In recent years, scholars have paid significant attention to how journalism influences American audiences’ perceptions of religion, but news media is far from the only source of information on the subject. The dramatic fictional narratives featured in film and television allow viewers to enter into a new world, as do reality television and documentary films. Like novels, film and television can introduce viewers to experiences outside their own lives, including religious ideas and practices. At the same time, depictions of religion on screen can reinforce viewers’ existing assumptions, rather than challenging them. Regardless, whether it is through thematic content, the depiction of rituals, or the portrayal of certain characters, film and television may well be the primary site where Americans encounter other religions. As a result, we must consider how people’s understanding of religions is conditioned by their media experiences and how media may function to improve or hinder the religious literacy of the public.
These four case studies engage different dimensions of the media and entertainment industry, from high-level theoretical frameworks for assessing media effects to pragmatic strategies for integrating principles of religious literacy into production.
The Symposium on Religious Literacy and Business: Media & Entertainment was held at Harvard Divinity School on September 20-21, 2018. Filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail E. Disney delivered the keynote address.