Encouraging the continued exploration of religion and media

Hoewe (color)By Jennifer Hoewe, Penn State University

Religion and Media Interest Group’s Top Student Paper Award Recipient, 2013

Undoubtedly, religion continues to be a persistent topic in and influence on media content. Despite its pervasiveness in media, religion has not received the type of widespread attention in media scholarship seemingly deserving of such a value-laden subject. Instead, studies on media coverage of religion or the influence of religion on media coverage take up only a fraction of the overall body of media research.

It seems part of our duty as members of – or those with an interested in – the Religion and Media Interest Group to put the intersection of religion and media in the spotlight of media research. This ambitious call, of course, requires high-quality research that presents interesting and thought-provoking research questions and hypotheses followed by thorough analyses and thoughtful conclusions. It ought to position religion, its media coverage, and its influence on media content as entities deserving of further scholarly attention. Such attention, of course, is wholly deserving.

As a student interested in the study of religion and media, I believe it’s incumbent upon my generation of researchers to recognize the potential in this area of scholarship. Not only is it an important and socially influential field of research, it has many unexplored areas. This fruitful position seems to present an ideal opportunity for burgeoning scholars: the chance to delve into an area of media research left largely unexplored. For example, one might ask how perpetual consumption of the Muslim terrorist stereotype in the media has influenced public opinion about Muslim individuals more generally. One also might ask how a substantial and growing portion of the American population – adults with no religious affiliation – feel about their portrayal in the media. Furthermore, how are these individuals depicted? These ideas aren’t overly complicated, but they offer fertile avenues ripe for academic exploration.

Practically speaking, this work also holds important implications for the non-academic population. Many religions and denominations of religions are misunderstood, particularly in their international contexts. Research examining the meaning of various religious affiliations in different regions of a country – or the world – would offer an opportunity to provide more information about how individuals define themselves. Such knowledge could aid media creators in producing more accurate religious contexts. It could then encourage a more accurately equipped media consumer.

Simply put, I hope the kind of research supported by the Religion and Media Interest Group continues to increase in number, as the intersection of religion and media appears to be a constant.

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