On April 18 at the Columbia Journalism School, the American Council of Learned Societies hosted “How the Media Found Religion: Covering Faith in 2018 and Beyond,” a conversation between journalist Emma Green of The Atlantic and David P. Gushee, distinguished ethicist and current president of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Green and Gushee reflected upon a diverse array of subjects, including the growing importance of religion coverage in both domestic and international affairs, the need to foster better ties between scholars and journalists, and the challenges of reporting on religion in an often contentious media landscape.
Religion journalists face “a breadth of challenges,” said Green, from online vitriol to shrinking newsrooms. She issued a call for “the people who know religion best—scholars of religion and the journalists who are dutifully trying to report on religion topics—to work together at a time when religion coverage is so important and there are so many deficits to be overcome.”
Professor Gushee remarked that learned societies have a key role to play in preparing scholars to engage the media. He noted that AAR’s November 2018 annual meeting in Denver will feature two presidential plenary sessions devoted to religion and the media: the first highlights the work of top religion journalists, while the second will feature religion scholars who have garnered substantial public followings. The scholars, said Gushee, “will talk about how they have developed [their followings], what they have been attempting to achieve, and what price they have paid” for their efforts to engage the public on religion. He noted that AAR’s aim is to develop effective strategies for supporting academics who engage in such work.
This event capped a two-day inaugural symposium for the Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs, an initiative that encourages new connections between scholars and journalists who work at the intersection of religion and global affairs. Since ACLS launched the program in 2016, it has supported scholars at over a dozen different institutions across the country through an interrelated set of programming grants for universities and year-long research fellowships for individual scholars of religion. The 2018 symposium, mounted in partnership with Columbia’s Institute for Religion, Culture & Public Life, brought the program’s grantees and fellows into dialogue with reporters and editors covering religion for The Atlantic, Slate, BuzzFeed, and the Pulitzer Center.
More information about the Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs, which is made possible by support from the Henry Luce Foundation, is available here.