Supernatural as news, spiritual as newsy

Supernatural as news, spiritual as newsy: Religious experiences through the news media in urban India

Sahana Udupa

completed


In contrast to (uneven) scepticism about the relevance of religion in ‘secular-modern’ West, there has always been little doubt on the salience of religion in the Indian public domain, partly owing to the integuments of orientalist scholarship. By the same token, there is less hesitation to acknowledge the constitutive presence of a variety of media for religious practices – classical and folk art, music or cinema. The preponderance of religious idioms, images and icons in the popular media reveals that religion in India cannot be fully understood without exploring its public expressions in the media. However, recent expansion of mass media networks in the country has significantly transformed the nature of intersections between religion and media. 
On the one hand, media technologies are increasingly harnessed by a range of religious groups and ‘secular-spiritual’ organizations to expand their public presence. On the other hand, a highly competitive media market has induced a rush among commercial media players to wrest largest volumes of lucrative audience segments. Consequently, religion itself has become part of commercial media’s efforts to devise attractive content formulae in the war for numbers. If this suggests strategic use of religious content for commercial ends, the apparent success of religion-based television programs and published columns signals larger trends in reinventing religion in multiple forms, with multiple terms of engagement among heterogeneous publics.

The proposed study focuses on two such programs within the mainstream commercial news media – serials on supernatural practices in regional language television channels and published columns on spirituality in the elite English-language press. The aim is to explore how they unfold as mediatised religious objects of production and reception in urban India, and how religious aspirations are shaped by these interlaced circuits. The larger context is the dramatic expansion of news media networks and urban India’s highly uneven integration into the global economy in the last two decades. The globalizing city of Bangalore provides the lens to understand the dynamics of media-religion interface in ‘liberalized’ India, and the role of religious news programs in shaping regional political power as well as cultural politics of globalization.