Good Reads: Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges

As a young scholar studying religion and new media I have not been exposed to much literature mentioning, much less focusing on, the role of gender. Mia Lövheim’s new edited volume, Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New Challenges is helping to fill that gap as well as encouraging more critical analyses of the intersection among the three areas.

The book opens with chapters focusing on literature that does exit in this area, how feminist and queer theories have and can shape the field, and methodological concerns and implications. These first chapters provide an excellent foundation on which the rest of the book is built. The following chapters are specific case studies focusing on different areas such the testimonial practice of Christian women through different media formats; gender representation in religious journalism; gender and sexuality constructed in Vodou online discussion forums; Muslim women using new media to claim religious authority; and US cultural discourse on masculinity, media and religion.

Perhaps the most helpful case studies for new media and religion scholars were those that focused on online-offline life and social media. For example, new media like Facebook and Twitter are often lauded as tools through which users have their voices heard on their own terms. Klassen and Loften’s chapter analyzing how women give testimony about their faith through new media opportunities, however, problematizes these new platforms. Rather than becoming a liberating form of communication, they see these testimonial performances through social media as a further commodification of the Christian woman’s experience that takes place in an environment of increased theological judgment.

While Kalssen and Loften’s chapter problematized new media practices, others showed how they could be transformational and transcendent. Although not focusing solely on new media, Petersen’s chapter does show how social media participation was an essential part of the meaning-making process for teens’ understanding of romance and spirituality portrayed in the Twilight series. Likewise, Boutros used a transnational feminist approach to show how participatory media, like discussion forums, can foster “new forms of cultural productions” of gender and sexuality as well as “new social relationship around religious identities,” (p. 108).

Media, Religion and Gender provides a good overview of feminist and media theories, some discussion of methodological matters, and case studies that begin to fill the gap in the literature. However, the book is heavy on feminist and mediatization theories while only contributing one chapter to studies of masculinity, and one chapter with some discussion of queer identity. While there is a need for more focus on queer and masculine theories, the edited volume is still an essential guide for the growing discussion surrounding gender in media, religion, and culture studies.