The Making of contemporary papacy: manufactured charisma and Instagram

Oren Golan, Michele Martini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research highlights the growth of alternative religious leadership on a global scale. In response, social media have emerged as platforms to compete for religious primacy. Accordingly, the study asks how is online religious authority constructed, re-affirmed and implemented by religious organizations? We contend that through online means, religious organizations are nowadays working to construct a public image to spark charismatic attraction towards institutional leaders. To investigate, we developed a grounded study that captured the full Instagram production of Pope Francis’ official account (429 images). Drawing on construal theory, findings demonstrated the strategic management of social, spatial, affective and hypothetical distance, simultaneously corresponding with uncovered facets: hierarchical positioning; geographical locales, haptic engagement, and leaders’ visual focus. Thus, we suggest introducing a concept of image-mediated-charisma, and its theoretical framing through digital distance. Concepts that were observed in the religious realm yet can be extended and applied to political or cultural leaders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1368-1385
Number of pages18
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number9
StatePublished - 28 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Israel Science Foundation [grant number 624/17]. The authors wish to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments as well as Daniel Barnett for his reflective aid in editing this manuscript. In addition, deep gratitude is offered to Aarif Badarny for his support in gathering data and overall support of this study. We further wish to offer thanks to Ori Eyal for his reflective assistance on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Finally, the authors wish to acknowledge support from The Israel Science Foundation [grant number 624/17].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Catholic Church
  • Instagram
  • Pope Francis
  • charisma
  • digital religion
  • leadership
  • religious authority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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