Former journalist and television personality, Dr Elna Boesak, has graduated from UKZN with a PhD degree in Gender and Religion.
The title of her PhD thesis was: Channeling Justice? A Feminist Exploration of North American Tele-evangelism in a South African Constitutional Democracy.
‘I have never envisaged myself as a scholar,’ said Boesak. ‘My career as a journalist and producer was firmly rooted in 30 years of experience, however, a perfect storm of circumstances led me to the open door of academic deliberation.’
In her thesis, Boesak expands on scholarship in burgeoning fields of media and religion studies by bringing her media training and experience in journalism and broadcasting to bear on the phenomenon of globalised North American televangelism.
Her supervisor Professor Sarojini Nadar said that the study, undertaken through intersectional, African feminist framing and the application of comprehensive, critical rhetorical discourse analysis, demonstrated the challenges which selected popular Christian broadcasting posed to the gains made with gender equity through the South African Constitution.
‘This study holds enormous significance for policies regarding broadcasting in South Africa, particularly with the proposed Hate Speech Bill currently under consideration,’ said Nadar.
Elna’s husband, theologian and anti-apartheid activist, Professor Allan Boesak, said: ‘I have always known that Elna was a woman of extraordinary intellect and a journalist of integrity and substance, but to see her bring together new insights from several disciplines with such depth, well-considered argument and thought provoking logic and coherence was a new experience. As I watched the dissertation grow into this compelling work, I have learned so much.
‘The topic is highly relevant and as a liberation theologian with the inclusivity of justice high on my agenda I feel challenged to the limit. I now ask questions of my theology and practice in ways I have not done before. I am grateful to her for that. I think Elna has delivered an amazing dissertation offering new thinking on a subject much touted but hardly taken seriously enough – gender justice. Our country and the world are in deep need of an academic dissertation with actual practical worth! As a theologian and human rights activist, I cannot wait to engage her thinking in my future work. As a husband, I am just immensely proud.’
She further proposed that during apartheid the preservation of white, western, heterosexual male domination (political, social and economic) was a main priority and that strategic mass media communication (‘the media’) played a significant role in protecting and maintaining such dominance.
‘This role continues in different guises in South Africa in an era of globalisation. Globalised strategic Christian mass media communication, such as transnational religious broadcasting, is one example,’ she added.
Boesak’s findings revealed that the North American televangelists in question in her study, construct gender in a fashion that justifies and maintains various manifestations of hegemonic dominance. ‘Their use of specific communication biasing frames and other methods reinforce the ideological content of their rhetoric, obstructing the potentially transformative power of the South African Constitution.’
She believes that globalised mainstream North American New Evangelical/Fundamentalist televangelism is an imperialist tool used for the re-colonisation of the religious convictions of African Christians. She further recognises that in a New Media Age, transnational electronic churches have become omnipresent.
‘They have the potential to manufacture consensus around harmful beliefs, values, norms and practices that hamper gender equality and justice and radical reconciliation in South Africa. The content of such media products constitutes sanctification communication. Such communication is combatant and defensive and has a political agenda. It should be critically engaged as an enlistment and mobilisation tool for a global fundamentalist Christian movement that challenges human rights,’ said Boesak.
She thanked her husband, family, friends and her supervisor Professor Sarojini Nadar. ‘There are many friends and experts that served as valuable professional soundboards and sympathetic supporters. To be married to Allan Boesak meant 25 years of constant exposure and access to a fountain of liberation theological knowledge and inspiration. No value can be put on this privilege.
‘Prof Nadar has my gratitude for her constant vigilance. She made sure that I was careful on the thin line between journalistic investigation, thinking, and writing and academic research, interpretation, and theorising. Six and sometimes 12-hour time differences often resulted in her sacrificing personal time. This is much appreciated.’