Linguanet of Religious Authority: Opium for the Poor?

Authors: Lily Chimuanya (Covenant University, Nigeria)
Esther Ehioghae (Covenant University, Nigeria)
Speakers: Lily Chimuanya, Esther Ehioghae
Topic: Applied Sociolinguistics
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


The study examines social media religious memes as a metaphorical representation of supernatural power with the potential of being the “opium for the poor”. This metaphor draws a link with the idea of “opium,” implying that religious beliefs and activities provide a stream of comfort, and reassurance, particularly among marginalized¬†groups of society. However, this similarity raises concerns, with some arguing that religion may unconsciously enable reliance and impeding substantial engagement with systematic issues. The pattern of religious authority evolves through the interaction of legitimization and delegitimization, encapsulating the essence of “linguanet” within the domain of faith. This complicated interplay explicates the process by which religious ideas, rituals, and individuals are given legitimacy, therefore establishing their place as sources of wisdom and direction within certain cultural domain. In contrast, this entails a deliberate move to question the credibility of these very sources, adding a layer of complication to the subject matter. Within this established context, this study explores religious memes as a novel digital manifestation at the intersection of language, religion, and communication. These digital artifacts emerge as participatory cultural intermediaries, opening up new opportunities for religious expression, participation, and involvement. The research underscores the visual-discursive aspects of Internet memes surrounding religious activities in Nigeria, concentrating on their function in (de) legitimization, utilizing a discourse analytical viewpoint. Drawing insights from Van Leeuwen’s (2007) legitimization framework, and a dataset of 150 Facebook religious memes, the study describes the roles of authorization, moral evaluation, rationalization, and mythopoesis in establishing and unmasking the structure of religious authority. The study aims to decode the complex interaction of legitimization and delegitimization, beginning from an expedition through the linguanet of religious power. The metaphorical resonance of “opium for the poor” invites reflection, suggesting a profound investigation of how faith, authority, and society dynamics intersect. The study argues that Internet memes adds a new perspective, shedding light on the digital environment as a site of debate and supporting the subtle dialectic that defines religious authority in the current day.


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Ibrahim, M. (2023). Pentecostalism and media in Africa: Theoretical explorations of power and agency of media platforms and their users. Religion Compass, 17(1), e12452.

Keywords: (de)legitimization, opium, memes, linguanet, Nigeria religion, metaphor.