Communication 463/Humanities 596 Perspectives on Religion and Media

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John P. Ferré

310D Strickler/220 Gardiner


Office hours: Tuesdays 9:30-noon or by appointment

Communication 463/Humanities 596

Perspectives on Religion and Media

Religion and mass communication have been partners ever since Johannes Gutenberg developed movable type in 1450. The partnership continues in America today with, for example, the new Common English Bible available in paperback and Kindle, Salem Communications operating 95 radio stations and supplying 2000 others with syndicated content, and Family Christian Stores operating 300 retail stores across the country. Religious groups may no longer dominate American mass media like they once did, but the relationship between religion and mass communication continues to be important. At stake is the role of religious faith in American life. How secular media deal with religion and how religious individuals and groups themselves employ media affect the ways that religion is understood and the ways that religion can influence society.

This semester you will study the history and meaning of mediated religious communication, focusing on journalism, film, and the Internet. By the end of the semester, you will have demonstrated through tests and documented essays (a) knowledge of specific and relevant ways that mass media have engaged Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, (b) the ability to conduct applied research, and (c) the ability to express what you have learned in clear prose.

Campbell, Heidi. Exploring Religious Community Online: We are One in the Network.

New York: Peter Lang, 2005.

Lyden, John, ed. The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Marshall, Paul, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green Ahmanson, eds. Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

If you have a disability that requires accommodation for you to participate and complete requirements for this class, please notify me immediately and contact the Disability Resource Center (119 Stevenson Hall, 852-6938) to verify eligibility and determine specific accommodations.

Academic Dishonesty
According to the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, “Academic dishonesty is prohibited at the University of Louisville. It is a serious offense because it diminishes the quality of scholarship, makes accurate evaluation of student progress impossible, and defrauds those in society who must ultimately depend upon the knowledge and integrity of the institution and its students and faculty.” Students found to plagiarize may or may not burn in Hell, but they will fail this course.
Books and videos (30 points)
The simplest way to learn about religion and media is to study the research that has already been conducted on the subject. For this reason, you will read books on journalism, film, and cyberspace and watch videos on broadcasting. Quizzes will be given to measure your comprehension of these books and videos, typically at the beginning of class on the day the assigned reading will be discussed or, in the case of videos, the following class day. There will be no make-ups for these quizzes, but the lowest three grades will be dropped.
At the end of the semester, the quiz grades – minus the three lowest – will be averaged. The student with the highest average will receive however many points needed to bring his or her quiz score to 100, and that number of points will be added to everyone’s quiz average.

Research (3 x 20 points = 60 points)
To complement your reading about media and religion, you will perform systematic research that will show how historical and theoretical dimensions of media and religion have worked themselves out locally. You will undertake three focused research projects: one on religion and news, another on religion and film, and a third on religion and social media. These 2300-word research assignments will be evaluated according to their rationale, clarity of expression, and support for thesis. Late papers will not be accepted.
First Research Project
In Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America, Mark Silk argues that American news media report religion in terms of seven themes: good works, tolerance, hypocrisy, false prophecy, inclusion, supernatural belief, and declension. Use Silk’s seven “topoi” to classify the religion news articles the The Courier-Journal of Louisville published during the ten days before your birthday in 2010, the ten days before your birthday in the year you were born, and the ten days before your birthday twenty years before you were born. (The Courier-Journal is available on microfilm on the second floor of Ekstrom Library.) Write a documented essay (2300 words plus endnotes) explaining your observations of continuity or change in the way that The Courier-Journal has reported religion over this span of two generations.
Second Research Project
At least two dozen religious movies have caused so much offense that protests, and sometimes calls for censorship, have resulted. The following films dealing with religion appear on online lists of most controversial movies of all time, such as American Movie Classics’ “The 100 Most Controversial Movies of All Time,” aol-moviefone’s “Rattling the Masses: The 10 Most Controversial Religious Films,” Beliefnet’s “The Most Controversial Religious Movies of All Time,” and The Independent’s “Banned: The Most Controversial Films.” Unless noted otherwise, the controversial movies are available through Netflix.
King of Kings (1927)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
The Miracle [second part of L’amore] (1948)
Viridiana (1961)
The Devils (1971 – available from

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Message (1976)

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Hail, Mary (1985)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Visions of Ecstasy (1989 – Internet downloads)
The Pope Must Die(t) (1991 – available from

Priest (1994)

Stigmata (1999)

Dogma (1999)
The Crime of Padre Amaro (2002)

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

Submission: Part I (2004 – youtube)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Water (2005)

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The Golden Compass (2007)
Your assignment is to write a 2300-word documented examination of the controversy over one of these films (chosen with instructor approval to avoid duplication). Your paper should answer the 5 Ws + H:
Who complained about the movie? Who defended the movie?
What did some people find offensive about the movie?
When did the controversy start – before opening day? How long did the controversy last?
Where did the controversy take place?
Why did the controversy end?
How did the controversy unfold? Protests? Boycotts? Coordinated letter-writing campaigns? etc.
To locate a dozen sources for your research about your chosen film controversy, be sure to look under “Research Tools” on U of L’s Library webpage (, click on “Databases by subject,” and then click on “Communication Studies.” You’ll find several potentially helpful databases there. And don’t forget about Readers’ Guide Retrospective, the word-searchable database that indexes articles that appeared in general-interest periodicals published in the United States from 1890 to 1982. Click on "Databases: A-Z" under "Research Tools." It's under "R."
Other online indexes that should prove helpful are Film & Television Literature Index and ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). Make sure to put your movie title in quotation marks. Another helpful index is Periodicals Index Online. Click on “article search.”

As for information in books, check Minerva for books under the following subject headings:

Motion pictures -- Censorship -- United States
Motion pictures -- Moral and ethical aspects
You will want to check the indexes of books you find for references to your particular film.
If you’re still looking for sources after all that, try “Google: News Archive Search” (

Third Research Project
Choose five closely related local religious groups (e.g., five Catholic churches, five synagogues, five Muslim institutions) that use social media such as YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. (In order to avoid duplication, clear your choice with me before you begin.) Examine their use of social media according to the five elements of Harold Lasswell’s model of the communication process: Who? Says what? To whom? In which channel? To what effect? The best research will result from both content analysis and interviews. Write a 2300-word report based on this research that explains what function using social media serves for your chosen religious group in Louisville. For background reading, see Pauline Hope Cheong, “Religion and Social Media: Got Web?” Media Development, 58:1 (2011), pp. 23-26 available as a PDF through the index Communication and Mass Media Complete on the Ekstrom Library website.
Final exam (10 points)
To measure how well you have come to know the ideas, practices, events, and personages involved in media and religion, you will take a comprehensive examination at the end of the semester.
Supplemental assignment for graduate students (10 points)
Academics and professionals involved with media and religion keep current by reading and by participating in professional associations. These include blogs such as TransMissions ( and The Revealer (, organizations such as Religion Communicators Council and World Association for Christian Communication (publisher of Media Development), and the Religion and Media Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which publishes the Journal of Media and Religion. Write a 1200-word essay that explains the strengths and the weaknesses of these resources for their intended participants.
Graduate students begin with -10 points.
Final grades
A+ 97-100 points

A 93-96 points

A- 90-92 points

B+ 87-89 points

B 83-86 points

B- 80-82 points

C+ 77-79 points

C 73-76 points

C- 70-72 points

D+ 67-69 points

D 63-66 points

D- 60-62 points

F 0-59 points

August 23 Introduction
August 25 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Foreword, Introduction, Chapter 1

August 30 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Chapter 2

September 1 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Chapter 3

September 6 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Chapters 4-5

September 8 VIDEO: The Radio Priest (PBS Video, 1989)
September 13 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Chapters 6-7
September 15 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Chapter 8
September 20 Marshall, Gilbert, and Ahmanson, Chapter 9, Afterword
September 22 First report due
September 27 Lyden, Introduction – Chapter 3
September 29 Lyden, Chapters 4-7

October 4 Lyden, Chapters 8-11

October 6 VIDEO: The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Lions Gate, 2000)
October 13 Lyden, Chapters 12-15
October 18 Lyden, Chapters 16-18
October 20 Lyden, Chapters 19-22
October 25 Lyden, Chapters 23-26
October 27 Second report due
November 1 Campbell, Introduction and Chapter 1
November 3 VIDEO: Televangelism in Brazil (Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 1999)

November 8 Campbell, Chapter 2

November 10 Campbell, Chapter 3
November 15 Campbell, Chapter 4
November 17 Campbell, Chapters 5-6

November 22 Campbell, Chapter 7

Graduate student reports due


November 29 Campbell, Chapter 8

December 1 Third report due

December 8 Comprehensive examination

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