On Thursday Nov. 2, the new Institute of Religion and Communications held its inaugural event in Jubilee Hall. The new Institute recently opened at Seton Hall and its mission is to provide curriculum that will explore communication topics important to religion and society. Dr. Mgnr. Dennis Mahon, associate professor of communication will lead operations for the institute.
The inaugural event included: Msgr. Mahon, keynote speaker William McGurn, former chief staff writer for President George W. Bush and editor for the Wall Street Journal, and Deirdre Yates, dean of the College of Communications and Arts.
The event began at 6:30 p.m., and while the audience was being seated, attendees were asked to respond to a polling statement via clickers: “Religion is covered fairly in the news media.” They were able to pick from five options, which varied from strongly disagree to strongly agree.
Mahon began the event by speaking about the new Institute, which included his ambitions for curriculum and research.
He expressed gratitude for his colleagues and those who helped with the creation of his Institute. He then passed it on to Dean Yates, who expressed her enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary relationship between her College and the Institute.
Next, McGurn began his speech, Speaking Truth: Religion in the Media.
McGurn said, “I think I speak for believers of many different faiths when I say the press does a poor job of covering American religion.”
He addressed this statement from three different perspectives, in a way to resolve the issues religion faces when being shown in media.
McGurn said that one of the biggest issues facing American society today is the reality that America is not as religious as it was in the past. This is also due to the rise and commonality of there being non-believers.
Following McGurn’s speech, a panel of speakers joined to have a follow up discussion regarding his speech, then opened to the audience for their questions.
The moderator of the panel was Dr. Ki Joo Choi, associate professor and chair of the Department of Religion. Panel members included the following: Jim Goodness, director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Newark; Dr. Arthar Murtaza, associate professor of Accounting who studies accounting ethics and social justice as perceived by various faiths; Yael Katzwer, managing editor of the News-Record of Maplewood & South Orange, West Orange Chronicle, and freelancer for the New Jersey Jewish News; and Ashley Turner, Editor in Chief of The Setonian.
Panelists shared their personal beliefs as to why religion is wrongfully portrayed by modern media.
According to Turner, she believes that the reason as to why people are distancing from religion is due in part that religion is too static and that religious scriptures are ‘outdated’ and not modernized in accordance to today’s society.
Though, Goodness countered her argument and said that religion is not static.
Turner also believes that this is a reflection of today’s society. Those who read and follow media are becoming more interested in ‘bad’ stories, and not so much on religion.
Dr. Choi elaborated that this “bad” media includes stories and headlines about scandals revolving politicians, or even religious institutions such as places of worship, because to them these stories are just more entertaining.
Katzwer discussed the problem media reporters face when covering controversial topics because sources are often distrusting. She said sources often focus on making themselves look good, and do not focus on accuracy of their facts and statements.
Yael also believes that the biases can lie within reporters themselves. If one has their own preconceived notions against a certain religion, or for organized religion in general, they can write the story based upon their own notions and not focus on the facts that may prove otherwise.
The event then concluded with audience being able to personally talk to the panelists and McGurn himself.
Mimi Rahman-Vyas, a freshman occupational therapy major, shared her thoughts on the event.
“The topic of the event was interesting, but the speaker, William McGurn, kept going off topic and into his own personal experience,” Mimi stated. “What I did like was how he described the lack of religion in America, and his reasoning and examples behind it was interesting.”
Yates and Mahon shared that for the spring 2018 semester, the Institute of Religion and Communications will be hosting a wide range of events, including workshops and more panelist events.
Hannah Sakha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.