Finding Religion in the Media

The Center for Media, Religion and Culture completed a study funded by the Ford Foundation on the ways religion is represented, experienced and understood through the media today. The project, entitled “Finding Religion in the Media,” explored the extent to which religious belief, practice and action—particularly that directed at social reform and social change—can be generated in and through the media sphere.

The research included three primary efforts. First, it located the evolving religious-media marketplace and developed a taxonomy of contemporary sources, locations, and practices of mediated religious meaning-making. Some of this turf is obvious. The formal media and the institutional sources of religious information remain visible in the public sphere. The informal presence of religion in popular and entertainment media was also charted as part of this process. The research then looked beyond these to less visible developments and locations of religious mediation, including a necessary emphasis on the digital and online environments, which are increasingly important to diverse demographic interests and activism, such as that of youth, women, immigrant, disability and LGBT interest communities. Second, the research looked at the evolving practices of user-generated media in order for our taxonomy to reflect the ways in which such activities become established in the media sphere. And third, based on these descriptions, the project moved on to in-depth studies of representative cases. Interviews were conducted with the producers of key online sources to address questions of the ways that religious interests and impulses must accommodate themselves to the demands of these new media forms and contexts.

The “third spaces” concept has been central to the Finding Religion in the Media project. As developed by Hoover and Echchaibi, this concept serves as an interpretive tool to highlight what we call a “thickening” of the religious experience beyond dichotomous definitions of both religion and media categories. Digital spaces have opened up opportunities to theorize the production of meaning across hybrid spaces. Digital media reflect and narrativize life experiences and the center has done so by looking specifically at case studies of the way religion and the religious is articulated and contested online. The research was framed around the novelty of technologies that leads us to adopt a hierarchical indexing of what constitutes an authentic experience of belonging and belief, outside of dichotomies of traditional/modern, physical/digita, and real/proximal embodied experience. The impulse to define how and why we communicate, drawing boundaries between various technological media leads to problematic understandings of complex user identities. The third spaces concept argues that theories of ritual, religion, media and communication benefit from an analysis of how meaning is produced and performed at the borderlines of a complex ecosystem of media ensembles and hybrid spaces.


Muslims in the Mountain West

This research, supported by a grant from the Social Sciences Research Council, was a joint project of the center and the University of Colorado’s Center for Asian Studies. It developed a profile of Muslims and of Islam in the six states of the mountain west region. Interviews and site visits documented the life, interests and culture of this growing community. This research project produced information useful to media, scholars and interested members of the public, as well as a website with various resources and materials. The grant supported a series of round table conversations and informational events that brought together scholars of Islam, members of the media and representatives of the Muslim community. The project also fed into the center’s conference on Islam and the Media. For more information, visit Muslims in the Mountain West.


Media, Meaning and Work: Men, Vocation, and Civic Engagement

This four-year-long study (2006 to 2010) is part of a larger project supported by the Lilly Endowment. Stewart Hoover and Lynn Schofield Clark are co-investigators of the overall effort. The center’s focus is on questions of masculinity, religion and media, looking at where men get their ideas about masculinity and maleness, how religion and media interact in the construction of these ideas, and about how such identities are expressed in men’s roles as fathers, workers and influences on succeeding generations.

The core of the study is the in-depth qualitative household interviews that have been a particular area of expertise for the center. These interviews seek to develop accounts of informants’ media lives, religious and spiritual lives, ideas about maleness and masculinity, ideas about work and vocation, and ideas about citizenship and civic engagement. In addition to these household studies, a series of located participant-observation studies are underway, as are a series of focus-group studies. Among other things, these efforts will allow comparison of Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic men and families. An intriguing sub-study will compare Evangelical and Mainline seminarians for their ideas and values related to masculinity in relation to the professional ministry.

This project resulted in a book, Does God Make the Man?: Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity (NYU Press, 2015), by Stewart M. Hoover and Curtis D. Coats


Symbolism, Meaning and the New Media @ Home

This project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, examind how media are used as a resource in family and individual meaning-making practices. It was co-directed by Stewart Hoover and Lynn Schofield Clark, and lasted from 2001 to 2006. Hoover’s work focused on the ways in which religious “seeking” in the U.S. interacts with and is informed by the emergent media environment. He was also interested in how various forms of religious identity interacted in different ways with media and media culture. Clark focused on the role the media play in the negotiations and struggles over claims to interpersonal, cultural, and religious authority in intergenerational and family relationships. She pursued important lines of inquiry in youth and youth culture in relation to media, spirituality and media, including new media.


Symbolism, Media, and the Lifecourse

This was an interdisciplinary study, funded by the Lilly Endowment that continued from 1996 to 2001. It focused on the meaning of media in family and household contexts, looking particularly at how what the late media scholar Roger Silverstone called “the moral economy of the household” is a function of both religious and media cultures.

These two projects resulted in a number of journal articles and conference presentations, as well as three books: Media, Home and Family by Stewart M. Hoover, Lynn Schofield Clark, Diane Alters, Joseph Champ, and Lee Hood (Routledge, 2004); From Angels to Aliens, Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural, by Lynn Schofield Clark (Oxford, 2003); and Religion in the Media Age by Stewart M. Hoover (Routledge, 2006).


Religion in Public Discourse: The Role of the Media

This was a two-year-long effort (1991 to 1993) that continued Stewart Hoover’s work on religion journalism. Funded by the Lilly Endowment, the project enabled survey as well as qualitative research, and included studies of the profession of religion journalism. This project resulted in Hoover’s book, Religion in the News: Faith and Journalism in American Public Discourse (Sage, 1999).