Father Johannes Ehrat, S.J. was born in Ravensburg, Germany, in 1952. He completed a Baccalaureate in Philosophy and the Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He studied Communication at the Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, obtaining a Doctorate in the Science of Communication. He is Associate Professor of Social Communications in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Gregorian University.
Father Ehrat, why is the study of communications important today?
I would like to respond with a counter question: in an era where even war has become a communication (terrorism is an act of communication, which is unthinkable without the media), how could we ignore communication and the media? Politics has become political marketing, there are administrative interventions of society through social marketing; can the Church be a ‘happy island’, working within other parameters?
What current phenomenon must be studied to have a better understanding of communication?
In a certain sense, naturally, all is communication. However, if the construction of meaning also comes by means of the media industry, the conditions and current rules of this sector are much more specific. Everything is part of the construction and maintenance of a parallel universe (to that of the real world): in public opinion. Entire sectors of this industry are dedicated to different aspects, from public relations, journalism, to political and social marketing. The rest includes the technical basis, which must be understood, even though it does not have much effect on the meaning. The press and social networks are products that make use of various technological aspects, and with new possibilities and other economic parameters replace old products without making them obsolete.
According to you, what is happening with social networks and the way of living and understanding reality?
Social networks are, in the first place, service-products (called platforms) offered by companies that have their interests. Today there is difficulty in differentiating from many products, which are born and die within the short span of a few years. Who today remembers Second Life? Ten years ago, however, it was a “must”, which according to some in the Church we could not ignore.
In this sense, then, what does the Gregorian University offer in the study of communication?
Our Faculty offers more than technical training and a familiarity with industrial products. We are more focused on an understanding of foundations, which permits an intelligent use of available technological products. However, more attention is paid to the meaning, to creativity expressed in the various media, and to being able to truly say what one wants to say without paying too high a price to the inherent logics of the media-products.