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Leeds

  1. 1. The Representation of Religious/Spiritual Experience on factual British TV, 2000-09Ruth Deller, Sheffield Hallam University AHRC-funded PhD candidate
  2. 2. Key questions What is the nature of coverage of religion/spirituality in factual television? How can it be understood in relation to debates within sociology, cultural studies and religious studies about the role of religion in contemporary Britain? What are viewers’ responses to these programmes? What are programme-makers motivations?
  3. 3. Methodology Textual analysis  Discourse, narrative, semiotics, quantitative etc  Sample of themes, channels, years, genres Audience research  Forums  Blogs  Focus Groups  Exit survey  Twitter  Live chat
  4. 4. Methodology Interviews  TV commissioning editors  Programme-makers  Participants
  5. 5. Key findings: texts Factual TV conventions  Personalities  Journeys and experiences  Debates  Talking heads and experts  Historical/Cultural contexts
  6. 6. Key findings: texts Seeking to understand belief in socio-historical context. Debunking/unpacking particular beliefs, stories and practices. Personal exploration of beliefs and practices. Education about different beliefs and practices. Debate and discussion about world events and belief. Appreciation of culture.
  7. 7. Key findings: texts Acceptable and unacceptable beliefs and practices Of the big six, Islam and Christianity receive most coverage; Sikhism and Buddhism least; particularly in relation to Britain. Atheism occasionally discussed but agnosticism rarely mentioned; however agnosticism often default ideological perspective.
  8. 8. Key findings: texts Spirituality widely discussed but mainly in relation to mainstream religion. New age, occult or supernatural beliefs often dismissed, ridiculed or presented as light entertainment (e.g. ITV2). Paganism, occult/spiritualism and some other beliefs (e.g. Voodoo, Wicca, Scientology) often presented as sinister or spooky - sometimes jokingly.
  9. 9. Key findings: audiences Itsimpossible to please everyone! Many groups complain about the coverage they get n relation to other groups; perceived (often imaginary) biases within programmes.
  10. 10. Audiences like: Open-mindedness Learning something new Willingness to debate Detailed exploration of issues Attractive visuals Respect for those featured Covering wide range of beliefs and practices Being ‘fair’
  11. 11. Audiences like: Creativity, something ‘new’ Interesting narratives and ‘characters’ Knowing the perspective of those involved in making programme – or at least of the key voices
  12. 12. Audiences dislike: Misrepresenting their own beliefs Giving a voice to people they don’t like The presenter/narrator patronising those featured Inaccuracy Omitting key points, facts or events Stereotypical imagery and portrayals Length of programmes Sensational titles, trailers or opening monologues
  13. 13. Audiences dislike: Not being allowed to make up their own minds ‘Flaky’ people Not getting to the ‘heart’ of an issue Not being able to see a particular programme (e.g. many are watercooler stuff, hear about it after event via friends, press coverage, awards; repeats happen too soon or at odd times; some programmes not publicised)
  14. 14. Interviews: industry Understand lack of diversity within religious programmes, but feel there aren’t good programming ideas for some of the under- represented faiths. Don’t know how to present ‘spirituality’ outside of religion. See importance of religion to mainstream and within non ‘God slot’ genres.
  15. 15. Interviews: industry Feel emphasis on personality can be at expense of deeper, more intellectual discussion. Constrictions of budgets, timeslots etc. 9/11 was a key turning point. Some topics are seen as more audience- friendly (e.g. Da Vinci code). Feel less experimental commissioning now compared to earlier in decade.
  16. 16. Interviews: participants Not always given full idea of what programme will be like. Complaints about finished edits omitting key detail. Sense of footage being used to fit a pre- determined script. Dealing with press and public reaction has been difficult.
  17. 17. Summary Sense of importance of religion (this has increased over decade, less ‘why believe’, more ‘what is role of religion’). Spirituality and religion still largely understood through shorthand and stereotyping. Strong sense of what is and isn’t acceptable. Several groups/beliefs still excluded. Emphasis on moderation and tolerance within religious belief. Desire for ‘fairness’ and detailed exploration of topics.

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