Faith in view: religion and pirituality in factual British\ud television 2000-2009
This thesis explores the nature of, and developments in, the coverage of religion and spirituality in factual British television programming 2000-2009, focusing on mainstream terrestrial networks (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five) with a public service remit.\ud \ud The study employs a mixed-method approach with an emphasis on discourse. Working within a broadly Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) framework, it explores discourses around religion/spirituality, identity and nationality across a range of environments – from the programmes themselves to audience discussion (in focus groups, questionnaires, forum and Twitter discussions, YouTube comments and blogs) and industry accounts of production (in policies, guidelines, publicity and interviews with several of those involved at different stages of the production process).\ud \ud The theoretical context of this study includes debates over the ‘secularisation thesis’, the rise of ‘fundamentalism’, the individualisation of religion and the apparent interest\ud in ‘spirituality’ as opposed to ‘religion’, the role of public service broadcasting, issues of media representation of minorities, and developments within British factual television genres.\ud \ud The study concludes that, despite public service commitments, there is a lack of diversity in the portrayal of religion and spirituality within mainstream factual British television, with Christianity, Islam and Atheism dominating coverage. All faiths are represented by a limited repertoire of signifiers. Audiences, both those who have\ud been researched for this study and those who feature in research by the broadcasters and Ofcom, often complain about what they perceive as 'misrepresentation', whilst at the same time discussing 'other' people in stereotypical terms. Within all of the discursive contexts studied, there is a construction of Britain as a liberal, tolerant, moderate place, where spiritual/religious belief is acceptable as long as it operates within particular parameters. When beliefs and practices do not conform to these standards, they are exoticised, ridiculed or presented as dangerous, and often linked to other nations, thus emphasising how they are not a British way of expressing one's spirituality.\ud However, I argue that the problematic nature of these constructions is in part a result of the complex interaction between audiences, programme makers, policy, academic\ud discourse and media texts. Each area of discourse informs the other, replicating and reinforcing notions of Britishness, religion and spirituality across multiple contexts.
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