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Back to the Future: Religion, Politics, and the Media

From: American Quarterly
Volume 59, Number 3, September 2007
pp. 969-989 | 10.1353/aq.2007.0072


Since 2000, many American journalists have had a "come to Jesus" experience. Spurred by the rise of politicized religion and religious politics, they have rediscovered the role of religion in public life. But this current fascination is only the latest two-step in a longstanding dance. When New England's earliest colonists began cataloguing and circulating news of important events, they framed their stories with a religious perspective: divine providence played a decisive role in covering and interpreting everyday occurrences. In subsequent centuries, religion continued to play an important role in the both the news mix and in the news narratives that helped shape Americans' self-understanding. This essay examines the religious tropes of the "beloved community" and the "promised land" that continue to narrativize media coverage of American politics. Focusing on the twentieth century, it explores (1) how the mainstream media's hostility to religious conservatism changed to support for rightwing frames and (2) why progressive religious politics are rarely covered.

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