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since the mid-1990s, the influence of satellite television broadcasting in the Middle East has become central to the shaping of public attitudes in the region and beyond. The number of channels has grown rapidly in less than twenty years from none to almost five hundred today. While many of the most influential mainstream satellite channels are newsfocused, entertainment and religious broadcasting are also significant. The aim of this conference was to focus on religious broadcasting – Islamic, Jewish and Christian – in the Middle East in order to gain an understanding of the channels’ different discourses, as well as the wider factors and structures which sustain them.
The case studies summarised here range widely, from “mainstream” channels like al-Jazeera, to Christian broadcasting in Egypt; from Salafi channels based in Saudi Arabia to Jewish broadcasting in Israel; from Shi‘ite and Sunni channels in Iraq to those affiliated to Hamas and Hizbullah; from female popular preachers in Cairo to international television stars with celebrity status. Naturally, each channel studied is located in a specific historical and political context, with particular funding arrangements, presenters, discourses, and target audiences. However, a broad context referred to in many of the presentations on Islamic and Christian channels is the trend of increased religiosity since the late 1970s sometimes called the Islamic revival. Some presentations also refer to the fact that traditionally authoritative Muslim voices have lost their discursive monopoly, and face challenges from new interpreters of religion who are making use of satellite and internet technologies. Does the emergence of these satellite channels constitute a historical shift in the way religious discourse is communicated, in the kind of publics it forms, and in the politics implied by these formations? Or is it one part of a longer-term trend, governed by less changeable political dynamics?