Case Studies

Each symposium in the Religious Literacy and the Professions series uses case studies to make concrete the challenges and opportunities encountered by professionals in their respective fields. Case studies are not intended to be representative of best (or worst) practices. Rather, they present a range of approaches to a topic in order to provide common core of knowledge to our expert panelists. 

The journalism symposium case studies below draw from a range of sources, including national, local, and social media. They represent some of the most compelling news stories in the United States in recent years, and each one engages religion in important ways. As you read the case studies, we pose the following questions to guide your reading:

  • When does religion become part of the story? What role does religion play in this story?
  • Which religious actors or institutions are included, and when? How does the choice of which religious actors to include shape the story?
  • Where is religion engaged in an innovative way? Where is it treated as a cliché (perhaps obscuring what’s really going on in the process)?
  • How does a religious literacy approach to this story enrich our understanding of what’s happening?
  • What forms of violence is religion supporting or resisting in this case?
  • How do theological anthropologies (theologically based understandings of human nature/human beings) play into the positions at stake and the conflicts between them?

We also pose the following questions about the field of journalism more broadly:

  • What sociocultural or local structural factors foster or constrain critique in journalism?
  • What are the strengths and drawbacks of having a “religion beat” and how is that beat defined?
  • What are the received narratives about religion that are easy to write (and draw “clicks”), and how do journalists effectively challenge or complicate them?
  • How can schools of journalism best address the challenges and opportunities regarding religious (il)literacy? What should journalists know?
  • How do the structural changes occurring in the media world affect coverage of religion/religious aspects of stories, and how can journalists cope?
  • How do professionals in journalism understand the relationship between constructing narratives and reporting on the narratives of others?

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter Demonstration March in Minneapolis. Photo Credit Fibonacci Blue, Creative Commons License.Born as a hashtag in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, Black Lives Matter matured into a vibrant movement in the crucible of “Ferguson” and the protest of Michael Brown’s shooting.  In the intervening years, Black Lives Matter has maintained a loose organizational model that allows for great variety and makes broad generalizations difficult.  Given such the relationship between BLM and the American religious landscape appears multi-layered and complex.  In some salient ways the movement departs from the historic role of church organizing that marked much of the civil rights movement, even as it resonates with progressive Christian congregations.

Core Readings

Social Media Coverage

Additional Readings

Donald Trump and Evangelicals

Donald Trump SmirkingA consistent theme in media coverage of the 2016 presidential election has been Donald Trump’s relationship with evangelical voters. In February, it became clear that Trump, rather than evangelical darlings Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, was winning the evangelical vote, leaving journalists to explain what had happened and what it meant for the future of the Religious Right in the United States. In June, Trump made a high-profile series of overtures to evangelical leaders, again drawing attention to his shifting relationship with conservative Christian voters, and his choice of Mike Pence as his running mate was seen as a strategic move to reassure them. At the same time, Trump has also drawn criticism from leading evangelicals, causing what many have described as a rift between “Trumpvangelicals” and their opponents.

 

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Social Media Coverage:

 

Additional Readings:

North Carolina's House Bill 2


The statue of Walter Raleigh in Raleigh, NC, wearing a rainbow feather boaIn March 2016, the North Carolina State Legislature passed House Bill 2 (HB2), which prohibited local governments from instituting non-discrimination ordinances that go beyond state non-discrimination laws. The bill was passed in response to the city of Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; state non-discrimination laws do not include protections for LGBTQ+ people. The bill also mandated that students in public schools use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate, regardless of their gender identity, and it prohibited cities from raising the minimum wage to be higher than the state’s. North Carolina faced significant political and economic backlash after passing the bill. Media coverage of the bill did not initially include religion, but it eventually attributed responsibility for the bill, at least in part, to southern conservative Christianity while also showing examples of progressive religious individuals and institutions.

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Social Media Coverage:

 

Additional Readings:

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall StreetOccupy Wall Street tore into the cultural consciousness in mid-September of 2011 with its occupation of Zuccotti Park, its scathing critique of American economic injustice, and its proclamation “we are the 99%.”  At the time, Occupy’s counter-cultural organizational structure and aesthetics led many to question its long-term efficacy, but while the movement itself proved relatively short lived, the ensuing years continue to reveal the resonance of its call for economic justice and its critique of an economy that favors the “1%.”  Whether the Occupy movement proved prescient or truly helped frame the issue of economic justice that has animated the current election, in retrospect it appears a salient part of the current cultural moment.  From the beginning the Occupy movement drew on multiple ideologies and movements for justice and liberation, both secular and religious, and so provided a complex cultural dynamic for journalists to cover.  Similarly, the wake of Occupy has continued to resonate in both religious communities and in current political rhetoric.   

Core Readings

Social Media& Visual Media

Additional Readings

Park51 ("Ground Zero Mosque")

Protestors at Park51In December 2009, the New York Times ran a front-page story about plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood. The center, known then as Cordoba House and later as Park51, was intended as a gesture of healing, a place that brought people together. However, not everyone saw it this way. Americans and especially New Yorkers were divided over whether it was appropriate or sensitive to build an Islamic cultural center so close to the site where thousands had died at the hands of terrorists acting in the name of Islam. President Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and others who supported the community center argued for it on constitutional grounds: so long as it conformed to existing building codes and received the necessary board approvals, the public should accept its right to be built in that location, no matter what religious group it might house. Their opponents, including far-right activist Pamela Geller, argued that the project would be insensitive to the families of 9/11 victims and might encourage “radical Islam.” They nicknamed the project the “Ground Zero Mosque,” a rhetorical stroke of genius that thrust the debate into the national spotlight, fueling heated debates about Islam all over the country leading up to the 2010 midterm election. 

Core readings

 

Additional readings

 

 

Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Photos of Pulse Victims on Memorial Rainbow QuiltThe mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse in June 2016 sparked a national conversation about homophobia, Islamophobia, and gun rights. The question was, in short, who should we blame? Was the shooter motivated by Islam, given his declaration of allegiance to ISIS? Was the shooter motivated by American homophobia? Was the real problem that he had access to a gun in the first place? Coverage of the shooting and its aftermath highlighted these issues as well as drawing attention to LGBTQ+ Muslims.

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Social Media Coverage:

Additional Readings:

Refugees, Immigration, and Security

Immigrant Child with American FlagThe United States is both a nation of immigrants and a nation ever ambivalent about immigration.  Throughout this nation’s history immigration has meant the presence of newcomers whom American citizens often deemed unassimilable due to religious, linguistic, cultural, and racial differences.  At the same time, each wave of immigrants took root and reshaped American culture in ways sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle.  Over the past few decades, in the wake of NAFTA and 9/11, tensions around immigration, sanctioned and unsanctioned, have risen to a fever pitch. Fear of immigrants, especially with respect to Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, has drawn heavily on religious imagery and rhetoric.  So to, however, have many attempts to welcome immigrants and transform fear into constructive engagement.  In the context of immigration peoples own religious narratives and their assumptions about other religions enter into a complex dynamic that reveals much about the cultural fault lines that undergird the nation.

Core Readings

 

Additional Readings

 

 

 

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