Religion encompasses many forms of communication: between groups, within groups, and with God (or other deities). Such communication can be especially powerful when group members highly identify with their religious group and the beliefs therein. Equally, it can be divisive, as evidenced by religion-based intergroup conflict and intolerance (which often overlaps along ethnic or political lines). However, not all religious communication is verbal or explicit. Religious individuals also commonly transmit their beliefs, values, and identities through symbols, physical spaces, and music. Likewise, communication with God is often pursued with silent prayer, meditation, or ritual, which also serve to reinforce one’s spirituality alongside religious group boundaries. Taken together, these varying forms of communication have implications not only for religious intergroup relations (e.g., intergroup contact or conflict), but also for intragroup relations (e.g., the strengthening of social ties) and individual health outcomes (e.g., effective communication with health care providers and coping practices). Given the importance of religious identity for many individuals, the benefits for individual well-being and intragroup relations, and yet the intergroup strife that religious group divisions can incite, the ways in which we communicate our religious group identities deserve closer attention.
Kevin A. Whitehead
In the wake of what has been called the “discursive turn” or “linguistic turn” in the social sciences, research at the intersection of language and communication and race and racism shifted from being largely dominated by quantitative and experimental methods to include qualitative and particularly discursive approaches. While the term “discursive” potentially encompasses a wide range of modes of discourse analysis, discursive approaches share a focus on language use as social action, and as a constitutive feature of actions, events, and situations, rather than as merely a passive means of describing or transmitting information about them. When applied to the study of race and racism, such approaches have examined ways in which language functions to construct, maintain, and legitimate as well as subvert or resist racial and/or racist ideologies and social structures.
Research in these areas has made use of a range of empirical materials, including “elite” texts and talk (media texts, parliamentary debates, academic texts, etc.), individual interviews, focus groups and group discussions, “naturally occurring” talk-in-interaction from conversational and institutional settings, and text-based online interactions. Although these different data types should not be seen as strictly mutually exclusive, each of them serves to foreground particular features of racial or racist discourse(s), thus facilitating or constraining particular sorts of discourse analytic findings. Thus, different data sources respectively tend to foreground ideological features of racial discourse(s) and their intersection with power and domination, including examination of “new” racisms and the production and management of accusations and denials of racism; discursive processes involved in the construction and uses of racial subjectivities and identities; interactional processes through which prejudice and racism are constructed and contested; and the everyday interactional reproduction of systems of racial categories, independently of whether the talk in which they occur can or should be considered “racist.”
The focus of intergroup communication research in the Baltic countries is on interethnic relations. All three countries have Russian-speaking urban minorities whose process of integration with Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian majorities has been extensively studied. During the Soviet era when the Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic countries were formed, they enjoyed majority status and privileges. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a status reversal as Russian speakers become minorities in the newly emerged national states. The integration of once monolingual Russian-speaking communities has been the major social challenge for the Baltic states, particularly for Estonia and Latvia where they constitute about 30% of the population. Besides the Russian-speaking minorities, each of the Baltic countries has also one other significant minority. In Estonia it is Võro, a linguistically closely related group to Estonians; in Latvia it is Latgalians, closely related to Latvians; and in Lithuania, it is the Polish minority. Unlike the Russian-speaking urban minorities of fairly recent origin, the other minorities are largely rural and native in their territories.
The intergroup communication between the majorities and Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic countries has often analyzed by a triadic nexus consisting of the minority, the nationalizing state, and the external homeland (Russia). In recent analyses, the European Union (through its institutions) has often been added as an additional player. The intergroup communication between the majorities and the Russian-speaking communities is strongly affected by conflicting collective memories over 20th-century history. While the titular nations see the Soviet time as occupation, the Russian speakers prefer to see the positive role of the Soviet Union in defeating Hitler and reconstructing the countries’ economy. These differences have resulted in some symbolic violence such as relocation of the Bronze Soldier monument in Estonia and the riots that it provoked. Recent annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the role of the Ukrainian Russian speakers in the secessionist war in the Eastern Ukraine have raised fears that Russia is trying to use its influence over its compatriots in the Baltic countries for similar ends. At the same time, the native minorities of Võro and Latgalians are going through emancipation and have demanded more recognition. This movement is seen by some among the Estonian and Latvian majorities as attempts to weaken the national communities that are already in trouble with integrating the Russian speakers. In Lithuania, some historical disagreements exist also between the Lithuanians and Polish, since the area of their settlement around capital Vilnius used to be part of Poland before World War II. The Baltic setting is particularly interesting for intergroup communication purposes, since the three countries have several historical parallels: the Russian-speaking communities have fairly similar origin, but different size and prominence, as do the titular groups. These differences in the power balance between the majority and minority have been one of the major factors that have motivated different rhetoric by the nationalizing states, which has resulted in noticeably different outcomes in each setting.