Reflections on Mystic Media Conference at Univ of Fribourg

Presentations at the mystic media conference at the University of Fribourg-Switzerland, 10-12 May 2012, brought together a variety of disciplines (Art history/archeology, Communication, Religious Studies, History) to look for the connections between religious rhetoric and meaning making and various forms of communicative medium. Mystic Media was used as a fluid concept talk about at how various mediums have become infused with spiritual meaning or engaged with different religious practice and communities across time. For me the key theme which emerged was the importance of grounding reflection of religion and media in broader historical and theoretical context in order to make a true and vibrant interdisciplinary conversation possible. Together through presentations and conversations it became clear we shared conceptual links in our work even if our approaches varied greatly.

I was very interested that a number of speakers demonstrated that the connections between mysticism and mystical discourse and various communicative technologies is not new. There is a long tradition of communicative artifacts to be infused with religious significance. Othmar Keel from the Univ of Fribourg argues this can be seen as far back as the significance given Egyptian Scarabs as religious-like postcards to the afterlife enacting mystical narratives of the regeneration power of the sun god. We also hear about the practice of “drinking the Quran” and how consuming verses as a therapeutic practice points to the need to pay attention to what happens “behind the back door” instead of in front of the “mosque” when we consider media consumption practices. Thus studying the mystical nature of contemporary media requires a broad historical approach and cultural perspective.

It was also provoking see how ancient religious discourses, imagery and ideas are often evoked to mark off the mystical significance of technological and scientific innovations, and how such speech acts lead to reinterpretation of their initial meaning in both playful and trangressive ways. This was seen in a talk given by Kocku von Stuckrad from Univ of Groningen as he unpacked references to the Human genomic project, which were described as “unlocking of the book of nature/life” which shifted the notions from God having written this text to humans now being given power of the text. We see that that the social significance of different technologies is often explained with mystical imagery and religious texts and discourse have become interpretive frames for explain the cultural importance new medium.

In conclusion I see that studies of digital religion should not only continue to include diverse conversational partners, and situate itself within larger studies of historical-cultural media practices, but also expand to consider aspects of material religious practice in relations to digital technologies and cultures.