In June of 2017, the American Council of Learned Societies awarded a grant to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications’ Associate Professor Michael Wagner. This grant, Interactive Skill Building to Improve Religious and International Affairs Storytelling in Local Journalism, is meant to foster collaboration and conversation between those who study religion, journalism and international affairs. Professor Susan B. Ridgely, an Associate Professor in the Religious Studies program, completes the team by providing her expertise in American religious history and religion in the media.
There were eight workshops held during the 2017-18 school year, on an array of relevant topics. Several speakers focused on how partnerships between Religious Studies scholars and journalists can benefit both parties, and the readers they have a responsibility to. Other speakers focused on the ways religious groups have been covered in media, and how that coverage reflects the treatment of those groups. The students that are in college in this generation may recognize this most in the way Islamophobia colors reporting on Muslims, especially post-9/11. Our keynote speaker, Catherine Wessinger of University of Loyola New Orleans, spoke about the way the Branch Davidians were covered during a 51-day FBI siege on their home. In both these cases, religious groups of autonomous individuals with diverse beliefs and practices were, and are, too often reduced to stereotypes. Through these workshops, participants learned about the major implications of media coverage on religious minority groups. Journalists and Religious Studies scholars also had open conversations about their careers, they way they do their work, and the assumptions that had about one another.
Next year, the program will feature more enriching talks. We are hoping to place a greater emphasis on involving community members, scholars across disciplines, and local journalists. If you have an interest in hearing someone speak, would like to do so yourself, or want to hear about a certain relevant topic, please reach out! See our Contacts page for information about our Project Leads.
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