Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Harold Innis remains, some twenty-two years after his death, the paramount scholar on the subject of the effects of communication in the history of the West. This thesis is the first attempt to deal comprehensively with his works from the perspective of what they say about religion. The approach taken is to examine what he says and to elucidate its significance for an understanding of religion. The thesis supported in this work is that, on the basis of Innis' works, religion in the West may be viewed, at least in part, as an effect of communication.
Innis' works suggest that religion, in an organizational sense, is a monopoly of knowledge or a monopoly of truths with a bias either to time or to space. The bias is an effect of the dominant medium of mechanized communication. However, his works also identify a fundamental religious experience, outside any organizational or institutional setting, which is an effect of oral communication. This is a spiritual creativity which implies individual freedom and the pursuit of truth.
Mechanized communication is seen to convert the pursuit of truth into the maintenance and defence of truths on a large scale and the resulting monopolies of knowledge or systems of "religious" truths provide for the efficient control of man over either time or space.
Innis' works emphasize the value of questioning all "religious" truths. Since they are the basis of large scale control all must be continually questioned in order for man to be free. His works suggest that they must also be questioned in order for man to be truly religious. A central message in his works is that an agnostic state of mind is indispensable for individual freedom and spiritual creativity. This state of mind is an effect of oral communication and it may be seen to be of the essence of religion.
Innis' works point out that no means of mechanized communication adequately or fully communicates the oral tradition. Each technique and technology imposes a message of its own. This suggests that the message of the Christian gospels, for example, which came out of an oral milieu, will be changed when communicated in mechanized forms. It will be different from and less than the original. An understanding of the effects of communication is therefore important for an understanding of the gospel message. Innis' later works help to provide such an understanding.
They emphasize that the message always reflects the means and the medium of communication. Man's thinking is biased by the way he communicates. Therefore, he may never know in any absolute sense what truth is. He may, however, have faith that truth is. This brings an important new perspective to the understanding of religion.
This thesis identifies early and later stages in Innis' work but it concentrates on the later stage. A brief synthesis of his early works is included at the beginning in order to provide a better understanding of his theory of effects and monopolies. The main body of the thesis synthesizes Innis' writings on the effects of communication and explains their significance for an understanding of religion in the West. An Appendix helps to explain further the somewhat different perspective to Innis' works taken in this thesis and the significance of this perspective for the study of religion.
Keast, Ronald Gordon, "The Effects of the Technique and the Technology of Communication Upon Religious Thought and Religious Organization in the West as Elucidated and Suggested by the Works of Harold Innis" (1974). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2986.