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
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.
- Lily Fowler, “In Ferguson, Nation of Islam Members Push for Peace,” Huffington Post, August 26, 2014.
- Laura Turner, “Evangelical Colleges: Unlikely Allies in #BlackLivesMatter,” The Atlantic, December 16, 2014.
- Adelle M. Banks, “Farrakhan ‘Justice or Else’ rally reaches beyond ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Religion News Service, October 10, 2015.
- Mark Oppenheimer, “Some Evangelicals Struggle with Black Lives Matter Movement,” New York Times, January 23, 2016.
- Emma Green, “Black Activism, Unchurched,” The Atlantic, March 22, 2016
- Ellen Shkanian, “An Arlington Church Refuses to Let Vandals Have the Last Word,” The Boston Globe, March 25th 2016.
- Stoyan Zaimov, “Woman Behind Black Lives Matter Photo Calls Herself a ‘Vessel,’ Describes Image as ‘Work of God,” The Christian Post, July 12, 2016.
- Rachel Zoll, “Christian Groups Have Renewed Focus on Fighting Racism,” Associated Press, August 29, 2016
Social Media Coverage
- #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter
- Bijan Stephen, "Get Up, Stand Up: Social Media Helps Black Lies Matter Fight the Power," Wired, Novermber 2015.
- Brandon Ellington Patterson, "Black Lives Matter is Killing it on Twitter: New Studies Show how Activist Communities Control the Nation's Policing Debate," Mother Jones, March 3, 2016.
- Black Lives Matter Platform
- Edward B. Fiske, “Black Power Drive Brings Change to Churches,” New York Times, April 4, 1969.
- Greg M. Epstein, “Ta-Nehisi Coates Woke Me Up: Lessons on Race, Atheism, and My White Privilege,” Salon, July 27, 2015.
- Emma Green, “Jimmy Carter Makes One Final Push to End Racism,” The Atlantic, May 31, 2016.
- Daniel May, “The Problem Isn’t Black Lives Matter. It’s the Occupation,” Tablet, August 15, 2016.
- Angel Jennings, “Why the Bedrocks of L.A.’s Civil Rights Movements Won’t Embrace Black Lives Matter,” The Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2016.
Donald Trump and Evangelicals
A 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.
- Jessica Taylor, “Citing ‘Two Corinthians,’ Trump Struggles to Make the Sale to Evangelicals,” NPR, January 18, 2016.
- Jonathan Merritt, “Trump Reveals the End of the Religious Right's Preeminence,” The Atlantic, February 27, 2016.
- David Brody, “The Evangelical War Over Donald Trump,” Opinion, USA Today, March 3, 2016.
- Michelle Boorstein and Julie Zauzmer, “Thrilling Christian Conservative Audience, Trump Vows to Lift Ban on Politicking, Appoint Anti-Abortion Judges,” Washington Post, June 22, 2016.
- Julie Zauzmer, “By Picking Mike Pence, Trump Sends Conservative Evangelicals a Mixed Message,” Washington Post, July 15, 2016.
- Laurie Goodstein, “Donald Trump Reveals Evangelical Rifts That Could Shape Politics for Years,” New York Times, October 17, 2016.
- Emma Green, "The Evangelical Reckoning Over Donald Trump," The Atlantic, November 10, 2016.
- Julie Zauzmer, "Hopeful and Relieved, Conservative White Evangelicals See Trump's Victory as Their Own," Washington Post, November 15, 2016.
Social Media Coverage:
- #ifTrumpwereevangelical on Twitter
- Hilary Hansen, “Evangelical Leader Tweets Pic of Himself, Trump, Playboy Magazine,” The Huffington Post, June 23, 2016.
- Robert P. Jones, “How ‘Values Voters’ Became ‘Nostalgia Voters,’” The Atlantic, February 23, 2016
- Alex Isenstadt, “Trump Closes in on a Super Tuesday Romp,” Politico, February 29, 2016
- Russell Moore, “Why This Election Makes Me Hate the Word ‘Evangelical,’” Opinion, Washington Post, February 29, 2016.
- Stephen Prothero, “The Huge Cultural Shift That's Helping Trump Win Evangelicals,” Politico, March 13, 2016.
- Emma Green, “Trump is Surrounding Himself with Evangelical Pastors,” The Atlantic, June 21, 2016
- Sarah McCammon, “Inside Donald Trump's Closed Door Meeting Held to Reassure ‘The Evangelicals,’ ”NPR, June 21, 2016.
- Trip Gabriel and Michael Luo, “A Born-Again Donald Trump? Believe It, Evangelical Leader Says,” New York Times, June 25, 2016.
- Elizabeth Dias, “Mike Pence Excites Social Conservatives for Trump,” Time, July 20, 2016.
- Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump Divided and Conquered Evangelicals,” Rolling Stone, July 21, 2016.
- Jonathan Merritt, “Trump-Loving Christians Owe Bill Clinton an Apology,” The Atlantic, August 10, 2016.
- Michael Barbaro, “The Hidden Influence of Clinton and Trump's Religion,” Podcast, New York Times, August 26, 2016.
North Carolina's House Bill 2
In 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.
- North Carolina House Bill 2: Public Facilities Privacy and Safety Act, March 23, 2016.
- Dave Phillips, “North Carolina Bans Local Anti-Discrimination Policies,” New York Times, March 23, 2016.
- David A. Graham, “North Carolina Overturns LGBT Discrimination Bans,”The Atlantic, March 24, 2016
- Michael Gordon, Mark S. Price, and Katie Peralta, “Understanding HB2: North Carolina’s Newest Law Solidifies State's Role in Defining Discrimination,” Charlotte Observer, March 26, 2016.
- James Hohmann, “‘Bathroom Law’ Puts North Carolina Governor in Crossfire of GOP Civil War,” Washington Post, April 13, 2016.
- Katie Zezima, “‘Not About Bathrooms’: Critics Decry North Carolina Law's Lesser-Known Elements,” Washington Post, May 14, 2016.
Social Media Coverage:
- Stephanie Lopez, “Debate Over HB2 Continues to Sizzle on Social Media,” ABC 11 Eyewitness News, March 25, 2016.
- #NoHateInMyState on Twitter
- #WeAreNotThis on Twitter
- #KeepNCSafe on Twitter
- #PatPromised and #PatDelivered on Twitter
- Chip Alexander, “ACC, NBA, NHL to Monitor, Assess North Carolina's Controversial HB2,” Charlotte Observer, March 30, 2016.
- Juliet Eilperin, “Federal Agencies Review Funding to N.C. in Wake of New LGBT Law,” Washington Post, April 4, 2016.
- Diane Rufino, “Open Letter to Gov. Pat McCrory for His Support and Defense of HB2,” Beaufort County Now, April 24, 2016
- “Statement from the Episcopal Bishops of North Carolina Regarding HB2,” The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, April 26, 2016.
- Stephanie Russell-Kraft, “NC's ‘Bathroom Bill’ Shows Problem with ‘Religious Freedom’ Label,” Religion Dispatches, May 3, 2016.
- Kent L. Brintnall, “North Carolina's HB2 and the Shifting Battle Over LGBT Rights,” Religion and Politics, May 9, 2016.
Occupy Wall Street
Occupy 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.
- Marissa Egerstrom, “My Take: Occupy Wall Street Looks Like Church to Me,” The Belief Blog, CNN, October 7, 2011.
- Nathan Schneider, “Generally Assembled at #Occupy WallStreet,” Harper’s Magazine, October 7, 2011.
- Jack Jenkins, “Occupy Wall Street: 'Protest Chaplains’ Shepherd Movement’s Spiritual Side,” The Huffington Post (RNS), August 30, 2012.
- Tribune Wire Reports, “Catholic Leaders to GOP: Heed Pope on Climate, Poor,” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2015.
- Michael Schulson, “The Moral Vision of Bernie Sanders,” Religion & Politics, March 15, 2016.
- Euel Elliot, “How Occupy Wall Street Led to the Rise of Donald Trump,” Fortune, March 23, 2016.
Social Media& Visual Media
- Kim Lawton, “Religion at Occupy Wall Street,” Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, PBS, October 28, 2011.
- Jeff Sharlet, ”Inside Occupy Wall Street,” Rolling Stone, November 10, 2011
- Rachel Marsden, “Trump is Succeeding where Occupy Failed,” Townhall, March 2, 2016.
- Jeff Madrick, “The Fall and Rise of Occupy Wall Street,” Harper’s Magazine, March 2013.
Park51 ("Ground Zero Mosque")
In 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.
- Ralph Blumenthal, “Muslim Prayers and Renewal Near Ground Zero,” New York Times, December 9, 2009.
- Cristian Salazar, “Building Damaged in 9/11 to be Mosque for NYC Muslims,” USA Today, May 7, 2010.
- Javier C. Hernandez, “Planned Sign of Tolerance Bringing Division Instead,” New York Times, July 14, 2010.
- Lisa Miller, "War Over Ground Zero," Newsweek, August 8, 2010.
- Barack Obama, Remarks by the President at Iftar Dinner," The White House, August 13, 2010.
- Justin Elliott, "How the 'Ground Zero Mosque' Fearmongering Began," Salon, August 16, 2010.
- Anne Barnard, “One Project, One Faith, and Two Men Who Differ,” The New York Times, September 17, 2010.
- Pamela Geller, “It’s Official: Ground Zero Mosque Defeated!” Breitbart, September 26, 2015.
- Anti-Defamation League. "Statement on Islamic Community Center Near Ground Zero," July 28, 2010.
- William Saletan, "Muslims, Keep Out: The Republican Campaign Against a Ground Zero Mosque," Slate, August 2, 2010.
- Thane Rosenbaum, "Ground Zero Mosque and the Freedom from Pain," Huffington Post, August 3, 2010.
- "Bloomberg on Mosque Vote," The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2010.
- Blake Farmer, "In Tenn., Mosque Location Isn't the Issue: Religion Is," NPR, August 19, 2010.
- Ben Lange, "Braley's 'Total Disconnect' From Eastern Iowans," Iowa Republican, August 25, 2010.
- John T. McGreevey and R. Scott Appleby, "Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy," New York Review of Books, August 27, 2010.
- Feisal Abdul Rauf, "Building on Faith in Lower Manhattan," Opinion, New York Times, September 7, 2010.
- Sumathi Reddy and Tamer El-Ghobashy, "Donald Trump Offers to Buy Out Islamic Center Investor," Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2010.
- Ed Pilkington, "Park51 Drawings Prove How Far 'Ground Zero Mosque' Claims are from Truth," The Guardian, October 3, 2010.
- Paul Vittelo, “In Fierce Opposition to a Muslim Center, Echoes of an Old Fight,” The New York Times, October 7, 2010.
Pulse Nightclub Shooting
The 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.
- Camila Domonoske, Merrit Kennedy, and Emma Bowman, “Suspect Purchased Guns Legally Ahead of Deadliest Shooting in Modern US History,” NPR, June 12, 2016
- Amber Phillips, “After Orlando, the Right Points to Radical Islam, While the Left Points to Guns, Hate,” The Washington Post, June 12, 2016
- Michelle Boorstein, “Orlando Shootings Highlight Debate About Acceptance of LGBT People in Islam,” The Washington Post, June 13, 2016
- Steven Thrasher, “LGBT People of Color Refuse to be Erased After Orlando,” The Guardian, June 18, 2016
Social Media Coverage:
- David Weigel, “Few Republicans Mention LGBT Community in Orlando Reactions,” The Washington Post, June 12, 2016
- Saif Shahin, “After Orlando: Twitter Recoils from Islamophobia, Takes Aim at Gun Laws,” Foreign Policy in Focus, June 20, 2016
- Karen Attiah, “We Can't Ignore America's Homegrown Homophobia,” Opinion, The Washington Post, June 12, 2016
- Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on Mass Shooting in Orlando,” June 12, 2016
- “A Joint Muslim Statement on the Carnage in Orlando,” June 13, 2016
Refugees, Immigration, and Security
The 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.
- William Fillegan, “Letter From Maine: New In Town,” The New Yorker (Courtesy of PBS), December 11, 2006.
- Cindy Carcamo, “Catholic Leaders Hold Mass at Border to Urge Immigration Overhaul,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2014.
- Kurt Streeter, “Local Religious Leaders Unite for Change,” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2014.
- Jonathan Shorman, “Sam Brownback Knocks Donald Trump’s Plan to Halt Muslim Immigration,” Topeka Capital Journal, December 8, 2015.
- Derek Brouwer, “Fear Meets Loathing: Anti-Muslim Protests put Refugee Advocates on Edge,” Missoula Independent, March 3, 2016.
- Julia Dulin, “Missoula Independent Takes Sides on Muslim Refugee Debate,” Get Religion, March 8, 2016.
- David Brooks, “Religion’s Wicked Neighbor,” New York Times, June 17, 2016.
- Nicholas Kristof, “Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl,” New York Times, August 25, 2016.
- Ted Robbins, “US Grows and Industrial Complex Along the Border” Morning Edition, National Public Radio, September 12, 2012.
- Mark Collette, “Senate’s Massive Border Security Surge Raises Difficult Questions for South Texas,” Corpus Christi Caller Times, June 10, 2013.
- Noah Bierman, “What it Could Look Like if Donald Trump’s Broader Immigration Ban Were Implemented,” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2016.