Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
John Durham Peters
This dissertation is a qualitative and interpretive project aimed at understanding the historical relationship between new media and religion. My primary research question asks how religious institutions handle the excitement and threat of new technology. To answer this question I conduct a series of case studies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS/Mormon) relationship with three of the most important twentieth-century media: emerging radio, television, and Internet technologies. More specifically, I analyze how these electronic media were understood through their organizational histories, how they were talked about in their novelty and transitional states, and their religious institutionalization over time.
This dissertation argues that Mormon media are best understood through the concept of Zion: a sacred city and a holy people. As a social, cultural, theological, and material endeavor, Zion is impossible without modern technology. The history of Mormon media is a history of a people’s perpetual attempts to be in the world but not of the world--to stand apart in uniqueness and unity while yet remaining close enough to promote positive change. This is the paradox of Zion, and the paradox of twentieth-century media: both rely on the very things they seek to transcend.
It is through media that Mormonism was founded, struggles, and thrives. Through case studies of radio, television, and the Internet it is clear that media function as the material and metaphysical infrastructure of the religion and the interface through which Mormonism positions itself in relation to the world. This dissertation argues that understanding media, and ultimately ourselves by extension, is a process of discovery and creation guided by experimentation, trial and error, entrepreneurial pragmatism, and improvisation. Mormonism teaches that understanding media requires discipline, work, and faith. Media are fundamentally agents of compromise.
Internet, Media and religion, Mormonism, New media, Radio, Television
xii, 251 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-251).
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