Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Images of religion in the media

This is from a somewhat dated research article (1980), but it's still useful. It'd be interesting to redo the study & look at how things have changed or not.

Roderick Hart and colleagues (Review of Religious Research) read 648 religion sections in Time Magazine, and they did a content analysis--looking for common themes in these sections. They found three major themes:

1) Religion is a conflict-ridden enterprise. About 80% of the articles emphasized religious conflict, especially with-in denomination conflict.

2) Denominational stereotypes and geographical biases affect media coverage. The stories emphasize religion especially in the northeastern United States. Christians are depicted as conflict-ridden far more than Jews. Catholics and Jews are depicted as more active than Protestants.

3) Media portrayal of religion differs from demographic and social facts. There were twice as many stories about Catholics and Jews than they are represented in the United States populace. There were seven times as many stories about Episcopalians. Baptists, on the other hand, receive only 1/6th of the stories they would deserve based on their population size.

The authors conclude that Time Magazine covers religion just as it would sports, show business, or politics. It seeks out the "exciting" story, as filtered through its reporters own experiences and perceptions.

If this study were done today (and maybe it has been replicated), what do you think it would find? What are media biases about religion--especially evangelicals?


Ben said...

My guess is that evangelicals would largely be portrayed as unintelligent (at least not very good thinkers)and as bigoted.

The "conflict" evidence of the 1980s actually resonates with my own experience Maybe it was just my particular (Reforemed)seminary setting and the church situation I had just left, but when I moved to Paris, I felt a sense of relief because Christians there seemed to focus more on cooperation and survival. My personal experiences in the US left me with the feeling that American evangelicals spend an inordinate amount of time and energy debating who has the right theology; who's in and who's out. (Ingroup/outgroup kind of retoric).

Brad Wright said...

I think that you're right Ben about the portrayal of Christians as ignorant & bigoted. Certainly not always, but it does seem to be a theme.

Interesting about the church in Paris vs. here...

jt said...

Hmmmm. I bet a good RA could replicate their analyses with data from 2007. Would make for a nice MA paper if anybody around here is looking for a topic - and if it's not something Brad's going to do himself!

Brad Wright said...

JT, I think you're right that it would be interesting to update this kind of analysis (if it hasn't been done already)... would make for a good MA project!