Reception of Christian television in contemporary Iran: an analysis of audience interactions and negotiations
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Afshari Sarjaz, Masoumhe Sara
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This research explores Iranian audiences of Farsi Christian satellite channels. It considers what the narratives and interviews of participants of this research reveal about the way audiences interact and negotiate with both religious broadcasts and their socio-political or religious contexts. What are the motivating factors that led the audiences first to watch Christian channels and secondly, where relevant, to change or add to their religious belief system? For those whose faith was transformed, how did this process happen according to their self-declared stories? Expressions of belief are analysed in order to consider their different understandings of religion, faith and their own belief system. The research also studies the triangular relationships between the audience, Farsi Christian media, and the audience’s culture(s). It is therefore a study of Farsi Christian channel audiences, their motivations in viewing the Christian message, their methods of interpretation and negotiations with different media texts, and their process of changing or altering their religion, using the concept of conversion as a tool of analysis. More specifically, I investigate the motivations of those in the audience of the four Farsi Christian satellite channels who stated that they had become Christians through that medium. I will examine factors that influenced both their interpretations of and negotiations with the religious media message, and their process of changing, adding to or modifying their belief system, including their understanding of religious conversion. My research investigates the interactions and negotiations between meaning making and mediation, and the process of faith transformation within Reception Theory against the background of the sociology of religion and culture in contemporary Iran. This research contributes to three areas of study: media reception (largely religious television) and sociology of religion and culture, mostly from the point of view of selfidentified conversion; Media, Religion and Culture, mainly using audiences’ interactions and negotiations methods with the channels, and the religion of Islam and Christianity in the Iranian political-cultural context. This involved analysing three hundred narratives drawn from audiences of four Farsi Christian satellite television channels, during the period between 2010 and 2015, as well as fifteen semi-structured interviews, two focus group discussions and a telephone survey. The argument develops over nine chapters. Chapter one provides the socio-political and religious context of the Iranian audience as well as presenting literature reviews and methodology, while Chapter two gives the Iranian (state and society) understanding of religion (din and mazhab) and of globalisation, as well as discussing the satellite channel usage. Chapter three introduces the four Farsi Christian satellite channels using data from interviews channel directors. Chapter four analyses the two focus groups’ discussion of the central question: how do audiences interact and negotiate with the Christian message presented on the channels? Chapters five, six and seven examine the participants’ narratives and interviews using respectively experimenting, negotiating and resisting attitudes of participants. Chapter eight discusses and analyses the findings, the conclusion sets out the implications, contributions and limitations of the research.