Dr. Ruth Tsuria, an assistant professor within the College of Communication and the Arts, was recently named a 2018 Emerging Scholar by the Religion in Society Research Network. She will accept the award at the Network’s Eighth International Conference on Religion & Spirituality in Society in Berkeley, California this April.
Tsuria, who teaches several courses in the College’s M.A. in Strategic Communication program, is one of just 10 scholars from throughout the world to be selected for the honor. She shared that she is delighted to receive the award and expects the opportunity to interact with her fellow awardees to be an invaluable experience.
“They are all engaged in really fascinating projects,” said Tsuria, who added that interreligious training and hijab wearing practices in the United States are just a few of the topics that will be discussed during the conference. “As a young scholar and faculty member, knowing what other young researchers are doing in this field is important moving forward and will allow for collaboration.”
Tsuria also hopes to receive feedback after presenting the paper that earned her the award, “Can Twitter Hashtags Move People into Action?,” which explores the impact the ongoing social media movement #EmptyThePews is having on evangelical church populations. As she explained, the movement was originally launched following the Charlottesville massacre as a call for congregants to leave evangelical churches that support racist or discriminatory beliefs. Now, however, she said the movement appears to be evolving into something else.
As she analyzed the tweets that have used the hashtag, Tsuria said she is finding #EmptyThePews is increasingly used by people as a tool for discussing the issues of gender and sexuality that motivated them to leave their churches. Instead of protest messages, she said more and more hashtag users are tweeting about intimate topics like experiencing domestic violence. As a result, she said the movement is becoming a haven of community building.
This seems to support Tsuria’s hypothesis that #EmptyThePews is a platform for conversation instead of protest, but she said she is still too early in her research to make any final conclusions. She said that after she finishes her content analysis of the tweets, she plans to interview some of the tweeters to learn more about the relationship between hashtag usage and congregations. That way, she said she will get a better idea of whether the movement is causing major action.
What Tsuria knows is that this project aligns with many of her research interests, especially religion and digital communication. She shared that religion and communication can be quite interrelated. Specifically, she explained that so much of modern communication occurs on the Internet, which means social norms are being set and renegotiated at a lightning fast pace. Yet religion, she pointed out, is very slow to change — which makes things interesting when it comes up against the online world.
“Religion helps slow the high-speed (changes brought by) the Internet,” Tsuria said. “In that interaction, we can really break down and see what happens in the communication between people. That is the format through which norms are renegotiated.”
The intersection of digital communication and religion has long fascinated Tsuria, which is why she continues studying it as part of her academic career. She is currently writing a book expanding on her dissertation research related to Jewish online communication. She is also working on a book chapter on Internet usage within conservative Judaism as well as an article about online interreligious dialogue. Additionally, she recently shared her research and expertise at the National Communication Association’s Annual Convention in Dallas and the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting in Boston.
Of course, Tsuria remains hard at work on her #EmptyThePews research, which she hopes to take to a media studies conference before eventually publishing her findings in a journal. She is also considering writing a book about the topic.
The College currently offers three Master's-level programs, including Museum Professions, Strategic Communication, and Public Relations. In addition, four dual-degree options, including three accelerated B.A./M.A. programs and a dual M.A. degree with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations are offered. A Ph.D. program is currently under development.