the forthcoming volume Religion and Media in China.

I have also done research on the presence of children in religious films (or films with a religious message). My research has investigated which dimensions of faith and religiosity are visualized through children’s experience of religion. Based on the psychological dynamism behind and within children’s spiritual experience, my work analysed the recovery of myths, the performance of rituals and the formulation of religious quests in the “fantasy world” of the childhood. The first part of the research underlined the interplay of adults and children in the recovery of the pure religious teachings, as well as in the ongoing journey of self-discovery of the main characters in the films. The second part moved the attention to the fields of visual arts and visual culture, and focused on the aesthetic dimension of those religious experiences. This part developed a discussion on religious symbolism, colors, visual metaphors and effects that define what I have called an ‘innovative religious iconography’, where the borrowing of traditional religious iconography is integrated with the adoption of innovative symbols. The results of my study have been delivered in several talks: ‘Baby Faith in Motion Pictures? Discovering the Childhood Experience of Myth, Ritual and Religious Quest in East Asian Films,’ presented at The 7th International Conference on Media, Religion and Culture (9-13 August, 2010, Toronto, CANADA); ‘Baby Faith in Motion Pictures? Visualizing the fantasy world of the childhood religious experience in East Asian Films’, invited lecture at the University of Regina (4 February, 2011, CANADA); and ‘Baby Preachers in East Asian Films: Discovering Children’s Messages of Faith in Motion Pictures’, invited lecture at Penn State University (1 March, 2011, USA). I am currently revising my findings towards publication.

More recently, I have worked on online Buddhist rituals in contemporary China. My study explores how the overall ritual discourse – and especially the traditional Chinese Buddhist ritual discourse – is affected and reformed through the adoption of online ritual devices. Secondly, I asked how we should classify the setting of the online ritual practices. Does it belong more to the religious ritual context or does it rather participate in the media world? Finally, I assess to what extent Buddhist practices subvert, complement, or strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s patriotic agenda. My study thus contextualizes these popular online Buddhist ritual practice within the party-state’s patriotic ideology (aiguo zhuyi 爱国主义), analyzes its coexistence with the political ideas in force, and questions the degree to which it serves the aims of the CCP. A first version of my work was presented in ‘Buddhist cyber-activities and state-led nationalism: Interpreting contexts and modalities of online Buddhist ritual practice,’ paper delivered at the AAS Annual Meeting (27-30 March 2014, Philadephia, USA). A revised version of this paper has been delivered in Paris, (17-18 October 2014), at the conference Buddhism After Mao: Exploring Chinese Models of Religious Productionwith the title ‘Buddhist Cyber‐Activities in Contemporary China:Assessing Contexts and Modalities of Online Buddhist Ritual Practices.’ 

I have looked at religious films in terms of filmic texts and filmic scriptures. This study was delivered in ‘Buddhism and ‘Animated Texts’: Mapping a New Discourse of Post-Secularism’, invited paper at the workshop Texts and Otherness: Politics, Empire, and Post-Secularism in Religious Studies, 2-3 May, 2009, at the Center for Jewish Studies of Baylor University; and later revised for the paper ‘Buddhism in “Animated Texts ”: When Projecting Images functions as a “Textual” and “Scriptural” Practice’, delivered at the AAS Annual Meeting (31 March – 3 April, 2011, Honolulu, USA). This work has become a chapter in the forthcoming volume Textual vs. Extra-Textual: Dynamics of Religious Authority in East Asian Buddhism.

Recently I have given a talk at the University of California Santa Barbara with the title The Mediascape of Religion in China (20 November 2014); my lecture argues that such a ‘mediascape’ has provided believers with different modalities of relation to their own faith, brought crucial transformations in the social role played by the religious communities, undermined and sometimes overturned foundational elements of Chinese religions, and revealed various forms and levels of political intervention in the religious sphere.

I am the editor of the volume Religion and Media in China: Insights and Case Studies from the Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong, London and New York: Routledge; published in November 2016, this is the first volume on the theme of religion and media in China.