2009 Spring Newsletter


Religion and Politics: A Combustible Mix

Before being picked to deliver the invocation at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, Rick Warren had a relatively positive public persona.  He was best known for founding Orange County, California’s Saddleback Church, and for the success of his book, The Purpose-Drive Life. He was also lauded for promoting broad social justice issues that do not tend to align with the priorities of his evangelical peers.  Even though evangelicals like Warren tend to support Republican candidates, Warren broke from their ranks by hosting the Democratic candidate at Saddleback for a Q-and-A. Noting his broad appeal, Time called Warren “America’s Preacher.”

For more from RMIG Chair Jim Trammell, keep reading past the jump.

When Warren was invited by President-elect Obama to pray at the inauguration, Warren’s home state of California was still feeling the aftershocks from Proposition 8, the controversial measure that revoked the marriage privileges afforded to gay couples a few months earlier by the state supreme court. When interviewed by Fox, Warren voiced his support for Prop. 8.

Warren had never been a fan of homosexual marriage, and he didn’t go out of his way to hide his opinion on it.  But he didn’t try to become the poster boy of sexual inequality, either. Nonetheless, “America’s Preacher” quickly became framed as America’s Most Popular Homophobe. Bloggers interpreted his support of Prop. 8 as indicative of Warren’s social perspective. Headlines began referring to Warren as “Controversial Preacher Rick Warren” instead of “Popular Preacher Rick Warren.” Gay-rights rallies outside Saddleback were covered by the national media.  Huffingtonpost.com reported on one of his sermons under the headline, “Follow Jesus Like Nazis Followed Hitler, Rick Warren Tells Stadium Crowd.” In short, Warren’s coverage re-framed him from social justice advocate to civil rights enemy; from unifier to divider; from preacher of love to prophet of hate.

As the re-framing of Rick Warren demonstrates, religion and politics are a combustible mix. Its fuel is media. It should come as no surprise, then, that RMIG is co-sponsoring two panels on the coverage of religion during the 2008 presidential election: “News Coverage of Religion in the Presidential Cycle,” and “We See Through a Glass Darkly: Frames of Race, Class, Gender, Theology and More in the 2008 Presidential Campaign.”  (We’re also sponsoring two non-political panels—“Coping with People Who Hate the Media” and our min-plenary, “Normative Theories of the Media Worldwide.”)

Warren was not the only preacher who spoke at the inauguration.  In his benediction, Methodist minister and civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery called for the day when:

Black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

Let’s call for the day “when the religion writer can get it right-er.”

— Jim Y. Trammell, RMIG Chair


Media and Religion Go Hand In Hand Around The World

If you ever find yourself in a position where you have to justify to colleagues the creation or existence of a communications class that encompasses religion, please feel free to share the experiences of my study abroad course called “Gutenberg to the Web.” The class travels for three weeks to England, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

While we’re in those countries, my teaching partner Vic and I discuss not only Gutenberg and the Web, but also the Protestant Reformation, Nazi propaganda, the Berlin Wall, and the 1972 Munich Olympics where Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed. Vic had a vision for such a class in 2002, and asked me to help him develop and lead it shortly after my arrival at Elon University. We took advantage of Elon’s January Winter Term to take 31 students (too many!) that first year on a European odyssey. In January 2009, we repeated the class with 21 students (just about right).

During our time in Germany, students toured the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz and witnessed a demonstration of early printing. One of our students helped to ink plates and pull the handle on a replica of a 1450s-era printing press, producing a new page of the early Latin Bible. We discussed how Gutenberg chose the Bible as his first printed book, and we traveled to the house in Erfurt where he set up a press to print indulgences to be sold by the Catholic Church.

Just up the road in Eisenach is ancient Wartburg Castle, where former monk Martin Luther holed up to translate the Latin Bible into German so all believers could read it, rather than have Scripture interpreted for them by the church. Since there were many dialects in Germany at the time, Luther also became a linguist, creating a unifying German language. The first edition of his New Testament was printed in 1522, five years after he nailed his 95 theses – some of which condemned the practice of selling the indulgences that Gutenberg helped to print – to the Wittenberg Church door.

We came down the mountain to the town center of Eisenach, where we were treated to a live concert on period instruments at Johann Sebastian Bach’s house. In several locations around Germany, we visited churches where he performed.

In Dachau, we walked the grounds of the first Nazi work camp, built in 1933. We saw the ovens, the barracks, and the showers. We groaned over the irony of the propagandistic slogan on the camp’s iron gates, “Arbeitmacht frei” (“Work makes one free”). But we also saw the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Russian Orthodox memorials. We walked through a former guard tower into a Carmelite Convent built in the 1960s partially with funds by a camp survivor.

In Munich, we made a pilgrimage to the site of the 1972 Olympic Village and read the names of 11 Israeli hostages killed by eight Palestinian terrorists belonging to the group Black September. We talked of sportscaster Jim McKay’s broadcast, how this was one of the first terrorist events to unfold on live television.

These latter two visits were particularly moving to the three Jewish students on the trip, all of who shared their feelings with the rest of us.

On one of our final nights in Germany, we went to the movies in Berlin. We saw “Valkyrie” with Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg, based on the final plot to kill Hitler by the German resistance. The scene in the film where Cruise is seen praying in a bombed out church echoed the visits we had made throughout the country to assorted cathedrals and churches that had been reconstructed after World War II.

The next morning, we went to Bendlerblock, where the real von Stauffenberg’s office was located, and where he was shot. It has been turned into a museum, and the moment made everything real to the students.

This was ostensibly a communications course, meant to emphasize the importance of communications in civilization. Along the way, students learned that religion thrives on communication as well. Not bad for three weeks’ work.

— Anthony Hatcher, Teaching Chair


Special Session at AEJMC

As you plan your days at AEJMC in Boston, make sure you carve out time for a session about Clifford G. Christians, the media ethicist and long-time professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Christians’ work has been seminal to the study of religion and media, since he himself has advocated for reflecting more deeply on the press’s roots, for examining our moral bearings, for investigating not just particular media but how media are grounded in culture. Christians has investigated making the break from individualistic rationalism to a more encompassing, cross-cultural social ethic. Christians retires at the end of the academic school year, and the Media Ethics Division will be honoring him and his contributions in Boston. A lot of scholars consider Christians a grandfather of the field of media ethics.

There’s a good reason for that, says Patrick Lee Plaisance, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University. “He is at heart a theologian,” Plaisance wrote in an e-mail about Christians.

In the book “Mediating Religion” by Jolyon P. Mitchell and Sophia Marriage, Christians reaches to Moses, the Talmud and Augustine to make his arguments.

“He is known for his call for universal ethical principles that are rooted in conceptions about the nature of humanity that transcend culture,” Plaisance added. “I think he is so admired in our field because he so compellingly brings a variety of moral exemplars (Bonhoeffer, Levinas, Aristotle, Heller, Friere) to bear on ethics theory—many of whom the social scientists in ethics are unfamiliar with. And he does so in ways that maintain a challenging standard for any normative theorizing we try to do.”

Christians has spent nearly his entire adult life in academia, earning a couple of bachelor degrees and a couple of master’s degrees before pursuing his doctorate under the tutelage of James Carey, who built the interdisciplinary doctoral program in communications at University of Illinois. Now, Christians is the director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at Illinois.

Christians is the author or co-author of dozens of books, articles and book chapters, including “Jacques Ellul: Interpretive Essays” and “Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning.” Expect his prolific writing to continue in his retirement.

“Scholars of media and religion owe much to the contributions of Cliff Christians,” said Dan Stout, professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, in an e-mail. “He was always resolute in addressing the subject of religion when others were afraid to do so. His critiques of technology are wonderful essays that provide a much needed moral perspective. He argues eloquently that technology is not neutral, and that humanistic and religious perspectives enrich our understanding of contemporary media.”

RMIG has deliberately avoided scheduling any activity or panel during the Christians panel, which is at 8:15 a.m. Friday, Aug. 7. It is jointly sponsored by the Media Ethics Divison and the Commission on the Status of Women.

— Paola Banchero, Program Chair


Call for Submissions to Journal

Symbolic Interaction, a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the University of California Press, invites submissions for a special issue dedicated to the application of symbolic interactionism to internet research.

Erving Goffman’s concept of “the presentation of self” has become foundational to much scholarly understanding of online identity in chat, email, game environments, blogs, and social networks. Yet other aspects of the rich tradition of symbolic interaction — including other concepts developed by Goffman — have been largely ignored by internet researchers.

For this special issue, we welcome a broad range of approaches to studying computer-mediated interactions between individuals and within communities online, that utilize other lines of thought by Goffman, or the works of George H. Mead, Charles Cooley, Herbert Blumer, James Carey, Carl Couch, Norman Denzin or other theorists in the interactionist tradition. Definitions of the social situation, negotiation of meanings, social processes, framing, and other interactionist principles are possible theoretical foundations.

Qualitative studies will be privileged in the evaluation of submissions, as well as those reflecting recent theoretical developments in symbolic interaction theory. Topics may include online communities, virtual environments, games, social networking sites and any other forms of computer-mediated communication.

Papers that are supplemented by online materials are encouraged, and space will be made available on the journal’s website for authors to place links, examples, illustrations, or further discussion of the published texts.

Please send submissions electronically to mjohns@luther.edu  Deadline for submissions is August 1, 2009. Click here for the complete call.


Call for Research on Documentaries

If any RMIG members have researched Documentaries — I’m thinking there is a probability that “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” might have prompted some scholarship — the journal Mass Communication and Society is soliciting manuscripts for a symposium on The Documentary and Society. The deadline has been extended to receive manuscripts. If you are currently working on research that may be completed soon and you would consider submission for this symposium, please contact MCS Editor Stephen Perry at sdperry@ilstu.edu

— Stephen Perry

Longinow named World Journalism Institute Chair

Dr. Michael Longinow, Professor of Journalism at Biola University and nationally recognized journalism scholar, has been named to the position of the John McCandlish Phillips chair of journalism at the World Journalism Institute for the academic year of 2008-2009. Longinow is the chair of Biola’s Department of Journalism and the advisor of The Chimes newspaper. Dr. Longinow will continue his full time administrative and teaching responsibilities for Biola University during the WJI appointment.

Longinow attended Wheaton College, earning a B.A., and completed an M.S. in at the University of Illinois’ in news-editorial journalism. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky with a dissertation on the interplay of print and broadcast media with Christian higher education between the 1880s and the 1940s.

Dr. Longinow has freelanced for the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, as well as smaller weeklies in metro Chicago. He did general assignment reporting and political coverage for dailies in Illinois and Georgia. Longinow’s reporting on racial inequities in Carroll County’s voting patterns helped change that government’s structure. In 2005, he served as a newspaper columnist for the Lexington-Herald-Leader on diversity issues.

Longinow is a former head of the Religion and Media Interest Group and is currently co-chair of PF&R for the Small Programs Interest Group. He is a founding member of the Association of Christian Collegiate Media (ACCM) and now serves as the ACCM national executive director.

The World Journalism Institute is located in New York City and exists to recruit, equip, place and encourage Christians in the mainstream newsrooms of America. To that end, WJI holds conferences, workshops, college-level, and multi-week courses. Additionally, WJI prints and distributes a series of essays dealing with the intersection of Christianity and journalism.

Email quint_randle@byu.edu with your newsletter items.

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