Different Situations Call for Different Methodological Sensitivities
The European academic study of religion has often focused on what is said and written through traditional analyses of verbal texts. In that sense, the intellectualist heritage from theologians has been continued. It is of course possible to study the aestheticizing process by analysing linguistic expressions. However, an expanded textual concept and a broader focus on multimodality allows for a more relevant scientific analysis in cases where there is an increasing affordance for aestheticization, such as we have seen in examples from the field of religion.
A new and stronger emphasis on multimodality in the analysis makes the interpreter more sensitive to aestheticizing than in a traditional approach. Where one previously would emphasize the verbal expression in the analysis of a religious gathering, social semiotics makes possible a more comprehensive interpretation of the interplay between language, images, music and the use of symbolic objects. So, generally speaking, social semiotics should inspire studies of the religious landscape more than it has done traditionally. Mediatization of religion and a general visual turn in contemporary culture call for such a widening of the repertoire of theoretical and methodological tools of interpretation. However, it is important to adapt the methods to the situation to be analysed. A Christmas concert is well suited for a broad analysis of multimodality. Others events or objects may still be fruitfully analysed with the main focus on verbal texts and cognitive content. A theological discussion is an example that springs to mind. But even a seemingly 'pure' intellectual discourse is probably not without its sensual, rhetorical and emotional dimensions - and should be studied with openness to such aspects as well - without falling into the trap of reductionism, emptying the expressions completely of rational content.
Brief Concluding Remarks
Using a wide brush, we have painted a picture of a society marked by plurality and competition, and with a less powerful leadership in religious organizations. We have claimed that this situation encourages a shift from dogmatic regulations to softer and more 'diffuse' emotions, and from verbal statements to more multimodal forms of religion.
We have used Christmas concerts as an example. One may object to this choice by saying that some of the concerts are not organized by the church; the church is only renting out the building to commercial artists and agencies not necessarily representing the message of the church. However, these concerts take place in the church buildings and with the approval of the local church, and thus contribute to the image that people in general have of the church in contemporary society. As we have seen, the dogmatic regime of such concerts is much weaker than only a few decades ago, and the space for expressive and aesthetic maneuvering has increased considerably. While this does not mean that these concerts have been emptied of Christian references, the soft and kind aspects of Christianity are clearly dominant.
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