New religious movements and alternative religions in France: the use of digital media as a counter-strategy against social and legal exclusion
AbstractThe internet is widely used internationally by individuals and groups who otherwise perceive and experience a lack of influence and even repression by authorities and whose opinions remain invisible in or are ignored by the mass media. The new media are a frequently-used means of expression in the political struggles of social and religious movements, especially as part of attempts to increase the number of supporters and to mobilise public opinion. The extent, of the usage as well as its degree of success, does vary and because of this variety, a comparative analysis can illuminate parts of the whole conflictuous configuration as well as the chances and limits of resistance and opposition via these media channels. Organisations which were chosen to be investigated here were the so-called ‘new religious movements’, or more precisely, the many forms of alternative religion in France who face significant levels of social and legal exclusion, while most of their members are themselves usually strongly committed to democracy and their identities as equal French citizens. Therefore, they choose to perform counter-actions which are within the law and act strategically, which makes them a special case compared to revolutionary political movements which may question the social order of the state as a whole. France, with its ‘anti-cult’ policy, has come to a unique standing within the Western world in this respect. Though religious freedom and state neutrality in relation to religious issues are constitutionally granted, a differentiation is made – and partially even legally enforced – between good religions and harmful ones which attempt to manipulate their adepts mentally. The debates are held in a constant dynamic between the struggling parties of ‘anti-cult’ movements and alternative religions. The exclusion of the latter from the mass media is revealed be one central means of hindering them from gaining approval within society, because positive portrayals which might counterbalance the widespread negative public view are prevented. Two umbrella associations of and for NRMs in France have been formed in oppostion to French ‘anti-cult’ activism and therefore have also started to make use of the relatively unregulated and uncontrolled internet, including social online networks and digital media. An investigation into how they do this and how far they are and potentially can be successful is the main focus of this article.
Copyright (c) 2013 Christiane Königstedt
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