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‘My God Is Modi Ji’ : The Religious Representations in the Facebook Following of Narendra Modi

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Title: ‘My God Is Modi Ji’ : The Religious Representations in the Facebook Following of Narendra Modi
Author(s): Kupias, Teppo
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology, Department of Comparative Religion
Discipline: Study of Religions
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2015
In this study the religious representations in the Facebook following of India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, are explored and analysed. The study is a theoretically informed netnographic study and its background is in the previous studies of charisma and the concept of natural religion or natural cognitions related to religion. On the essentialist–social constructionism scale the study situates itself in the essentialist end, treating the research material as an expression of the reality behind it, not just as socially constructed. As far as is known, this study is the first study using online material to analyse religious representations in the following of a secular leader figure. The research material, or data, for this study comes from Narendra Modi’s official Facebook fan page and the comments on it. A total of of 6,617 comments were manually collected from the fan page on four separate dates: 6 November 2012, 20 November 2012, 20 July 2014 and 6 August 2014. After the collection of the comments, a software tool in python language was written to index the comments. The nature of social media, and the Internet in general, makes it mandatory to treat the research material as a mere snapshot of Modi’s rapidly changing Facebook fan page and not as a continuously existing mass of data. The different years for the material gathering represent two different political and social positions of Modi. In 2012 he was the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat and a popular Prime Minister candidate. In 2014 his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won the general election, which consequently made Modi the Prime Minister of India. The analysis of the comments and the religious representations in them thus also includes a comparative aspect, taking note of his changed social position. The analysis of the research material shows that while some of the commenters are passionate haters of Modi, the majority of his Facebook followers are big supporters of him and are charismatically oriented in their following. On his fan page, Modi is treated as a god, as a messenger of god and compared to religious figures such as Buddha and Swami Vivekananda. A savior belief in Modi is also strongly present in the comments. Some comments also show deep emotional commitment to Modi. As a new finding the study also shows that online charismatic following includes belief in reaching the leader personally through the comments despite there being hundreds of thousands of messages: some of the comments contain very personal requests and messages to Modi. As a conclusion, this study clearly supports earlier findings on charismatically oriented following drawing from natural cognitions related to religion, and shows that even in the following of a non-religious leader religious representations are clearly present. The study also reveals that social media provides a fruitful platform for the study of non-reflective beliefs. The main references for this study are: Kimmo Ketola’s The Founder of the Hare Krishnas as Seen by Devotees. A Cognitive Study of Religious Charisma (2008), Ann Ruth Willner’s The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership (1984), Justin Barrett’s Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds (2011), Lee A. Kirkpatrick’s Attachment, evolution and the psychology of religion (2005), Kingshuk Nag’s The NaMo story: A Political Life (2014), Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India (2011) and Robert V. Kozinets’s Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online (2010).
Keyword(s): religious representations charisma cognitive science of religion India Narendra Modi Facebook

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