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This study questions how religious webmasters view the objectives of their webcasting in relation to pilgrimage. Findings uncovered four facets: (1) mediation of the holy sites and experience; (2) bonding between Holy Land communities and global believers; (3) cultivating agents; (4) media experiences as a pilgrimage surrogate. Drawing on Walter Benjamin, the study elucidates how online videos evoke proximity to the sacred, thus connecting holy sites and believers, while affirming webmasters as secondary actors of religious authority.
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Digital Pilgrimage: Exploring Catholic Monastic Webcasts
Oren Golan, PhD
Michele Martini, PhD
Abstract: This study questions how religious webmasters view the objectives their webcasting in
relation to pilgrimage. Findings uncovered four facets: (1) Mediation of the Holy Sites and
Experience; (2) Bonding Holy Land Communities and Global Believers; (3) Cultivating Agents;
(4) Media Experiences as a Pilgrimage Surrogate. Drawing on Walter Benjamin, the study
elucidates how online videos evoke proximity to the sacred, thus connecting holy sites and
believers, while affirming webmasters as secondary actors of religious authority.
Key Words: online video, authenticity, religion, pilgrimage, digital religion
The rise of online videos and their viral popularity on social platforms (e.g.
YouTube, Vimeo) is dramatically reshaping power relations in multiple life spheres
(politics, economics, education) and challenging well-established authorities. From online
sermons to ISIS beheadings, religious and fundamentalist movements are frequently
turning to video as a medium through which they communicate religious, political, and
cultural ideas. However, despite video’s widespread use and profound impact in religious
and social movements, it remains largely untouched as a subject of scholarly investigation.
In spite of their traditional inclinations, religious movements have taken notice of
the potential of online videos to communicate with their extensive and far-flung publics
and to embed virtual spaces with holy attributes. The ephemeral and de-territorialized tracts
of cyberspace evoke questions about the motivations and aims of religious agents to utilize
new media in general, and videos in particular, to advance their ideals and represent pious
pilgrimage activities. Although monks are often deemed as out of the modern world, the
internet offers them opportunities to engage society without breaching monastic boundaries
(Jonveaux, 2014) and at the same time enables believers to traverse geographical and
economical limitations and relate to sacred experiences and sites. Accordingly, this study
examines religious videos as an emergent, popular platform, and specifically questions
how religious movements and their agents, such as website operators and
stakeholders, view the mission and objectives of their video productions.
By exploring the agenda of these new media producers, the study aims to elucidate how
online videos are perceived by religious entrepreneurs as new tools to support their struggle
for exposure, legitimacy and centrality. To illustrate, in recent decades, massive rates of
conversion have changed the religious landscape for millions of believers. This is most
apparent in the case of Latin America as data indicates that until the 1960s, least 90% of
its population was Catholic. Nowadays, but 69% of adults (425 million) across the region
identify as Catholic (the Pew Research 2014), of which two-thirds have joined Charismatic
Catholic movements. Simultaneously, about 75 million Catholics have converted to the
competing Charismatic Pentecostal movement (Lehmann, 2013; Chesnut, 2009). We argue
that these rapid shifts in religious identities are related to the incorporation of ICTs and
media strategies by religious institutions. Furthermore, media efforts to pivot religious
identities ultimately legitimize a particular religious prism, fostering an acceptance of
religious directives that are embedded within the constructed belief system.
Thus, we contend that the emergence of video production within the Catholic world,
focusing on the Holy Land, highlights a growing dynamic between traditional and new
sources of authority in today's information society. It also illustrates tensions that the
internet generates for various faiths and denominations that are attempting to maintain
traditional boundaries while simultaneously reaching out to present their unique identities
To this end, the Canção Nova (literally, “New Song”), a Christian monastic and
missionary group, was investigated in Israel. The group is a collective appointed by the
Roman Catholic Church and the Franciscan monastic order to operate a Christian media
apparatus in the Holy Land. Given the Canção Nova's emergent global prominence in
evangelical outreach within the hierarchical structure of Catholicism, its study enables us
to observe the relationship and the interaction between new visual media and a well-
established religion. Uncovering the worldviews of religious video production agents
elucidated a perception of videos as a key medium to engage believers, communicate the
aura of holy sites (in Walter Benjamin’s term), and advance social solidarity among
Catholic believers. Furthermore, given the significance of religious videos, this
investigation illuminates the emergence of contemporary digital religious leadership and
entrepreneurship. These agents seek to innovate the traditional mode of proselytization
through new media. Additionally, the study offers insight on the encounter between
modern means (spearheaded by ICTs), traditional communities, and the process of
legitimation of these emergent tools.
The Rise of Online Religious Videos
Religious videos have been noted as a tool of proselytization and community
building in numerous past studies. Perhaps most notable of those studies is the research on
televangelism that presents it as a powerful 20th century religious outreach tool (Rosenthal,
2007). Contemporary studies of Televangelism (cf. Thomas & Lee, 2012 collection)
highlighted the negotiation process that occurs in audiences of different faiths through
visual mediation. This process no longer necessitates an allegiance to traditional
institutions and authorities. In the comfort of a domestic environment, believers are
addressed by Charismatic speakers, such as renowned televangelist Joel Osteen, who
regularly connects with millions of households.
Adding to the televised experience, this form of religious visual communication has
recently spread to YouTube and other mass video platforms, thus reflecting an overall
convergence of media platforms (Jenkins, 2006). YouTube and other video sharing
websites have been highlighted in recent years (Martini, 2013, 2015), as unprecedented
arenas of community building and knowledge transfer. Concurrently, scholars have asked
how visual media facilitates community expansion and also strengthens bonding (Burgess
& Green, 2009; Lange, 2014; Orgad, 2012). An exception can be seen in Shouse & Fraley’s
(2010) study, as they analyze a music video that uses blasphemous humor to criticize the
rhetoric of televangelists' media production, which aligns with a more generalized criticism
of religion in American popular culture, especially among young consumers of media.
While humor continues to be noted as a popular form of resistance towards authority in
videos, some studies examine how religious conflicts and political perspectives are
negotiated through the use of videos (El Marzouki, 2015; 2013; Van Zoonen, Vis, &
Mihelj, 2010). Accordingly, these scholars explore how websites are perceived by users as
an arena that facilitates expressions of dissent and public responses. Through their
discussion of emergent "video battlegrounds", these recent studies highlight the ability of
videos to re-affirm political creeds and communal religious affiliation.
While televangelism and online videos have been documented as tools for emergent
and charismatic groups, such as the Pentecostal movements in Brazil and Africa (Haynes,
2013), the response of orthodox and religious institutions, such as that of the Catholic
Church, has been largely unstudied. To this end, this study focuses on the video production
and online distribution of the Catholic Church and its key agents in the Holy Land.
The Rise of Video Use in the Catholic Church
As indicated above, despite its orthodox and traditional inclinations, the Catholic
Church has gradually integrated the use of media into its outreach strategies. Some scholars
contend that the Church’s positive attitude towards the media dates back to the 1920s and
the Vigilanti Cura papal encyclical of 1936 which discussed cinema's potential to
disseminate Catholic ideals (Ortiz, 2003, p. 182). The Pope's encyclical coincides with the
1928 founding of media-oriented Catholic organizations (i.e. the International Catholic
Organization for Cinema and the International Catholic Association for Radio and
Television). Additionally, in 1948 the Catholic establishment founded The Pontifical
Commission for Social Communications to address concerns about religious education
posed by the emergence of the audio-visual era (Campbell, 2010, p. 36).
By the mid-20th century, visual media were gradually legitimized for training
priests and socializing youth. A notable top-down occurrence in this legitimization process
was the publication of the Pastoral Instruction Communio et Progressio (1971), that
portrays media as "gifts of God" for furthering salvation. The subsequent Apostolic
Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi by Pope Paul VI (1975), also supported the institutional
use of media for evangelical purposes. This embrace of media manifested in the
proliferation of numerous initiatives over the years, such as the international Radio Maria
or the Catholic TV Network in the US. Several papal proclamations made since 1967 for
“World Communication Day” discuss the rationale guiding this legitimacy. In a recent
address, the Pope stated that:
In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source
of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus. This
sharing consists not only in the explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness,
in the way in which they communicate “choices, preferences and judgements that are fully
consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically” (Benedict, 2011).
These public communications are addressed to church leadership and clergy,
clarifying the official position. While some religious groups object to social media as a
source of sin and profligacy (Golan & Campbell, 2015), the Catholic position stated above
reflects a perception of social media as conducive to the transmission of the faith’s key
values and authentic expressions of religious/Christian behavior. Accordingly, pious use
of social media is encouraged as it affords a manifestation of Christian gospel by believers
in everyday life and sets religion at the forefront of the public sphere.
Beyond the official position of the Catholic Church, some studies focus on web-
related behavior of Catholic users and producers. In their seminal study, Cantoni and Zyga
(2007) surveyed email users about internet use in monastic congregations focusing on
gender and monastic structure. This study mapped the use of ICT and the internet within
the Catholic Church. Overall, they point to a growing use of the internet, which aligns with
the findings of the Jonveaux study of monastic uses of Facebook (2014). However, both
studies reveal digital gaps in internet use. This gap may stem from the nature of their
connection with the world (most prevalent among female orders), which is manifest in
monasteries' institutional policies to either develop a website and email connection, for
example, or alternatively to eschew digital engagement as part of their withdrawal from
the modern world.
In a comparative study, Noomen, Aupers & Houtman (2011) discuss different-faith
webmasters (i.e. Catholic, Protestant, Spirituality) employed in religiously inclined media
outlets in Holland. The authors uncover tensions that webmasters face in light of growing
internet use and its related threat of secularization. Among Catholic respondents, the
scholars underscore web designers' struggles with the dilemma of either following Roman
orthodoxy or fostering dialogue and diversity. This study's focus on religious webmasters
elucidates the negotiation process between Catholic media content producers and the
sensibilities of their audience. However, the study’s authors do not engage in an analysis
of any produced media content, nor do they address the Catholic international outreach
objectives or praxis.
Pilgrimage, Catholic Media Entrepreneurship and the Holy Land
Catholic tradition has repeatedly emphasized the significance of pilgrimage as a
key activity for its believers and clergy. Ethnographers and social scientists frequently
frame pilgrimage as a rite of passage involving transformations of one's inner state and
outer status (Badone, 2004; Coleman & Eade, 2004). For believers, pilgrimage often entails
a spiritual endeavor and a pursuit of healing from a physical/spiritual malady. Thus, for
believers, the experience of a pilgrimage entails a quest to engage the transcendental via
physical effort and proximity to sites accepted as mediums to the divine.
For Christians, the Holy Land has always been a religious focal point of supreme
importance. Scholars note that although the practice of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy
Land is traced to the 4th century, the number of pilgrims has varied throughout history
(Coleman & Elsner, 1995). Some scholars assert that the rising tide of modern pilgrims
may be linked to the emergence of tourism as a global practice (Badone, 2004; Coleman
& Eade, 2004).
While pilgrimage is usually a corporeal practice, the emergent institutional efforts
to transfer this religious experience to the online sphere challenges deeply entrenched
assumptions and practices with regard to religious authority and the religious experience
of believers, therefore inviting scholarly attention.
Furthermore, several distinct lines of research are evident in the study of the
mediatization of religion and of religious videos in particular. Some academics examine
growing online dissemination of family videos (e.g. Bar Mitzvah affairs, confirmation
ceremonies) (Schwartz, 2010); others have studied the endeavors of televangelists doing
outreach through their charismatic individual enterprises, such as those of Jerry Falwell or
Joel Osteen, religious celebrities who regularly connect with millions of households (cf.
Rosenthal, 2007; Thomas & Lee, 2012 collection). Finally, some scholars have
investigated religious rituals (on videos, Second Life and similar topics, see Grieve, 2015;
Falcone, 2015) that are performed online as part of a groups effort to mediatize their
religious experience, well demonstrated by the political plight of the Tibetan Buddhist
diaspora that impacts their physical access to holy sites (Helland, 2015).
While these lines of research have advanced the discussion of the forms and
functions of religious videos, key issues of religious experience and authority remain
understudied. This dearth of research can be addressed through the lens of digital
pilgrimage. The allure of these digitized visuals may be comparable to fascination with
religious icons and relics, and their perceived affinity to the transcendental. With regard to
religious authority, study of the phenomenon of digital pilgrimage may illuminate the
process by which emergent media authorities negotiate with the hierarchical establishment
of the Catholic Church. Indeed, holy sites have long been the visible domain of the Church,
and a key means to its legitimization. In the digital age, online access may represent a threat
to the Church's traditional mode of authority. We assert that the Church, through digital
pilgrimage, is expanding upon its various pre-existing means of imposing its authority, by
shifting from its traditional face-to-face mode of interaction with the public to a less formal
and more remotely transmitted influence on believers.
With the emergence of new media, affordable means of production and distribution
have enabled the creation of more extensive media content centered on key Christian
themes and holy sites. Historically, Franciscans operated as the Catholic order entrusted
with official custodianship of the Holy Land’s sacred sites. In January 2008, the Episcopal
Conference of the Holy Land gave a mandate to the Franciscan Media Center to use new
media to produce and distribute Holy Land-related communications. Hence, to fulfill the
Catholic-communicative agenda, the Franciscan leadership in the Holy Land (“The
Franciscan Custody”) forged an alliance with the charismatic and media-activist Canção
Nova movement.
Conceived as a direct outcome of the encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, Canção Nova
is a monastic Catholic community founded in 1978 in Brazil. Its growth can be viewed
largely as a Catholic response to the Charismatic Pentecostal revival that emerged in Brazil
(Lehmann, 2013). In recent years, the Catholic Church has entrusted this community with
an evangelical ministry and granted it official recognition as an Association of the Faithful.
Riding the wave of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, this community extended its media
activities to the EU (i.e. Portugal, Italy, Greece, France, and Cyprus) and beyond (i.e. Israel,
India, the US, and Paraguay) within just a few decades. By 2016 the movement’s pivotal
function had become media production, with videos distributed on its proprietary
moderated platforms (rather than Vimeo or YouTube). In the context of this developing
phenomenon, the present study aims to explore the motivating factors behind the
investments of time and effort by monastic groups as they engage in new media
Religious Videos and Approaching the Sacred: Reproducing Authenticity
While new media productions have emerged at the forefront of popular culture and
even at the forefront of religion, many have questioned their value and authenticity to both
web producers and their audiences. To explore this relationship, we suggest turning to the
scholarship of Walter Benjamin and his renowned inquiry on art and reproduction.
In his 1930s essays, most notably that of the ‘The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction’ (Benjamin, 2008 c1931), Benjamin discusses the capacity to
recreate the authenticity present in works of art in reproduced artifacts. He defines the aura
of natural objects as “the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.”
(2008, p. 285 c1931). Accordingly, Benjamin depicts the distance that exists between an
original (or authentic) experience and the work of art that approximates that experience (a
painting, for example). In contrast to artistic artifacts, Benjamin presents photographs as
reproductions that diminish and “weaken” an aura.
Benjamin highlights the roots of the aura and art in religious practice. He explains:
As we know, the earliest artworks originated in the service of rituals-first magical,
than religious. And it is highly significant that the artwork's auratic mode of existence
is never entirely severed from its ritual function. In other words: the unique value of
the "authentic" work of art always has its basis in ritual... (Benjamin, 2008, p. 24
Benjamin’s critique of photography is also linked to both the question of distance
and practice (see Fig. 1). He asserts that the proximity of a work of art to the original,
effectively mediates meaning among viewers. Photography however, due to its
reproductive nature, interposes distance from the authentic and inspiring original that is
being imitated, which mitigates its meaning.
Figure #1: Illustration of Walter Benjamin’s Discussion of the Aura
Benjamin clearly links film reproduction to art in terms of its impact on viewers
stating: “this can apply not only to art but (say) to a landscape moving past the spectator in
a film” (Benjamin, 2008, p.22). Consequently, contemporary discussions of the aura have
considered the experience of popular films, television programs, and of late, virtual reality
and new media forms, to approximate the auratic experience (Bolter, MacIntyre, Gandy,
& Schweitzer, 2006). We contend that exploring the experience of the viewer of art is
sharpened when discussing the relationship between believer and religious art, devotional
artifacts and holy sites. Arguably, these religious components bear a most powerful
“auratic mode of existence”, in the sense of awe they inspire, in their proximity to the
transcendental, and in their roles as instruments of ritualistic practice. Hence, religious sites
can be seen as a pinnacle of religious aura, as they embody a perceived proximity to the
divine. Hence, the question of the meanings of religious videos and their relationships with
physical spaces is of particular significance. This inquiry will be explored by investigating
webmaster worldviews regarding digital productions and computer-mediated pilgrimage.
The study focused on video production between March, 2015 and May, 2016.
Video production involves a rich plethora of converging digital means (cf. Jenkins, 2006),
and is a growing field in religious (and other) forms of outreach, as documented in scholarly
investigations of Televangelism (Rosenthal, 2007; cf. Thomas & Lee, 2012).
To understand the worldviews and particular position of webmasters (defined in
this study as religious web-operating staff, entrepreneurs and stakeholders) with regard to
their media production, a mixed method approach was designed that drew upon
ethnographic data gathered during fieldwork that included participant observations and
(1) In-Depth Interviews and Participant Observations - The researchers participated in
ceremonies in various monasteries and prominent holy sites in the Holy Land with
significant video production activity. These sites included the Church of the Nativity
(Bethlehem), The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Jerusalem), the Basilica of the
Annunciation (Nazareth), the Cenacle (Jerusalem) and others. Additionally, in-depth
interviews were conducted on topics relating to video productions. These observations
involved personal engagement with Franciscan and Canção Nova members, with
particular attention to the production staff. Accordingly, 25 in-depth interviews with
Canção Nova volunteers/monks/clerics that serve as webmasters were conducted. In terms
of sampling, it should be noted that the interviews were obtained through a snowballing
referral procedure that ensured trust by the monastic community and that facilitated access
to Franciscan elites and to key workers in media production.
Interview questions addressed the research objectives as described in Table #1:
Research Objective
Open-Ended Question
Perception and legitimization of video
as a religious tool
How does the visual character of new media
fit your evangelizing mission?
Religious motivations and perceived
How does the global nature of new media fit
in with your evangelizing mission? Is it
indeed a “global” mission?
Videomakers' creed regarding the
benefits of their media endeavors
What are the main services you provide and
how do they relate to your mission?
Perception of the value of religious
videos in encouraging the practice of
offline religious acts
Does the online exposure of religious rituals
enhance their importance? Why?
Taboos, boundaries and perceived
affordances of religious videos
Are there religious limitations to the filming of
rituals and holy sites? Why?
Perceived impact/experience of
religious principles and movements
Can an online video convey holiness? How?
Authority and status of the pilgrimage-
based religious movements
Do you know any other religious groups that
are making videos of the Holy Land?
Legitimacy, perceived status of video
In the long run, can videos be part of the
official (legitimate) Christian tradition?
Table #1: Research Objectives and Corresponding Interview Questions
(2) Exploring Digital Footprints -- To prepare for the ethnographic inquiry, a corpus of
Franciscan and Canção Nova productions were reviewed. These videos were from several
websites such as the Franciscan Media Center (, Terra Sancta Blog
( and TV Canção Nova Facebook Page (
Familiarity with these videos supported the discussions with webmasters and enriched the
understanding of the objectives and media productions of the interviewees.
(3) Categorization, Coding, and Comparative Analyses Fieldnotes, religious videos,
and interview transcripts were compared to elucidate web operators' perceptions about their
media activities. The interviews were coded thematically using the “Dedoose” mixed-
method analysis software. The codes were grounded in emergent topics from the fieldwork
with specific attention paid to key issues of pilgrimage, authority, religion, outreach, and
Review of the missions and objectives of webmasters indicated their attempts to
use video imagery to re-establish the Holy Land as a center of worship. Furthermore, the
videos provide a channel through which the Franciscans and the Canção Nova can redefine
their position and authority in the Catholic world. Key facets of the webmasters’ perceived
mission included:
1. Mediation of the Holy Sites and Experience Framing the role of the webmasters
and their produced digital artifacts as conciliators of place and religious narrative.
2. Bonding Holy Land Communities and Global Believers Promoting the
visibility and role of local Catholic communities in the Holy Land to the
international Catholic community.
3. Cultivating Agents Validating the role of webmasters as digital carriers of the
faith while enabling users to act as new media evangelists.
4. Media Experiences as a Pilgrimage Surrogate Framing new media as a proxy
for the physical act of pilgrimage.
1. Mediation of the Holy Sites and Experience
This facet focuses on the ways that monastic agents narratize holy sites. The Franciscan
Order considers pilgrimage to the Holy Land as well as to other important sites (e.g. Assisi,
Lourdes, Sanctuary of Greccio) to be a fundamental part of their mission. This facet
manifests in official communications of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, as
evidenced in an excerpt from their official webpage that describes their mission:
The friars have not only been the “guardians” of the stones and of those places in
order to preserve their value, but their mission has also been to make them living
stones, so that they speak to the heart and to the mind of all those who set off on a
pilgrimage in the Holy Land, to be able to see the “simple stones” as “beloved stones”
through their faith. (“The Franciscan mission in the Holy Land,” 2011)
Alongside the Franciscan Custody’s fundamental commitment to safeguard the
holy sites, this passage highlights their obligation to facilitate pilgrimage and educate
pilgrims through their religious journeys. The Custody organizes tours and meets pilgrims
at the holy sites to mediate their religious experiences in a face-to-face manner.
Concurrently, they act as webmasters for the Christian Media Center, advocating both
physical and virtual acts of pilgrimage to a global audience, as recurrently reflected in
webmaster interviews.
As one example, Jamal
is a seasoned Palestinian editor and graphic designer who
has worked on religious video and TV productions for several years. Jamal emphasizes the
significance of facilitating visual access to the Holy Land for international audiences. He
it is a way for people who cannot come here, at least, to see... the Holy Land. Even
from far away, even from the TV, it is beautiful to imagine the places where Jesus
was praying and etc. (Interview, Nov. 18, 2015)
Jamal stresses video media’s ability to stimulate the religious imagination of
viewers, utilizing an inspirational background for believers to envision key events of the
holy narrative.
This perception regarding media’s potential was a recurring theme among religious
webmasters. Victória is an experienced manager that formerly worked in the well-
established Canção Nova TV center in Sao Paulo and is currently a leading figure in the
Holy Land center. She discusses the value of the mediatization of holy sites by highlighting
viewers’ online religious experiences, with particular attention paid to pilgrimage
So we know that these things happened in history, but for those who believe and make
this experience with Jesus, this experience with God, to this person it is not important
that 2000 years passed. No. For this person, it matters that it was here where everything
happened. And I think this is what people want to see in the work we do, in the
transmissions, in the Masses, when we show a transmission, a Mass in one of the
Sanctuaries, for people this is what matters. It was there it happened. For these people
I think to revive all these things. (Interview, Nov. 18, 2015, Translated from
In her narrative, Victória highlights a dualist perspective of encounter with holy
experiences, which consists of a coexistence of the imagined past and the present
. Thus,
pilgrimage is recreated online and aims to juxtapose the holy past with the present digital
To conclude, in this facet, the mediation of the holy sites and experiences is
perceived by the monastic webmasters as a perpetuation of their religious creed.
Furthermore, it is evident that the videos are intended to amplify believers’ religious
imagination by presenting sacred places of biblical significance. Through this process,
webmasters forge an online dualistic approach in which they actualize the (imagined) past
and present events to create a meaningful experience for users.
2. Bonding Holy Land Communities and Global Believers
This facet demonstrates how monastic webmasters view their position as advocates
of local communities to an imagined (in Anderson's (1991) terms,) international-Catholic
audience. Imad, a Christian-Arab webmaster that works in the website's Arabic division,
explains his perspective on the role of media production:
This is our mission. To encourage people from outside to visit the Holy Land, to be
in contact with the communities here, different communities, and these videos that
we prepare can actually play a very good role, especially because they are spread in
different languages… in six languages including Arabic, English, Spanish, French,
Portuguese… (Interview, Sept. 11, 2015)
Imad views the videos as a vehicle to advocate pilgrimage for various populations,
as indicated by the diverse language offerings he mentions. Also, he advocates for pan-
Catholic interactions and fostering reciprocal relations between the local Arab-Catholic
population and international communities.
Other webmasters and stakeholders further elaborated on the significance of the
media representation of the local Catholic community. For example, Youssef, a key figure
of the Maronite Church in Israel and a religious media entrepreneur, expressed his view of
the local community’s representation:
We don't want the Holy Land to be perceived as a "museum". The presence of the
local Christian community... is an added value to what the Holy Land already is. It
is really important to make people know about the local community… they support
it because they appreciate the work and the meaning of this presence. And this, of
course, depends on the same community, on how they perceive their own value.
(Interview, Sept. 11, 2015, Translated from Italian)
Youssef emphasizes the importance of the local community and media production’s
role to underscore their significance to the Catholic world at large and also to communicate
the religious significance of the Arab-Catholic community as native inhabitants of the Holy
Land. This religious gravity and the local-international bond were further explored by
Paolo, a top official of the Franciscan Custody and key entrepreneur of the Christian Media
Center. Paolo reflects on the center’s objectives and on its organizational structure:
We have two teams, an international and a local (Arab) one… they communicate in
two different ways to two different targets [audiences]. We realized that the local
community doesn’t know anything about the Holy Land, their patrimony and their
history... we (Franciscans and local communities) tend to be many little ghettos one
next to the other. (Personal Interview, Dec. 28, 2015, Translated from Italian)
In this discussion, Paolo highlights the educational objective of the media
production. In his view, perhaps ironically, when compared with pilgrims, the local Arab-
Catholic community is largely unmindful of the significance of the holy sites. Accordingly,
through media efforts, he aims to educate these communities and cultivate a local identity
that brings together the Franciscan creed of custodianship to the Christian identity of locals.
He ultimately calls for solidarity between local communities, which he sees as isolated
("little ghettos"), through the educational means of new media productions.
In this context, the plight of the Arab-Christian community in Israel and the
Palestinian Authority should be noted. Due to local tensions, its population has decreased
in recent decades and has recently fallen to 163,500 (CBS 2015) in Israel and
approximately 49,000 in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem (Kaartveit, 2013).
Thus, Paolo’s approach can be seen as seeking to educate, unite and empower this
at-risk community by underscoring their holy position vis-à-vis the Christian world.
To conclude, through its fostering of outreach, this facet frames digital pilgrimage
as a means to reflect on identity and on the very boundaries of the Catholic community.
Webmasters emphasized that they aim to address the local community's plight by using
their new media toolkit to reach a global audience, while fostering a global pan-Catholic
identity unified by belief and affinity towards the Holy Land and Catholic religious
imaginative memory.
3. Cultivating Agents
This facet reflects webmasters’ view of online social networking as a tool to
cultivate transcendent experiences in others by increasing the visibility and highlighting
the religious centrality of the Holy Land. Furthermore, the facet positions webmasters as
guides to digital pilgrimage and as authorities on Christian lore; the webmasters bestow
evangelist agency on users. For example, in their interviews (particularly with Canção
Nova members), webmasters related personal transcendent experiences that enabled them
to become carriers of the faith. They attempt to employ media to replicate this experience
for others. Their role as religious agents is validated primarily through shifting focus onto
religious experience and away from religious scholarship (i.e. scriptural learning) and
practice (i.e. prayer, participation in religious ceremonies). These important religious
experiences are facilitated by either offline or online pilgrimage.
For example, a monastic webmaster from Brazil shared his perspective on his
religious mission, saying, saying: "In our community we learn, we evangelize as we are
evangelized ourselves. So we come to the Holy Land to be evangelized. And once
evangelized, evangelize" (personal interview, November 18, 2015). This webmaster
highlights the process of learning and personal transformation needed to become
evangelizers. This notion is furthered by Adriano, another webmaster who is also a Canção
Nova seminarist:
make possible for people to live an experience with Jesus. An experience you can see,
an experience you can watch... you can come here, in the Holy Land, and you can see
Jesus. You can see Jesus in the Eucharist, see Jesus in the Gospel, see Jesus in many
things…Because that experience changed my life, I am in love. I want that everybody,
like me, can live that experience. The evangelization was born from the resurrection of
Jesus. When Jesus resurrected, he said: go and bring this news to my brothers in the
Galilee and there you will see me. Jesus said to the apostles: go around the world and
teach my gospel to the people. You cannot evangelize without an experience with
Jesus: you cannot talk about Jesus if you don't know Him. You cannot talk to Him if
you don't have this deep experience with Him. This is the evangelization: first I live an
experience with Him, then I bring this experience to others. (Interview, Oct. 1, 2015,
Translated from Italian)
Adriano portrays his journey as the pathway to become an evangelizer. He
describes preconditions for achieving this pious level through different modes of
experience with God ("You can't evangelize without an experience with Jesus”); an
experience characterized by an effective internal response ("I am in love"). These
experiences are induced through several modes: traditional ritual activities (the Eucharist
sacrament), reflection with scripture, engagement with the Holy Land and its key sites, and
video-mediated sensory experiences with Jesus ("You can see/watch"). Finally, Adriano
adds a theological dimension to evangelization, and indirectly, to his role as a religious
webmaster. In this vein, he ties global evangelization to the miracle of Jesus's resurrection,
and views religious outreach as fulfilling Jesus's will by acting as an "apostle of the
The Apostolic mission described by Adriano is translated to online activities, and
furthered by creating networks of outreach agents. Accordingly, webmasters extend their
attained piety and outreach capabilities to both pilgrims that have acquired the "Holy Land
experience" as well as online users that vicariously experience them. Luiz, a monastic
Canção Nova content manager from Brazil, explains:
And the pilgrims when they come, and meet our reporters, editors, sometimes in the
Old City, or in the Sanctuaries, they always say "ah, I saw that program, I watch it
every week, I could watch that documentary..." even the materials we post on (the)
internet, using social media, the ‘likes’ and then people sharing it... because the
important thing is, what we produce, we don't produce only to ourselves. So if you
receive it, share it. Add the link... This is what we are doing, we are abiding others
to use such tools to share, spread the content. This is the goal. Nothing should stay.
It is to be spread. (Interview, Nov. 18, 2015)
Luiz depicts the website staff’s encounters with pilgrims. In these instances, the
pilgrims validate the staff's activities and act as media agents by sharing content about the
Holy Land on their own social network services. Thus, pilgrims are religiously empowered
and delegated the role of the traditional evangelist agents (i.e. priests, monks).
To conclude, the 'Cultivating Agents' facet highlights webmasters’ motivations to
increase their impact by providing users with the tools and transcendent experiences
necessary to undertake the sacred role of evangelism. The process of cultivating evangelist
agents involves a myriad of religious activities that transform the believer into an
evangelizer. These activities often include a spiritual engagement with the sacred that
occurs via the pilgrimage experience. Through interviewee discussions, it appears that the
pilgrimage experience can be conveyed through digital means (i.e video viewership) as
well. Nevertheless, the highest levels of piety are attributed to agents who have direct
interactions with the Holy Scripture and holy sites, which alludes to the continued
prominence and authority that monks, pilgrims and religious webmasters aim to attain in a
global/digital environment.
4. Media Experiences as a Pilgrimage Surrogate
This facet reflects new media's ability to replace the physical pilgrimage experience
with an easily accessible alternative. While physical travel is still considered the ideal
method of pilgrimage, readily accessible digital experiences serve as acceptable surrogates
that retain some sense of holiness, albeit less intense than in the traditional form of
corporeal pilgrimage. This digital experience caters to remote believers, offering them
mediated access to the holy sites.
Webmasters often recounted these ideas in interviews. For example, Felipe works
as a video editor and audio-visual technician of the Canção Nova staff. When asked, he
described his vocation as such:
This is our work: to bring the land of Jesus all over the world. We want all people to
know about this place, even without coming here. This is our objective. Because,
since we live here, we know how important these places are, how they talk to us.
Paul VI said that the Holy Land is the Fifth Gospel: there are four written gospels
and the land. The cities talk, the buildings talk, the Grotto of the Annunciation talks,
the Grotto of the Nativity talks, the Holy Sepulcher, the Lake of Tiberias talk. A
person who comes here experiences this beauty. Our task is to bring the land of Jesus
to those who maybe will never come here. (Interview, Jan. 6, 2016, Translated from
Felipe highlights the importance of the Holy Land by citing papal statements and
metaphorically animating the holy sites ("the buildings talk"), thus emphasizing their
religious potency and significance. In making these sites accessible to a global public that
does not participate in a corporeal pilgrimage, webmasters seek to guide digital pilgrims
towards transcendence.
In a similar vein, other webmasters emphasized the importance of Catholics
accessing the holy sites and then transmitting the experience to far-flung believers.
According to Victória, the media center's mission reflects the Canção Nova's creed. She
the dream of our founder is that, all the Christians have the opportunity to come one
day to the Holy Land. But we know that there are people who won't have this
opportunity, this possibility. So we try on the best possible way to take this to people,
so they can make this experience. Because it is different for you to read it in the Bible
and try to imagine where this place was, how it was. And then you have the
opportunity to see it. Wow, it was there, in that place, probably there it happened. It
helps the person I guess to better root their faith, to strengthen their faith, what they
believe, the experience they made with God. (Interview, Nov. 18, 2015, Translated
from Portuguese)
In her assertion, Victória presents the webmaster goal as seeking to expand the holy
experience of pilgrimage to the digital world. Webmasters thus enable users without access
to holy sites to approximate a pilgrimage, albeit through the mediation of the Canção
Nova’s video representation. Victória views the visual dimension as a benefit and describes
its ability to engage believers' biblical imagination with contemporary visuals ("to
imagine… how was it"). Her position is that the act of viewing a video can lead to religious
affirmation that ultimately reinforces believers' connections to God.
Other webmasters mirrored Victória's assertion with regard to the accessibility of
the holy sites and the concomitant expansion of the experience of holiness. Gabriel, a
Canção Nova priest who serves as a webmaster, cameraman, and video narrator, stated:
Yesterday when I arrived in my house, my brother told me "Father, a family came here
and they wanted to pray in the church. We opened the door and they prayed there and
we prayed with them." And I said "Thanks God, because you were here and they could
pray in the church." When you make a Live Streaming, you are doing this: keeping the
doors of the whole Church open. Also, Pope Francis he told this, in a letter: "We want
the doors of the Church open". And with the Live Streaming we are doing this. Any
time that a person wants to pray and feel near to God you can access your computer or
cellphone or iPad and you can see there, and you can pray there, not just to see... But
you receive the opportunity to let your soul see God here. Here (at the Grotto of the
Annunciation in Nazareth). (Interview, Oct. 30, 2015)
Gabriel draws a parallel between two forms of institutional accessibility that enable
religious acts such as prayer. The corporeal accessibility of Nazareth's Basilica of the
Annunciation is compared to the church's easily accessible audiovisual resources. In his
interview, Gabriel is in effect equating the digital with the corporeal while implying that
they are interchangeable.
To conclude, these facets reveal how religious meaning is attributed to video and
live streaming access to the Holy Land, while providing a practical means of access for
global audiences. Webmasters recounted the media's ability to: (1) spread holiness in the
world, (2) extend the church's digital footprint, (3) increase the impact of the holy sites,
and (4) enable individuals to perform religious acts on a personal (rather than collective)
basis with ubiquitous access. Although the physical pilgrimage maintains its primacy as a
catalyst of religious experience (or perhaps the numinous, in Rudolf Otto's (1958 c1917)
terms), we nevertheless contend that digital pilgrimage provides an effective surrogate for
the corporeal experience, even though it offers somewhat less intensity.
Discussion and Conclusion
Pilgrimage involves the human proclivity to approach places that appear to manifest
the divine. Eliade maintains that pilgrimage sites are based on the archetype of a sacred
center demarcated from its profane surroundings; here, believers may access the realm of
the transcendent (Eliade, 1958, p. 368). While the centrality of the holy is embodied in a
space that materializes the sacred for devotees, perhaps paradoxically, online spaces, which
are devoid of territoriality, provide surrogate access to the transcendental. Throughout this
study we aimed to shed light on the ways that religious movements and their agents view
the mission and objectives of their web productions. Through a focus on the monastic
efforts of Catholic groups in the Holy Land, we uncovered facets that reflect key
conceptions of webmasters as they work to mediatize holy sites and pilgrimage.
We assert that the work of these webmasters both affirms their elevated status in
the community of believers and enhances the Catholic repertoire of religious offerings.
This is explored through a discussion of video consumption, production and a focus on
pilgrimage experiences. To clarify this relation, we refer back to Walter Benjamin’s
discussion of the “aura”. In the case of Holy Land, the aura of holiness, which originally
emanated from the narrated person of Jesus and the Holy Family, is being gradually
transferred to a spatial sacredness anchored in the places where they lived and taught,
places that became sanctified by their very presence. Accordingly, a sacred geography has
been impressed into the landscape. Drawing on Benjamin, the experience that derives from
this sacred geography is ordered as a system of proximity to the sacred. Thus, holiness of
the central place reverberates outward and downward to further levels, including religious
artifacts/representations (i.e. artwork, iconography) and onward to the level of videos and
other cybernetic spaces (i.e. websites, digital games) (see Fig. 2).
Figure #2: Reflections on Walter Benjamin’s Model
in Relation to Religious Videos of the Holy Land
The rise of digital media and religious representation online presents new
opportunities for mass cultural transmission. However, a question remains, can the
religious experience and ‘aura’, in Benjamin’s terms, establish meaning for far-flung
audiences? Or does Benjamin’s suggestion of a diminished meaning in reproduced art
extend to the case of religious video distribution? To address this question, further study
of the impact and meanings of the consumption of religious videos is warranted. However,
in the interim, webmaster interviews provided insight to the meanings that believers may
derive from the consumption of religious media. As some interviewees emphasized,
pilgrimage may remain the most powerful religious experience for Christians, but video-
mediated access to the holy sites is of high value. This finding affirms Benjamin’s notion
of the diminished impact of the authentic through reproduced mediums of photography and
film, although not obliterating its overall auratic impact. Thus, a hierarchy of religious
proximity to the divine is suggested.
Indeed, this study’s finding can indicate a re-positioning of the social structure
around the holy artifacts and their representations. This includes not only the holy sites
themselves, but an array of digital actors, stakeholders, agents and followers (see Fig. 3).
Figure #3: Reflections on the Role and Status of Religious Actors
as they Relate to Holy Sites
In line with Benjamin's logic, the nature of videos as reproductions somewhat diminishes
their authenticity in comparison to the ‘original’ physical pilgrimage experiences. These
reproductions attempt to replicate the aura, and it impact, by evoking a proximity to the
sacred. Although videos do not afford the same experience that pilgrimage to holy sites
deliver, its use can forge an audio-visual experience that simulates believers’ encounter
with the divine. In other words, this study suggests that the videos offer a religious
experience to users and are a channel by which clergy can transmit their ideals to their far-
flung audiences. This in turn facilitates the formation of a “soft” or informal form of
authoritative religious texts that instruct users to ways of piety, and could be analyzed in
future research for their content, imagery and religious instruction. Furthermore, through
the discussion on the propagation of the aura, we see how the social hierarchy is plotted
for believers placing the holy sites and traditional clergy at the core, the webmasters as
intermediaries, and internet users at its end-point. This construct, which connects holy sites
with believers, underscores the status of clergy alongside the rise of webmasters as
secondary actors of religious authority within the religious hierarchy. In other words, we
can observe an emergent relationship developing between aspects of a religion from its
holy sites to its online believers - as they are mediated through the work of clergy (top
hierarchy) and webmasters (secondary hierarchy). Nevertheless, to obtain a more
comprehensive understanding of the impact of videos on users, an audience-based study
could be most conducive.
Despite the derivative capacity of religious videos, webmasters underscored their
value to believers. Accordingly, they assert its educational value as narration of holy
meanings through an audiovisual means (Facets #1 and #4), they validate local
communities, emphasize their role in the pan-Catholic consciousness (Facet #2), and they
even enable believers to perform religious acts of evangelization through the distinct
properties of digital media (Facet #3).
To conclude, just as traditional pilgrimage involves a mediation process facilitated
by priests and guides, online pilgrimage anchors the holy narrative to a locale through a
comparable process of mediation occurring in the virtual arena. By exploiting the audio-
visual nature of the medium, webmasters pair images of the holy sites with the religious
narrative, reproducing and, perhaps ironically, actualizing the pilgrimage experience in
virtual spaces.
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'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
An exploration of the many faces of televangelism in our world today, including Christian, Islamic and Hindu. The collection analyses the correspondences and major differences between global and local televangelism, focusing on the main individuals involved in televangelism, their practices and the social and cultural impact of their ministries. © Pradip Ninan Thomas and Philip Lee 2012. All rights reserved.
The salience of contemporary forms of televangelism can be gauged from a consideration of two broad trends:1. the globalization of confessional identities; 2. the pivotal role played by television viewing as a leisure activity throughout the world. Struggles over religious identity and intra-religious contestations have been marked features of late modernity, and televangelism can be seen as a site for these struggles. Deregulation, the proliferation of cable and satellite television, competition and, in the case of Tamil Nadu, India, a populist political project of gifting a television set to each low-income family in the state, have contributed to an increase in television viewing, and thus potentially to increased access to religious channels. In the context of convergence and the penetration of mobile phones in Africa, the Middle East, and most of Asia, televangelism is no longer a strictly televisual phenomenon available during set times but is accessible round the clock over a variety of platforms.
This book is a clear, systematic, original and lively account of how media representations shape the way we see our and others’ lives in a global age. It provides in-depth analysis of a range of international media representations of disaster, war, conflict, migration and celebration. The book explores how images, stories and voices, on television, the Internet, and in advertisements and newspapers, invite us to relocate to distant contexts, and to relate to people who are remote from our daily lives, by developing ‘mediated intimacy’ and focusing on the self. It also explores how these representations shape our self-narratives. Orgad examines five sites of media representation – the other, the nation, possible lives, the world and the self. She argues that representations can and should contribute to fostering more ambivalence and complexity in how we think and feel about the world, our place in it and our relation to far-away others. Media Representations and the Global Imagination will be of particular interest to students and scholars of media and cultural studies, as well as sociology, politics, international relations, development studies and migration studies.