Dispatches from the Job Front

greg-perreaultThe opportunities and challenges of the religion and media job search

By Greg Perreault
Ph.D. Candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism

“Finding the right job will be like falling in love, it’ll just work.” Those were the words of advice given to my by my research advisor on the job scene and as it turns out that’s exactly how it went. I did have concerns while I was on the market about how my research interest would be perceived. Prior to the job market, I’d never perceived any sort of avarice against my subfield although I did experience some while on the job market. In the space that follows, I want to share some of the challenges I found regarding being a media and religion scholar on the job market, with the understanding that every job is different as is every scholar. My experiences won’t be your experiences, but you may, hopefully sense some common threads that could prove fruitful.

Challenge of Significance– “Isn’t religion dying? Why is what you’re studying important then?” The question seems obvious enough when you really think about recent surveys by the Pew Research Center and others. In my experience, interviewees were all generous enough to never ask the question explicitly. In some cases though, the question was there. What I made sure to indicate in every interview is that religion is actually quite a vibrant field of study, once you take into the multitude of expressions–expressions that extend far beyond organized religion.

Challenge of Empiricism– I’ve always been quite impressed with the level of scholarship conducted in media and religion studies, but in some cases, another question hiding in the background was the question about whether I was interested in “beating the drum” of a particular religious tradition. In one case, I applied for a critical/cultural job and the search chair quickly emailed me back to ask if I’d seen the job ad. She noted that the position was critical and empirical and indicated that the type of research I did was not. At first, I was a bit confused in that all of my published research builds on classic critical scholarship including orientalism, hegemony, and critical race theory. Then I was, frankly, offended by the possibility that she was implying that the type of research I did was uncritical. But it was a useful learning experience. It is worth noting that this was the exception in my search, not the norm.

Challenge of Fit– In my case, a good portion of research and teaching deals with emerging media and digital technology. In the contemporary communication department and/or communication school, this has a clear fit typically with the course catalog of the department. Religion can be a bit tougher in that there is a less often a “reporting religion” or “religion in the media” class, as opposed to a “digital journalism” class. So I found it important to know enough about the school to know–do they have a religion department? Do they have classes where my research would fit? Are there ways to frame religion research in ways that would make sense for the classes that need to be filled e.g. as a type of “cross cultural” research or a type of “niche media.”

Overall, the greatest asset I gained on the job market (aside from the job) was the confidence to argue for the significance of religion and media research.

RFP_0703Where does religion and media fit in the job market?

By Mariam Alkazemi, Ph.D.
University of Florida

As a veiled woman, I feel that I should not shy away from research involving Islam and the media. While many scholars and activists encourage research dealing with Islam, there is an inherent problem with research involving the media and Islam: it covers a very wide scope of issues. Since the religion appears in politicized terms in the news media and can be examined in many contexts in scholarship, stating that one is studying Islam and the media is more vague and ambiguous than helpful. While there is a real need to understand the mediation of Islamic theology, media effects with regards to Muslim issues and media literacy of Muslims, the label of Islam and media can be interpreted as international communication, political communication or other forms of communication. In other words, this research interest can be difficult to define on the job market.

Some of these topics require knowledge outside of the field of communication. Scholars hoping to gain such knowledge may find themselves gaining skills with which journalists are not typically familiar. Knowledge of the Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Urdu languages among others, travel experiences and knowledge of other cultures are useful tools that are not accumulated overnight. While these skills may seem less important than a decade of professional experience, they can easily be overlooked in the job market.

It is my hope that the job market will improve and scholars will improve the current understanding of world events and how religion shapes them. My vision for mass communication scholarship is one that involves improving the education of Muslim and non-Muslim journalists such that people all over the world can learn about one another from the mass media in a safe and nonthreatening way. As I face challenges in defining my research interests to potential employers, I adhere to the support of my mentor who explains, “the only people who fail in our field are those who give up.”

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