2010 Summer Newsletter

Toronto, Turkey and Beyond?

Conference Considers Forming International Society of Media, Religion and Culture

John P. Ferré, University of Louisville
RMIG member

The Seventh International Conference on Media, Religion, and Culture, meeting from August 9 to 13 at Ryerson University in Toronto ended with agreement to vote on the formation of an International Society of Media, Religion, and Culture (ISMRC) by June 2012, when the group will convene again in northwest Turkey on the campus of Anadolu University. ISMRC will be the first worldwide association dedicated to the academic study of media, religion and culture.

In many ways, the conference in Toronto was typical of the six international conferences on media, religion, and culture that preceded it. The conferees came from several continents — North America and Europe especially, but also Australia, Asia, Africa, and South America. The host country has always been well represented, so Canadians had a strong presence at this year’s meeting.

The conferees also came from several disciplines. Besides media studies and religious studies, participants in Toronto came from sociology, theology, English, history, and political science. Most of their papers were qualitative, but some quantitative research was presented as well.

Keep reading past the jump for more on the International Conference on Media, Religion, and Culture.

Subjects of the papers were as varied as the disciplines and nationalities represented in Toronto. Papers dealt with pedagogy, virtual reality, inclusion and exclusion, and representation. They covered books, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, film, and the Internet. Islam was important, but it hardly overshadowed the world’s other major faith traditions.

The conference program — which is available online at www.journalism.ryerson.ca/websites/cmrc2010/program.aspx — had well over 100 presentations. Because only three or four sessions ran concurrently, sessions were well-attended and they usually generated lively question-and-answer periods. Captivating presentations includes ones by

  • Jenna Tiitsman, a doctoral student in religious studies at the University of North Carolina, who examined the Oneida community’s fascination with the laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable in 1858;
  • Faiza Hirji, an assistant professor of communication studies at McMaster University, who identified stereotypes that Canadian television programs use in their depiction of Muslim women; and
  • Stephen Garner, a lecturer in theology at the University of Auckland, who explained how he teaches his survey of “The Bible in Popular Culture,” which includes a clip about Jesus’ inability to play rugby from bro’Town, the irreverent animated TV series from New Zealand.

A recurring complaint about the three and half days of the Toronto conference was that participants could not attend two concurrent sessions at once.

In contrast to the city, the Toronto meeting was fairly small — 150 faculty and graduate students attended. The small size, combined with an opening reception, ample coffee breaks between sessions, and a closing luncheon, facilitated the formation and renewal of friendships. Sessions were heady but relaxed, making for meaningful conversation. More casual conversations occurred on Thursday evening, when the conference sponsored four off-campus excursions: a trip to the Bata Shoe museum, a concert at the Toronto Music Garden on the Lake Ontario waterfront, an excursion to Toronto Island Park, or a guided tour of a private art collection at the University of Toronto, near the building where Marshall McLuhan worked.

The first International Conference on Media, Religion, and Culture met in Uppsala, Sweden in 1993. Subsequent meetings in Boulder, Colorado and Edinburgh, Scotland finished out the 1990s.

This decade saw four more meetings. The one I hosted in Louisville, Kentucky in 2004 was followed by conferences in Sigtuna, Sweden, São Paulo, Brazil, and Toronto, Canada.

Presentations at these conferences have almost always been in English, although a number in São Paulo were in Portuguese.

Before 2008, the media, culture, and religion conferences were held with no plans for establishing an academic association. That changed in São Paulo, where a number of young scholars and participants from the global south said that having a formal organization would help them get funding from their home institutions for conference attendance. Others said that despite the value of interest groups in established organizations such as AEJMC, ICA, and NCA, a dedicated association would support the interdisciplinary quality of the media, religion, and culture conferences and foster a sense of importance not always experienced in large, discipline-based organizations.

This reasoning led the former media, religion, and culture conference organizers to form a steering committee in order to develop the proposal for a dedicated organization to be discussed in Toronto. By the end of the Toronto meeting, participants agreed that a vote on forming an International Society of Media, Religion, and Culture — which would embrace interdisciplinary and self-critical examinations of media and religion, including pedagogy, theology, and ethics — would take place by September 2011. If approved, ISMRC would be incorporated in the United States where it is relatively simple and inexpensive to do so. Every participant in a previous media, religion, and culture conference will be eligible to vote on the establishment of ISMRC. Leadership will be comprised of an 11-member Board of Directors, including a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, web master, and student member. The initial Board of Directors will be elected from a slate of self-nominated candidates.

The principle purpose of the International Society of Media, Religion, and Culture will be to hold regular international conferences, but participants in Toronto agreed that the organization will also be encouraged to promote online networking, publications, student involvement, and conference awards for research and publications.

Any suggestions about the new organization should be sent to Stewart Hoover at hoover@colorado.edu.

Getting Ready for Fall: Teaching Tips

By Erika Engstrom, University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Religion and Media Interest Group Teaching Chair

Another semester finally over, and the school year ends for many of us. However, even as the summer months provide a respite from the day-to-day lecture grind, it always seems as if it flies by much too quickly. Even though the fall semester may seem months away, the end of the spring serves as an ideal time to reassess one’s classroom performance and prepare for the inevitable rush to get syllabi ready in time for the first day of fall classes. End-of-semester housekeeping may seem a chore when considering the time dedicated to grading final exams and papers and submitting grades. However, it can be rather therapeutic, in that it can be a way of winding down prior to summer research projects.

For example, I like to go through all my paperwork after grades are done as a way to clean out my files and in/out boxes I use to store notes, articles, and other items I put in the “later” category as the semester progressed. I also like to rename all my PowerPoint files and electronic files so that I can find them later as I plan for the next semester. Believe it or not, using the same file terms helps to organize files so that one is not hunting around for past-semester study lists and assignments. It also allows for easy access for preparing annual evaluation portfolios. Another tip from RMIG head Paola Banchero is to keep notes about what works and what doesn’t work for a class. As one of her first tasks for the summer, she prepares syllabi for the upcoming semester.

Though one may not be in the office or on campus during the summer months, course preparation need not take a hiatus. Additional time also allows for browsing those journals you’ve been saving up to review. Why not carry a journal or two on the plane while you’re traveling to the AEJ convention? Other publications also can provide teaching ideas. For example, I like to skim my husband’s copies of Science, which often includes short news items about recent research in my area, often leading me to track down articles that I include in my course readings. (Indeed, I’ve seen several articles in Science on archeological digs which have uncovered religious artifacts and new findings regarding the authenticity of religious relics.)

As part of RMIG’s teaching goals for the next year, we invite members to submit their course syllabi to serve as examples for others. Components of syllabi that others may find useful include: course objectives, policies, and useful readings, including academic and popular articles. For example, do you also include an encouraging message to students that outlines tips for success? Or do you include a biographical sketch that gives students an idea about your area of expertise or some other aspect about your academic life that can serve as an introduction prior to the first day of class (such as for syllabi posted on course websites such as on Blackboard or WebCampus)? Please send your syllabi in Word to erika.engstrom@unlv.edu. Thanks—and have a productive summer!

Finding meaning in ritual

By Paola Banchero, University of Alaska Anchorage
Religion and Media Interest Group Chair

“July? Where has the summer gone?” lamented my husband. I didn’t have it in me to tell him that we’ve spent nearly three weeks frittering a good part of the summer away watching World Cup soccer games, especially the ones that began at 6 a.m. Alaska time. I’d make sure to have coffee made by the time the game started. We talked about where we were when the last World Cup was played, and the one before that, when I’d try to see games at the mall in Guadalajara, where I was living at the time. Every four years, I become a dedicated soccer fan, reading about the players and coaches, doing cartwheels when a Cinderella team makes it to the quarterfinals or beyond, screeching at the television when the referee makes a bad call. My nuttiness for the World Cup subsides after the final, In the intervening four years, I catch only the occasional match.

A similar sensation must come over people who go to church for the “important” holidays of Easter and Christmas. They crave the ritual, the moment of participation and the good feelings that linger afterward. The details of the sermon are forgotten, but the message lasts a bit longer, perhaps until the next holiday. Meaning is found in participating in the ritual.

I’ve come to think of the annual conference of AEJMC as a similar kind of ritual. Sometimes I refer to my notes from a particular session, but more often, I think about which conference I met a colleague at or when I first heard about the research of an impressive scholar. I’m sure that the Denver conference will be particularly memorable. I’ll mark the annual ritual the same way I usually do: going to as many sessions as my brain can absorb, meeting up with old friends and slipping away for at least one good dinner. However you spend time at the conference, consider it more than a meeting of colleagues. While this year’s RMIG board can’t shoot like the Argentines or pass like the Germans, I’m hopeful we’ve had a role in making the AEJMC conference a meaningful ritual, one that you will remember for years to come.

Here’s the schedule to help you make your travel arrangements.

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