A most loyal steward of religion and media research: Judith Buddenbaum

By Debra L. Mason

Dan Stout perhaps said it best: Judith Buddenbaum is the sine qua non — the essential element — in the field of religion and media. Dan wrote that description when he was honoring Judie in an article for the Journal of Media and Religion’s 10th Anniversary volume, back in 2012.

Dan, who has worked closely with Judie more than any other scholar, chose his words wisely.

When I decided to study religion and news at the start of my doctoral program in 1990, it was a lonely business.

But no one knew about that loneliness better than Judie. In my earliest literature searches, all roads led to Judie. Content analysis of religion news? Check. Broadcast news coverage of religion? Check. Use of religious communication by news outlets? Check. Judie alone kept a consistent and focused research agenda on highlighting audiences and content creation of religion news.

As a novice scholar, I knew I had to meet Judie. Once I did, she became my most trusted advisor and mentor on religion research.

When you do research on religion and media, you quickly learn that it’s not a sexy or highly popular topic. It’s not often rewarded with publication in the highest prestige journals. Regardless of the challenges, Judie modeled excellence in research technique and strategies, and expected others to adhere to excellence as well. She kept on pushing the field and didn’t settle for easy shortcuts.

The reasoning was clear: No one would be calling religion and media research lightweight while Judith Judie was around. Her proclivity toward quantitative research thrilled me and made me a life-long fan. When she asked me to co-author a book about news that included religion news supplemented with historical context, I was honored. Helping junior scholars was instinctive to Judie, who also co-authored a research methodology textbook with her daughter, Butler professor Kate Novak, in 2001, when Kate was a young sociology professor.

It was Judie’s partnership with Dan Stout that became her longest and most productive partnership. Every conceivable significant topic related to religion and media became the topic of a book. It was with Judie’s nudging in the form of research and statistics about religion research that Taylor & Francis agreed to begin publishing the Journal of Media and Religion.

Buddenbaum was a stickler for standards but kind in her reviews. She never failed to take on extra papers to review for RMIG, served in RMIG leadership positions, and agreed to be a discussant more times than I can count.

After a distinguished faculty career at Colorado State University, Buddenbaum displayed the same loyalty toward her home state — Indiana — that she has shown the field of religion and media. She retired in Indianapolis, near her daughter and several grandchildren, and with her husband, Warren.

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