Note from the Head: Why are we here?

By Gregory Perreault

Welcome to the 2019-2020 AEJMC calendar year! After being a member of RMIG since I entered graduate school and in leadership since my first year of a Ph.D. program, I have the duty and honor this year of serving as the head of our interest group. In this first newsletter offering, I want to address what motivates the research and teaching we promote within this interest group. We all have our stories as to what made religion and media “stick” for us.

Gregory Perrault portrait

Dr. Gregory Perreault

For me, it started as a sports reporter for the Palm Beach Post. I kept receiving press releases from evangelical softball associations, Jewish community centers—all of them with relevant topics related to sports … but all of them carrying language and values with which I was wholly unprepared to engage. Following the news in the 2000s, I recall reading a piece in Post one day about a rising Muslim presence in the Palm Beaches. I remember sitting at my desk troubled: I’d never written about a Muslim (that I knew of) in a sports story, I’d never received a press release. Why was that? When I really confronted myself, it occurred to me that I could have been ignoring a robust and vital community simply as a result of my own religious illiteracy. In the months that followed, and amidst technological change at the Palm Beach Post and journalism more broadly, I decided to pursue academic study of how journalists represent difference and how it could be done more effectively.

Certainly within the broad scholarly tradition of “difference” there are numerous areas that vitally need attention: race, gender, sexuality. But how interesting that so often the discussions of difference ignore religion. They do so at a peril: it is hard to look at any of the news of the day without seeing the sweeping influence religion retains throughout the world. The rise of hate groups using religious rhetoric, the populist enthusiasm of world leaders using religious rhetoric, the proliferation of Islam and Pentecostal Christianity worldwide. One could look from a US-centric perspective and conclude that “religion is decreasing” but this does not take into account the development in scholarly discussions of religion nor the statistically inverse trend occurring within the global south. It might be more correct to assume in actuality that religion is increasing—just not where we academics are often looking.

This is why our group matters. As members of the scholarly community of AEJMC, we have the opportunity (and perhaps responsibility) to expose and highlight issues of religion on a global scale. We have been based in a firm foundation through contributions of innumerable scholars of media and religion, in particular Dr. Judith Buddenbaum of Colorado State University, and Dr. Daniel Stout of Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Through their work in developing this interest group with AEJMC and the Journal of Media and Religion with Taylor & Francis, they laid a theoretical and methodological foundation that has helped many (myself included) work through complicated research within our field.

We are in a vibrant era for scholarly discussion in religion and media. Thank you for being a part of it.

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