Internationally renowned communication and religion scholar Heidi Campbell, Ph.D., shared that internet memes are shaping the way viewers perceive religions in a new podcast from Seton Hall University's Institute for Communication and Religion (ICR), which can be listened to here.
Campbell explained that while meme humor may seem harmless, messages that poke fun at various faiths can actually propagate stereotypes and present belief systems in a negative light. As a result, people who are only exposed to these religions online could develop misconceptions about them, which can lead to more offensive content being produced. To end this cycle, Campbell said those who truly understand the affronted faiths must be willing to engage the uninformed in constructive conversations.
"We need people who are trained," Campbell said in the podcast, "to go online and be an advocate and show another way to communicate that models grace and truth and love."
Campbell's current research into memes was a major talking point of the podcast — but it was far from the only topic discussed. The expert also explained how practicing one's faith online impacts offline worship before delving into other subjects like how the Catholic Church can connect with young people in today's digital world. Through it all, Campbell appreciated the chance to share her insights through a forum like the ICR's, which she acknowledged as a rarity.
"There are very few places that are looking seriously at how religion, media and culture are intersecting," said Campbell, a Texas A&M professor who most recently served as the Harron Endowed Professor of Communication at Villanova University. "But the role that media plays in religious institutions I think is a really important area for exploration. So I applaud Seton Hall for wanting this initiative and doing some work in this area."
The podcast featuring Campbell is the first in a series of interviews the Institute plans to conduct with leading professionals and researchers in the communication and religion fields. It also will continue bringing in guest speakers of the same caliber to address society's most pressing topics. The ICR has hosted acclaimed journalists William McGurn and David Gibson since its launch in 2017. And according to Institute Director Jon Radwan, Ph.D., Seton Hall students and visitors have much more to get excited about in the coming months.
"The Institute, and by extension the College and the whole University, cares about getting them the best," Radwan said. "We want to bring the best research directly to everyone. They can look forward to quality events providing in-depth knowledge because that’s what helps us grow. That's what helps us become enlightened."
Campbell will be returning to Seton Hall in spring 2020. The Institute for Communication and Religion has been awarded a grant from the National Network Board of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts. Known as a Lilly Grant, the funding will support a one-day, regional conference on April 22, 2020, entitled "Communication and Religion in the Year of a U.S. Presidential Election." Campbell will be a featured speaker at the event, along with Professors Ron Arnett of Duquesne University, Peter Beinart of CUNY and Jaroslav Franc of Palacky University, Czech Republic.
About the Institute for Communication and Religion
Launched in Fall 2017, the Institute for Communication and Religion within the College of Communication and the Arts provides a nexus for ongoing scholarly exploration of communication topics critically important to religion and society. Guided by the spirit of ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, the Institute seeks to engage in public dialogue and debate, promote academic inquiry and support the religious dimension of creativity — all while upholding the values of servant leadership, curricular innovation and intellectual excellence. For more information, click here.