Pope Francis in Cairo - Authority and branding on Instagram

  • Theo Zijderveld (Author)
    Faculty of Theology Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Instagram has become one of the most popular social media with over 400 million users worldwide. Instagram is especially designed for mobile use: taking photos, editing and sharing. Many religious and spiritual leaders do use Instagram and attract millions of followers. Religious leaders in the western society cannot legitimize their authority in the public sphere by referring solely to tradition or religious sources. The crisis of authority has resulted in a longing for strong and charismatic leaders. In a spiritual marketplace, new requirements are emerging for leadership. Leaders become personal brands with their own mythology, central message and media channels, adapted to the styles and symbols of popular culture. The aesthetic dimension has become crucial, since audiovisual communication can be mediated by the media technology of today.
Pope Francis is one of the most prominent religious figures of today. In this paper, we will investigate how he uses Instagram to build a personal brand and how this relates to his authority, using the posts during his visit to Cairo as a case study. Mobile devices and apps play like Instagram pave the way for new audiences and new interactions between the religious leaders and their audiences. The importance of images for media personalities shows the importance of the aesthetic dimension of charismatic authority. This paper will offer new insights in studying the relationship between religious leaders and authority in a media age.


Religious Authority, Personal Branding, Capital, Instagram