Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Nabil Echchaibi

Second Advisor

Stewart Hoover

Third Advisor

Shu-Ling Berggreen

Fourth Advisor

Michela Ardizzoni

Fifth Advisor

Peter Simonson

Abstract

Italian national media tend to present Italian identity as homogeneously Catholic. While the majority of Italians self-identify as Catholic, the Italian religious landscape is rapidly changing: for example, migration is increasing the number of Muslims; less stigma on atheism is motivating some Italians to self-identify as non-believers; and a more open critique of secularism compels conservative Catholics to defend traditional Christian values.

A number of alternative voices have recently emerged in the Italian religious public sphere to challenge hegemonic positions of religion and the secular. Through blogs and other social media platforms, they question the terms of religious identity in contemporary Italian society and push the boundaries of both the religious and secular fields. In studying the media practices of these groups, I ask the following questions: what kind of discourses are employed to challenge the perceived religious hegemony? What is the role of the Internet in the articulation of non-mainstream religious identities? Can the digital space create resistance, establish a media presence, and enhance participation?

This dissertation argues that the Internet can become a “third space” where hybrid religious identities are articulated in opposition to a perceived Catholic hegemony, as presented by mainstream media. The dissertation uses a qualitative textual analysis of three religious related-blogs, combined with interviews with bloggers and participant observation. The three blogs under analysis are 1) The blog of the UAAR, the national Italian atheist association 2) The blog of the Catholic group Sentinelle in Piedi, which protects traditional family values 3) The blog Yalla, written by young Muslim Italians.

The three blogs, while different in scope, similarly engage in dynamic media practices to compel Italian media and society to re-think identity in religious terms. By promoting secularism, a come-back to traditional Catholic values, or religious pluralism, the blogs problematize the lack of participation in consensual Western democracies and unveil anxieties that characterize late modernity in Italy. This analysis of blogs can add some much-needed complexity to religion and media debates in Europe, help define the role of religion in the Italian public sphere, and contextualize the re-thinking of the perceived hegemonic Italian identity.

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