The Medium Religion

author: Boris Groys, Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design
published: Aug. 13, 2010,   recorded: November 2008,   views: 3736
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Noted philosopher, critic and essayist Boris Groys, who has previously delved into the Soviet post-modernist and Russian avant-garde art scene, turns his attention now to the recent and dangerous marriage of religion and digital media. In a talk based on his paper, Religion in the Age of Digital Reproduction, Groys draws freely on such predecessors as Gilles Deleuze, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger and Nietzsche to draw a bead on fundamentalism. He contends that the revival of extremist religion worldwide, in the face of a secular and skeptical world, depends on the broadcast of video and distribution of data, particularly through the Internet.

Groys argues that in older times, religious rituals were practiced “in isolated sacred places.” Today, “ritual, repetition and reproduction have become the fate of the entire culture. Everything reproduces itself -- capital, commodities, technology and art.” In our day, public media sites like MySpace and YouTube feature private hopes, dreams and beliefs, substituting for the public discussions of a previous age. This new configuration of the media, especially the Internet, encourages and even favors sovereign religious politics over institutionalized secular politics, says Groys. “The Internet is the space in which it is possible for contemporary, aggressive religious movements to install their propaganda material and act globally.”

Today’s religious rituals are enacted in a wired global space, where they can be faithfully reproduced an unlimited number of times, through the apparent magic of digital duplication. Video, believes Groys, serves as the principal medium of fundamentalism, serving up images over broadcast TV, the Internet, and in stores. Digital images are all the more powerful because they “have the ability to originate, multiply and distribute themselves through the open fields…of communication, like climbing out of nowhere, like being divine…”

Groys shows two video clips: a Christian evangelical ritual in Siberia, where a man dressed in Biblical garb straight out of Franco Zeffirelli’s bio-pic, Jesus of Nazareth, greets the faithful; and the taped confession of a Lebanese communist suicide bomber with commentary. Video recordings, digital images transmitted to countless many, are attempts to generate belief and passion, and function in some ways like “a Byzantine icon,” says Groys. “The digital file functions as an angel -- an invisible messenger transmitting a divine command.”

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