Toronto, Turkey and Beyond?

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Conference Considers Forming International Society of Media, Religion and Culture

John P. Ferré, University of Louisville
RMIG member

The Seventh International Conference on Media, Religion, and Culture, meeting from August 9 to13 at Ryerson University in Toronto ended with agreement to vote on the formation of an International Society of Media, Religion, and Culture (ISMRC) by June 2012, when the group will convene again in northwest Turkey on the campus of Anadolu University. ISMRC will be the first worldwide association dedicated to the academic study of media, religion and culture.

In many ways, the conference in Toronto was typical of the six international conferences on media, religion, and culture that preceded it.  The conferees came from several continents – North America and Europe especially, but also Australia, Asia, Africa, and South America. The host country has always been well represented, so Canadians had a strong presence at this year’s meeting.

The conferees also came from several disciplines.  Besides media studies and religious studies, participants in Toronto came from sociology, theology, English, history, and political science.  Most of their papers were qualitative, but some quantitative research was presented as well.

Subjects of the papers were as varied as the disciplines and nationalities represented in Toronto.  Papers dealt with pedagogy, virtual reality, inclusion and exclusion, and representation.  They covered books, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, film, and the Internet.  Islam was important, but it hardly overshadowed the world’s other major faith traditions.

The conference program – which is available online at – had well over 100 presentations.  Because only three or four sessions ran concurrently, sessions were well-attended and they usually generated lively question-and-answer periods.  Captivating presentations includes ones by

    • Jenna Tiitsman, a doctoral student in religious studies at the University of North Carolina, who examined the Oneida community’s fascination with the laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable in 1858;
    • Faiza Hirji, an assistant professor of communication studies at McMaster University, who identified stereotypes that Canadian television programs use in their depiction of Muslim women; and
    • Stephen Garner, a lecturer in theology at the University of Auckland, who explained how he teaches his survey of “The Bible in Popular Culture,” which includes a clip about Jesus’ inability to play rugby from bro’Town, the irreverent animated TV series from New Zealand.

A recurring complaint about the three and half days of the Toronto conference was that participants could not attend two concurrent sessions at once.

In contrast to the city, the Toronto meeting was fairly small – 150 faculty and graduate students attended.  The small size, combined with an opening reception, ample coffee breaks between sessions, and a closing luncheon, facilitated the formation and renewal of friendships.  Sessions were heady but relaxed, making for meaningful conversation.  More casual conversations occurred on Thursday evening, when the conference sponsored four off-campus excursions:  a trip to the Bata Shoe museum, a concert at the Toronto Music Garden on the Lake Ontario waterfront, an excursion to Toronto Island Park, or a guided tour of a private art collection at the University of Toronto, near the building where Marshall McLuhan worked.

The first International Conference on Media, Religion, and Culture met in Uppsala, Sweden in 1993.  Subsequent meetings in Boulder, Colorado and Edinburgh, Scotland finished out the 1990s.

This decade saw four more meetings. The one I hosted in Louisville, Kentucky in 2004 was followed by conferences in Sigtuna, Sweden, São Paulo, Brazil, and Toronto, Canada.

Presentations at these conferences have almost always been in English, although a number in São Paulo were in Portuguese.

Before 2008, the media, culture, and religion conferences were held with no plans for establishing an academic association.  That changed in Sã<o Paulo, where a number of young scholars and participants from the global south said that having a formal organization would help them get funding from their home institutions for conference attendance.  Others said that despite the value of interest groups in established organizations such as AEJMC, ICA, and NCA, a dedicated association would support the interdisciplinary quality of the media, religion, and culture conferences and foster a sense of importance not always experienced in large, discipline-based organizations.

This reasoning led the former media, religion, and culture conference organizers to form a steering committee in order to develop the proposal for a dedicated organization to be discussed in Toronto.  By the end of the Toronto meeting, participants agreed that a vote on forming an International Society of Media, Religion, and Culture – which would embrace interdisciplinary and self-critical examinations of media and religion, including pedagogy, theology, and ethics – would take place by September 2011.   If approved, ISMRC would be incorporated in the United States where it is relatively simple and inexpensive to do so. Every participant in a previous media, religion, and culture conference will be eligible to vote on the establishment of ISMRC.  Leadership will be comprised of an 11-member Board of Directors, including a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, web master, and student member.  The initial Board of Directors will be elected from a slate of self-nominated candidates.

The principle purpose of the International Society of Media, Religion, and Culture will be to hold regular international conferences, but participants in Toronto agreed that the organization will also be encouraged to promote online networking, publications, student involvement, and conference awards for research and publications.

Any suggestions about the new organization should be sent to Stewart Hoover at

Categories: Newsletter, Research

Getting Ready for Fall: Teaching Tips

July 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Erika Engstrom, University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Religion and Media Interest Group Teaching Chair

Another semester finally over, and the school year ends for many of us. However, even as the summer months provide a respite from the day-to-day lecture grind, it always seems as if it flies by much too quickly. Even though the fall semester may seem months away, the end of the spring serves as an ideal time to reassess one’s classroom performance and prepare for the inevitable rush to get syllabi ready in time for the first day of fall classes. End-of-semester housekeeping may seem a chore when considering the time dedicated to grading final exams and papers and submitting grades. However, it can be rather therapeutic, in that it can be a way of winding down prior to summer research projects.

For example, I like to go through all my paperwork after grades are done as a way to clean out my files and in/out boxes I use to store notes, articles, and other items I put in the “later” category as the semester progressed. I also like to rename all my PowerPoint files and electronic files so that I can find them later as I plan for the next semester. Believe it or not, using the same file terms helps to organize files so that one is not hunting around for past-semester study lists and assignments. It also allows for easy access for preparing annual evaluation portfolios.  Another tip from RMIG head Paola Banchero is to keep notes about what works and what doesn’t work for a class. As one of her first tasks for the summer, she prepares syllabi for the upcoming semester.

Though one may not be in the office or on campus during the summer months, course preparation need not take a hiatus. Additional time also allows for browsing those journals you’ve been saving up to review. Why not carry a journal or two on the plane while you’re traveling to the AEJ convention? Other publications also can provide teaching ideas. For example, I like to skim my husband’s copies of Science, which often includes short news items about recent research in my area, often leading me to track down articles that I include in my course readings. (Indeed, I’ve seen several articles in Science on archeological digs which have uncovered religious artifacts and new findings regarding the authenticity of religious relics.)

As part of RMIG’s teaching goals for the next year, we invite members to submit their course syllabi to serve as examples for others. Components of syllabi that others may find useful include: course objectives, policies, and useful readings, including academic and popular articles. For example, do you also include an encouraging message to students that outlines tips for success? Or do you include a biographical sketch that gives students an idea about your area of expertise or some other aspect about your academic life that can serve as an introduction prior to the first day of class (such as for syllabi posted on course websites such as on Blackboard or WebCampus)? Please send your syllabi in Word to Thanks—and have a productive summer!

Categories: Newsletter, Teaching

Finding meaning in ritual

July 2, 2010 Leave a comment

By Paola Banchero, University of Alaska Anchorage
Religion and Media Interest Group Chair

“July? Where has the summer gone?” lamented my husband. I didn’t have it in me to tell him that we’ve spent nearly three weeks frittering a good part of the summer away watching World Cup soccer games, especially the ones that began at 6 a.m. Alaska time. I’d make sure to have coffee made by the time the game started. We talked about where we were when the last World Cup was played, and the one before that, when I’d try to see games at the mall in Guadalajara, where I was living at the time. Every four years, I become a dedicated soccer fan, reading about the players and coaches, doing cartwheels when a Cinderella team makes it to the quarterfinals or beyond, screeching at the television when the referee makes a bad call. My nuttiness for the World Cup subsides after the final, In the intervening four years, I catch only the occasional match.

A similar sensation must come over people who go to church for the “important” holidays of Easter and Christmas. They crave the ritual, the moment of participation and the good feelings that linger afterward. The details of the sermon are forgotten, but the message lasts a bit longer, perhaps until the next holiday. Meaning is found in participating in the ritual.

I’ve come to think of the annual conference of AEJMC as a similar kind of ritual. Sometimes I refer to my notes from a particular session, but more often, I think about which conference I met a colleague at or when I first heard about the research of an impressive scholar. I’m sure that the Denver conference will be particularly memorable. I’ll mark the annual ritual the same way I usually do: going to as many sessions as my brain can absorb, meeting up with old friends and slipping away for at least one good dinner. However you spend time at the conference, consider it more than a meeting of colleagues. While this year’s RMIG board can’t shoot like the Argentines or pass like the Germans, I’m hopeful we’ve had a role in making the AEJMC conference a meaningful ritual, one that you will remember for years to come.

Here’s the schedule to help you make your travel arrangements.

Categories: Newsletter, Uncategorized

Rocky Mountain High: AEJMC Annual Convention set for Denver

February 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Credit: Visit Denver

By Paola Banchero, University of Alaska Anchorage
Religion and Media Interest Group head

From my vantage point overlooking snow-frosted birch trees, summer sounds a long way off. But it’s not too soon to start thinking about the AEJMC annual convention in Denver Aug. 4-7.

The Mile High City is a great place to be in August. Actually, it’s a great place to be anytime. I’m biased. I grew up in Denver and take every chance I can to visit family who live there. So let me tell you a little about the city. First off, Denver is the capital of a state that just crossed the five million mark in terms of population. Like a lot of Western cities, it’s seen a lot of growth. It started as a camp for miners who had struck gold at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and used to have a reputation as a cow town with little nightlife. Boy, that’s changed. Now it’s nearly a continuous urban area, ranging from north of the city to Fort Collins and south of the city to Pueblo. And the city boasts one of the best music scenes with venues like the Bluebird Theater at 3317 E. Colfax Ave. A retro neon sign adorns the establishment, and it’s located on a street that embraces yuppies, recent immigrants and the occasional drug user.

The conference hotel is the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel at 1550 Court Place. Good restaurants and public transit are nearby. If you’re interested in staying at a boutique hotel, you might try the Hotel Monaco. It’s stylish and features one of the best restaurants in the city, Panzano. The restaurant was named a “Top 5” by the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News and given four stars by 5280 Magazine, one of Denver’s city magazines. The luxurious Hotel Teatro is also close by. The historic Brown Palace is the place to have afternoon tea, as the elites visiting Denver have done for decades.

You’ll notice that Denverites are a mix of sophisticated and outdoorsy. Fashionable downtown workers will strut to high-rise offices sporting heels or Italian loafers, but you’ll also see bike commuters who take a quick shower and are ready to roll at their tech or energy industry jobs.

The weather will likely be warm during the day, and it’s not unusual to get a quick afternoon shower and then have the skies turn blue again. Bring walking shoes to traverse Denver’s streets and perhaps an umbrella or light jacket. It’s the high desert, which means a wide variation in temperature during the day, with August temperatures in August ranging from a low of 52 degrees and a high of 86 degrees.

Credit: Visit Denver

From the conference hotel, it’s a short walk to the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian strip that runs through the center of downtown. Lined with cafes, shops and skyscrapers, it also has a trolley that allows you to walk, then ride back to your starting place if you are so inclined. If you want to amble further, a good place to check out is City Park. Perfect for a morning run, it also has a great zoo and the Denver Museum of History and Science. There are hundreds of miles of urban trails, from the Cherry Creek Bike Trail to the Greenway Trail along the banks of the South Platte River. It’s easy to rent a bike at Classic Cruisers bike rental. You might even hit My Brother’s Bar, where Jack Kerouac and other Beat Generation heroes once hung out. If you are more of spectator, the Rockies play the San Francisco Giants August 3 and 4 at Coors Field.


*Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel

1550 Court Place


As of this writing, the rates for August have not been published on the AEJMC website. Check back for more information.

*Hotel Monaco

1717 Champa St.


Rates quoted on the website were about $299 per night in August.

*Hotel Teatro

1100 14th St.


Rates quoted on the website were about $219 per night in August.


*Brown Palace Hotel

While your per diem might not allow you to dine here, afternoon tea is worth the effort.

321 17th St.


*House of Marrakesh

Lamb served all kinds of different ways, but it’s a good place if you have a vegetarian in your group as well.

1530 Blake St.


*Panzano Restaurant

Simply delicious Italian food. Upscale, but you can have something light on a budget.

1717 Champa St.



Yummy breakfast fare to get your day started right. On the plus side: perky orange booths in which to sit.

2262 Larimer St.



WaterCourse is a vegetarian restaurant that serves super-fresh, delicious food. It also has a bakery with to-die-for goodies, some of them vegan.

837 E. 17th Ave.


Categories: Newsletter Tags: , ,

Deadline for paper competition approaches

February 20, 2010 Leave a comment

By Chiung Hwang, BYU-Hawaii
RMIG Research co-chair

The paper call is out. You may find it on AEJMC website/newsletter or RMIG website, if you have not yet received it through e-mail. We encourage everyone to consider submitting your work to our interest group. Please also forward the paper call to your colleagues and graduate students. All topics related to religion and media, and both quantitative and qualitative research methods, are welcome.

The deadline for the paper competition is April 1, 2010, as usual. We will also continue the paper competition reward system this year to encourage quality papers. The winners last year received not only a cash award, but also a very beautiful plaque that they can proudly display in their office.

I am compiling a list of relevant journals to our field, which you will find under a separate page, listed at the top. This is something I think can be useful for publication consideration. What I have so far is the beginning of this compilation process. Please drop me a note if you know of any other journals that I should include. The final product, I hope, can be a brochure to distribute to all our members as a reference. This list includes the journal titles and the condensed version of their descriptions.

Categories: Uncategorized

Special SPIG call for Denver AEJMC: Social justice journalism in the classroom

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

By John Jenks, Dominican University
Small Programs Interest Group research co-chair
Teresa Housel, Hope College
Small Program Interest Group research co-chair

We teach techniques and technology, law and theory, but how should we handle questions of social justice?

Advocacy for the poor and powerless is nothing new to journalism. Muckrakers and crusaders through the decades have lived by the motto: “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Many of us teach students about America’s strong tradition of the alternative press that still thrives today. Additionally, many colleges and universities have social justice as part of their mission.

But what should this mean to journalism educators? How does a commitment to social justice square with journalists’ ideals of fairness, accuracy, impartiality and truth? Here’s a chance to explore. SPIG invites critical essays, qualitative papers, and quantitative research on the issues and questions involved in pursuing justice through the journalism classroom.

We already have a slot reserved for this research panel during the Denver convention – 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 5. This is in addition to our regular research showcase at the scholar-to-scholar session.

Submit your papers through the standard All Academic on-line process by April 1. (Details available at: Make sure you use the phrase “social justice” somewhere in the title.

If you have any questions, please contact either of us:

Research Co-Chairs

John Jenks (
Teresa Housel (

Take a road trip to Focus on the Family in Denver

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

RMIG is planning a visit to Focus on the Family during the Denver conference. The global non-profit evangelical Christian organization is headquartered about 90 minutes south of Denver in Colorado Springs. Focus on the Family’s primary ministry is in strengthening and defending traditional family values. Founded in 1977 by Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family has been particularly adept at using radio, the Web, forums, film and print media to spread its message that the family is central to the Christian faith. The organization recently received a lot of media buzz with the airing of a Super Bowl commercial featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother.

The plan is to leave the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel at approximately 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, August 4, and return in time for the keynote speaker at about 6 p.m.

RMIG is organizing transportation for the event but needs to assess interest before we can determine whether to charter one or two buses for the occasion. The cost per member is likely to be about $30. We would love to have as many members as possible attend. And please tell people outside of RMIG membership who you think would be interested in visiting Focus on the Family about this opportunity.

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