In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Religion and the Media

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Religious Perspectives
  • Research Perspectives

Communication Religion and the Media
Judith M. Buddenbaum
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0097


Churches and other religious organizations have always conducted or commissioned media research addressing their interests. Scholarly journals have always published occasional articles dealing with religion and media. However, as a distinct area for scholarly inquiry, religion and media owes its origin in the United States to a confluence of events during the late 1970s that made religion important in a way it had not been since the 1925 Scopes trial. Questions raised by the opening of television to paid religious programming as a result of changes in broadcast law and network policies led to a flurry of scholarship on the then-new electronic church by sociologists of religion and mass communication scholars. At about the same time, the election of the born-again Jimmy Carter as president, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the rise of the New Christian Right paved the way for scholarly interest in religion as news. Since then the continuing political influence of conservative Christians in the United States, an influx of Muslim immigrants in European nations, and the events of 9/11 have sustained interest in the field and broadened it to encompass both international scholarly attention and a new emphasis on the portrayal of religions beyond Christianity in news and entertainment media. In the 1990s international research conferences on religion and the media began to appear. The American Academy of Religion, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and the International Communication Association all had units devoted to the subject. As a result, religion and media, although still closely identified in the United States with journalism and mass communication, developed into an eclectic, interdisciplinary field. Although European scholarly research in both the sociology of religion and communication predates that in America, the events that initially triggered the development of religion and media as an area for scholarly inquiry had little initial impact outside the United States. However, by the 1980s scholars from around the world with interest in the field had begun to find each other through organizations such as the International Association for Mass Communication Research, which scheduled a session on the subject at its 1994 conference in Seoul, South Korea, and the International Communication Association, which did the same at its Sydney, Australia, conference that year. However, the real impetus for international research came from a series of media–religion–culture conferences, the first of them in 1993 at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and from increasingly available funding for religion and media research from the European Science Foundation and similar organizations in individual countries. While the conferences moved audience-centered research from a culturist perspective to the forefront, the major funding promoted more traditional effects-oriented social science research in the wake of 9/11, European involvement in the US-led war in Iraq, and tensions between Muslim immigrants and traditionally Christian but increasingly secular host European nations.

Core Texts

By the 1990s a few universities had begun offering specializations in religion reporting or more broadly in religion and media. Some undergraduate journalism programs also were offering units on religion reporting within beat-based reporting courses, while others occasionally offered stand-alone courses. Although some upper-level textbooks include a chapter on religion reporting, Buddenbaum 1998 is the only available text for religion-reporting courses. With relatively few schools offering religion and media courses on a regular basis, options for those courses are also limited. Mahan 2014 and Stout 2012 are the only comprehensive, religiously inclusive texts designed specifically for religion and media courses, but Hoover 2006 is also a possibility. Therefore, many professors create their own reading lists. Books suitable for classroom use are noted in citations throughout this article. However, other professors choose from among a handful of textbooks with a Christian focus, most often Schultze and Wood 2008, Romanowski 2007, or Staley and Walsh 2007. Forbes and Kilde 2004 works well for a special topics course.

  • Buddenbaum, Judith M. 1998. Reporting news about religion: An introduction for journalists. Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press.

    This text is the only religion-reporting textbook. In addition to the chapters dealing specifically with reporting practices, there are chapters to help beginners understand their audiences and meet their needs. Other chapters provide an overview of the varieties of religions, American religious history, and the First Amendment’s religion clauses. Other features include a glossary and the “For Further Reading” list at the end of each chapter.

  • Forbes, Bruce David, and Jeanne Halgren Kilde, eds. 2004. Rapture, revelation, and the end times: Exploring the Left Behind series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403980212

    Although the book deals with just the Left Behind books, the authors’ nonsectarian approach, the study guide, and annotated list of works for further reading make this an appropriate text for a special topics course or supplementary text for religion or literature courses. However, some students may question the authors’ analysis of what the Bible says about the end times and of the social and political messages in the books.

  • Hoover, Stewart M. 2006. Religion in the media age. London: Routledge.

    Although this work from the culturalist perspective was not designed as a textbook, the relatively short chapters covering topics common in religion and media courses with an audience focus work well in both undergraduate and graduate courses. Some may question Hoover’s downplaying of the importance of institutional religion and conventional religious authority, but the author’s discussion of the media as the forum through which ideas are presented and debated and meanings constructed is well worth reading.

  • Mahan, Jeffrey H. 2014. Media, religion and culture: An introduction. London: Routledge.

    This text takes a historical and cultural approach that covers the religious content of traditional mass media and the development of new media through which new religious voices emerge and become a resource audiences draw on and use in their own religious work of religious identity construction. Noteworthy features include case studies drawn from a wide range of traditional and new religions. At the end of each chapter there are also discussion questions and short essays by well-known scholars of religion and media.

  • Romanowski, William D. 2007. Eyes wide open: Looking for God in popular culture. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos.

    This expanded and updated work has joined its 2001 predecessor as a popular textbook for undergraduate religion and media courses. Updates include material on movies in the late 20th and early 21st-centuries and whole chapters on media treatments of sex and of violence. Although the text combines communication theory with a basically Calvinist Christian theological perspective, it is designed to help all students understand media conventions, think critically about content, and consider their own reactions to it.

  • Schultze, Quentin J., and Robert H. Wood Jr., eds. 2008. Understanding evangelical media: The changing face of Christian communication. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

    The twenty-one chapters in this comprehensive text provide a historical overview and thoughtful critique of the efforts by evangelicals to support and promote their faith through both traditional and nontraditional modern media forms, such as theme parks, games, and Christian merchandise. Although it is written from an evangelical perspective for an evangelical student audience, concluding chapters give Jewish and Roman Catholic perspectives on evangelical media culture.

  • Staley, Jeffrey L., and Richard Walsh. 2007. Jesus, the Gospels, and cinematic imagination: A handbook to Jesus on DVD. Louisville: John Knox.

    This book is a popular choice for use in undergraduate courses at both secular and religious schools. Chapters on eighteen important “Jesus films” ranging from the 1905 The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ directed by Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet to Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ provide background information, plot summary, description of key visuals, and references to relevant Bible passages keyed to the accompanying DVD.

  • Stout, Daniel A. 2012. Media and religion: Foundations of an emerging field. New York: Routledge.

    This comprehensive text combines history, theory, and cultural context to provide a comprehensive overview of professional and social aspects of media and of media genres as they relate to denominational, world, and cultural religion. A special feature is the inclusion of an original play designed to help students understand and think critically about the interplay between religion and media.

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