The World Youth Day 2005 and its appropriation via media – A case study on religios individualized individualisation in media cultures.
In our western pluralistic societies, religion has become an individual matter. The question if we believe or in who or what we believe, can be considered a personal choice which often depends on what we learn from the media. At the same time, the Christian Churches are no longer considered the epitome of an ultimate truth as there are numerous competing truths in the transcultural marketplaces constituted by the media. However, religious media events like the funeral of Pope John Paul II, or the catholic World Youth Day in Germany 2005, as well as the media controversies about the Muhammad cartoons and Pope Benedict’s critical statement on Islam, indicate that religion has not disappeared from the western media culture. Technological innovation and the liberalisation of media and telecommunication markets open up new spaces for religious communication and experiences – a development that challenges religious institutions like the Catholic Church to find new ways to communicate its specific offer of meaning. In my thesis I will look at how religious individualisation is articulated in the appropriation of the World Youth Day 2005 as a media event. I will examine how young German and Italian Catholics experienced this hybrid religious media event and how they make sense of it within their everyday (religious) lives. Comparative analysis of data from Germany and Italy will allow for discussing the transcultural claim of Catholicism against the background of empirically grounded articulations of religious identity and community building in the wider context of individualisation, mediatisation and eventisation. The research will be carried out from a cultural studies perspective focussing on processes of meaning making, taking their contextualisation within mediated discourses of religiosity and everyday patterns of religious practices into account. My analysis is based on qualitative interviews with young Catholics conducted immediately after the World Youth Day in Cologne and six month later addressing the following questions: How is the media event appropriated in relation to certain forms of catholic identity and belonging? Which role is assigned to the Catholic Church and the Pope in this context? How does this correspond to different patterns of everyday (religious) media use? This thesis is a follow-up study to a DFG funded research project on the mediatisation of the World Youth Day 2005 carried out at the University of Bremen, Germany between 2005 and 2007 (Forschungskonsortium WJT, 2007). My research aims at providing a better understanding of how – under the conditions of mediatisation – traditional patterns of religious orientation and meaning making are challenged on an everyday level and how this affects the way Catholicism is experienced as a transcultural belief community.