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Religion and Television in the Arab World: Towards a Communication Studies Approach

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This paper explores the contribution communication studies can make towards a better scholarly understanding of religious talk on Arab television. It offers four theoretical avenues, backed up by examples, to address not only what is at stake in the televising of religion on Arab channels but also the validity of adopting a communication studies approach. First, the political economy of communication can situate religious programs as a link in the chain of a veritable industry of religious by-products and services, where commercial benefits are not guaranteed. Secondly, discourse analysis situates religious speech on television at the intersection of internal and external logics, to consider how much religion there is in religious programs. Thirdly, to theorize religious talk in terms of the public sphere is to problematize the application of a concept with historically specific connections (to the Enlightenment) to discussion of non-Western contemporary reality. Fourthly, conceptual tools from sociological audience studies can help us to see whether the craze for religious programs is related to their intrinsic qualities or whether there are other, more contextualized, ways of reading the relationship that viewers maintain with on-screen religion. The four pathways proposed here converge in seeing religious talk on television as a social phenomenon and, as such, capable of being construed as an object of sociological study.


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