The tragic fire at Notre Dame de Paris this week involved many emotions.  The most interesting ones from a media and religion point of view were those that involved media framings of the event (of course).  Many were convenient and conventional interpretations, based in the Cathedral’s assumed centrality to a once-Catholic Europe and France.

George Weigel, the (ironically since he’s a conservative) opined to Brian Williams that he wondered whether this might re-ignite Catholic piety in secular Europe, that people might find themselves once again enthralled by the mystery and mastery.  I’m skeptical, of course.

Way on the other side is something that stands in a kind of mirror relief to Weigel’s desire.  My colleague Kevan Feshami (a fellow of our Center) tells me that the white nationalist discourses he monitors were all over the Notre Dame fire.  They portrayed it as an example of the inability of the Western liberal institutions to actually be guardians of their own cultural treasures.  This piece from the Washington post points to this discourse.

This is somewhat contradictory to the overall view of religion among these groups.  Most are irreligious or even anti-religious, at least with regard to institutional religious authority.  Their commonplace spirituality is of an esoteric kind. They see religion as a marker or an index of “white-ness” “European-ness” or “American-ness,” while at the same time circulating a theology that looks beyond modernist categories of religion–including Christianity–to a pre-modern, more authentic, past.

That they now turn to a Christian symbol is a measure of the utility and flexibility of imaginaries of religion in contemporary media circulations.

A third voice I’ll mention in passing. Vladimir Putin.  Like the white-nationalists, he portrayed the Notre Dame fire as a measure of the ineffectuality of the liberal West.  Only strong, Christianity-centered civilization is up to the task of stabilizing modern life.  And of course, Russia is uniquely placed to be able to do this.

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