George Gerbner (1977, 1980, 1981) theorized that TV and organized religion compete for cultural dominance. Television programming acts like religion, subtly teaching its viewers about the nature of social reality. He concluded that television is beginning to “displace, if not replace” (Gerbner, et al. 1984, 10) the importance of religion in heavy viewers’ lives. But surprisingly little research has ever been conducted on this topic.
This study analyzes television and religion data collected over 35 years to test Gerbner’s thesis. The data indicate that religion is a much more potent influence on viewers’ opinions than television use. Respondents’ TV viewing demonstrated small main effects on attitudes toward seven of nine controversial social issues studied. Individuals’ religious traditions showed small to medium main effects on attitudes toward all nine issues, however. Persons’ religious service attendance also evidenced small to medium main effects on attitudes toward eight issues.
In addition, no evidence of mainstreaming (Gerbner et. al. 1980, 1982) was found for over half the issues studied, and all but two of the observed interactions actually contradicted the concept. The weak evidence found for cultivation may indicate that television is not that powerful at shaping social attitudes or that TV is only beginning to make cultural inroads against organized religion.
|Keywords:||Television, Media, Religion, RELTRAD, Communication, Cultivation Hypothesis, Religious Traditions, Subcultures, Social Issues, Premarital Sex, Extramarital Sex, Homosexuality, Pornography, Divorce, Abortion, Marijuana, Gun Control, Capital Punishment|
Assistant Professor of Telecommunication, School of Arts and Humanities, College of Liberal Arts, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, South Dakota, USA