Research Methods for the Study of Religion

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Media plays a central role in the lives of religious individuals, institutions and movements, and public media has become a key site for religious debates and conflicts. Understanding how we might study the role and significance of media is therefore an important task for research on religion, and opens up the possibility of approaches which break down artificial distinctions between religion and media (i.e. theories of religious mediation).

Discussion paper

Liesbet van Zoonen identifies four different approaches to researching media and religion, including key studies and methodological approaches associated with each.


Key reading

Arthur Asa Berger (2011) Media and Communication Research Methods: An Introduction to Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. 2nd edition. London: Sage.

This major textbook for media research covers a range of widely used methods including content analysis, surveys, historical analysis, different methods of textual analysis and participant observation.

(ed.) David Morgan (2008) Keywords in Religion, Media and Culture. London: Routledge.

(eds.) Gordon Lynch, Jolyon Mitchell and Anna Strhan (2012) Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

These two books provide a good overview of key concepts informing the question and design of studies in media and religion.

Note: there is also a range of more specialised literature on conducting research on the internet and other new media. The current pace of technological change is such that whilst some key texts in this area remain useful, they also struggle to keep up with the emerging technologies and uses of such digital media. To keep in touch with current developments in this area, use the links in the online resources section of this page.


PDF version of this bibliography can also be downloaded.

Akhtar, R.S. (2000) Media, Religion and Politics in Pakistan, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Alexander, J.C. (1988b) “Culture and political crisis: ‘Watergate’ and Durkheimian sociology,” in J.C. Alexander (ed.) Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.187-224.

Alexander, J.C. and Jacobs, R.N. (1998) “Mass communication, ritual and civil society,” in T. Liebes and J. Curran (eds) Media, Ritual and Identity, London: Routledge, pp.23-41.

Ammerman, N. (ed.) (2007) Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Anderson, B. (1991) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso.

Awan, A. (2007) “Virtual Jihadist Media: Function, Legitimacy and Radicalizing Efficacy,” Journal of European Cultural Studies, 10: 389-408.

Babb, L.A. and Wadley, S.S. (eds) (1995) Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Briggs, A. (1993) “Christ and the Media: Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism in the History of British Broadcasting, 1922-1976,” in Barker, E., Beckford, J. and Dobbelaere, K. (eds) Secularization, Rationalism, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honour of Bryan R. Wilson, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bunt, G. (2003) Islam in the Digital Age. London: Pluto.

Campbell, H. (2004) “Challenges Created by Online Religious Networks,” Journal of Media and Religion, 3(2): 81-99.

–(2005) Exploring Religious Community Online: We Are One in the Network. New York: Peter Lang.

— (2007) “Who’s Got the Power? The Question of Religious Authority and the Internet,” Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, 12(3). Online. Available here.

–(2010) When Religion Meets New Media. London: Routledge.

Carey, J. (1989) Communication as Culture, Boston: Unwin Hyman.

Castells, M. (1996) The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell.

Clark, L.S. (2003) From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media and the Supernatural, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

— (2007a) “Why study popular culture? Or how to build a case for your thesis in a religious studies or theology department,” in G. Lynch (ed.) Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture, London: IB Tauris, pp.5-20.

— (ed.) (2007b) Religion, Media and the Marketplace, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Conboy, M. (2005) Tabloid Britain: Constructing a Community Through Language, London: Routledge.

Couldry, N. (2000) The Place of Media Power, London: Routledge.

— (2003) Media Rituals: A Critical Approach, London: Routledge.

Couldry, N., Hepp, A. & Krotz, F. (2010) Media Events in a Global Age, London: Routledge.

Crisell, A. (2006) An Introductory History of British Broadcasting (2nd edn), London: Routledge.

Dawson, L. & Cowan, D. (2004) Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. London: Routledge.

Dayan, D. and Katz, E. (1992) Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

De Abreu, M.J.A. (2002) “On Charisma, Mediation, and Broken Screens,” Etnofoor, 15(1/2): 240-59.

— (2005) “Breathing into the Heart of the Matter: Why Padre Marcelo Needs No Wings,” Postscripts, 1(2/3): 325-49.

De Vries, H. (2001) “In Media Res,” in H. De Vries and S. Weber (eds) Religion and Media, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 3-42.

De Vries, H. and Weber, S. (eds) (2001) Religion and Media, Standford, CA: Stanford University Press.

De Witte, M. (2003) “Altar Media’s Living Word: Televised Christianity in Ghana,” Journal of Religion in Africa, 33(2): 172-202.

— (2005a) “The Spectacular and the Spirits: Charismatics and Neo-Traditionalists on Ghanaian Television,” Material Religion, 1(3): 314-35.

— (2005b) “‘Insight,’ Secrecy, Beasts, and Beauty: Struggles over the Making of a Ghanaian Documentary on Audiovisual Spirits? Styles and Strategies of Representing ‘African Traditional Religion’ in Ghana,” Postscripts, 1(2/3): 277-300.

Deacy, C. and Arweck, E. (eds) (2009) Exploring Religion and the Sacred in a Media Age, Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Echchaibi, N. (2011) “Transnational Masculinities in Muslim Televangelist Cultures,” in R. Hedge (ed.) Circuits of Visibility: Gender and Transnational Media Cultures, New York: New York University Press.

Einstein, M. (2008) Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age, New York: Routledge.

Forbes, B.D. and Mahan, J. (2005) Religion and Popular Culture in America, 2nd edition, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gilbert, A., Hirschkorn, P., Murphy, M., Walensky, R. and Stephens, M. (eds) (2002) Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11, Chicago: Bonus Books.

Ginsburg, F. (2006) “Rethinking the ‘Voice of God’ in Indigenous Australia: Secrecy, Exposure, and the Efficacy of Media,” in B. Meyer and A. Moors (eds) Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indianapolis University Press, pp. 188-204.

Ginsburg, F., Abu-Lughod, L. and Larkin, B. (eds) (2002) Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hackett, R.I.J. (1998) “Charismatic/Pentecostal Appropriation of Media Technologies in Nigeria and Ghana,” Journal of Religion in Africa, 28(3): 1-19.

Hangen, T. (2002) Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion and Popular Culture in America, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Harding, S.F. (1994) “The Born-Again Telescandals,” in N.B. Dirks, G. Eley and S.B. Ortner (eds) Culture / Power / History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 539-56.

— (2000) The Book of Jerry Falwell, Fundamentalist Language and Politics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Helland, C. (2007) “Diaspora on the Electronic Frontier: Developing Virtual Connections with Sacred Homelands,” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 12(3). Online.

Hirschkind, C. (2001) “The Ethics of Listening: Cassette-Sermon Audition in Contemporary Egypt,” American Ethnologist, 28(3): 623-49.

Hirshkind, C. (2006) “Cassette Ethics: Public Piety and Popular Media in Egypt,” in B. Meyer and A. Moors (eds) Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 29-51.

Hjarvard, S. (2008a) “The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Social Change,” Northern Lights, 6: 9-26.

— (2008b) “The Mediatization of Society: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Social and Cultural Change,” Nordicom Review, 29(2): 105-34.

Hojsgaard, M. & Warburg, M. (2005) Religion and Cyberspace. London: Routledge.

Hoover, S. (2006) Religion in the Media Age, New York: Routledge.

— (2009) “Complexities: The Case of Religious Cultures,” in K. Lundby (ed.) Mediatization, New York: Peter Land Publishing, pp. 123-38.

Hoover, S. and Clark, L.S. (eds) (2002) Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media: Explorations in Media, Religion, and Culture, New York: Columbia University Press.

Hoover, S. and Lundby, K. (eds) (1997) Rethinking Media, Religion and Culture, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Horsfield, P., Hess, M.E. and Medrano, A.M. (eds) (2004) Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Jacobs, R. (2000) Race, Media and the Crisis of Civil Society: From Watts to Rodney King, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jansson, A. (2002) “The Mediatization of Consumption: Toward an Analytical Framework of Image Culture,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 2(5): 5-31.

Jhally, S. (1989) “Advertising as Religion: The Dialectic of Technology and Magic,” in I. Angus and S. Jhally (eds) Cultural Politics in Comtemporary America, New York: Routledge, pp. 217-29.

Johnston, R. (ed.) (2007) Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Kraidy, M. (2009) Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Liebes, T. and Katz, E. (1990) The Export of Meaning: Cross-Cultural Readings of “Dallas”, New York: Oxford University Press.

Linenthal, E. (2001) The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory, New York: Oxford University Press.

Lundby, K. (ed.) (2009) Mediatization: Concepts, Changes, Consequences. New York: Peter Lang.

Lyden, J. (ed.) (2010) The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film, London: Routledge.

Lynch, G. (2005) Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Oxford: Blackwell.

— (ed.) (2007) Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture,London: I.B. Tauris.

— (2010) “Religion, media and cultures of everyday life,” in J. Hinnells (ed.) The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd edition, London: Routledge, pp.543-57.

— (2012) The Sacred in the Modern WorldA Cultural Sociological Approach, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lynch, G., Mitchell, J. & Strhan, A. (2011) Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

McCloud, S. (2003) Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955-1993, Duke, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

McLuhan, M. and Powers, B. (1992) The Global Village: Transformations in World Life in the Twenty First Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manovitch, L. (2001) The Language of New Media, Boston: MIT Press.

Marks, L. (1999) The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Marshall, P., Gilbert, L. and Ahmanson, R.G. (eds) (2009) Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion,Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mazzarella, W. (2004) “Culture, Globalization, Mediation,” Annual Review of Anthropology, 33: 345-67.

Meyer, B. (2005a) “Mediating Tradition: Pentecostal Pastors, African Priests, and Chiefs in Ghanaian Popular Films,” in T. Falola (ed.) Christianity and Social Change in Africa: Essays in Honor of J. D. Y. Peel, Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, pp. 275-306.

— (2005b) “Religious Remediations: Pentecostal Views in Ghanaian Video-Movies,” Postscripts, 1(2/3): 155-81.

— (2006a) “Impossible Representations: Pentecostalism, Vision, and Video Technology in Ghana,” in B. Meyer and A. Moors (eds) Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 290-312.

— (2006b) Religious Revelation, Secrecy and the Limits of Visual Representation, Anthropological Theory,6(3): 431-53.

— (2006c) “Modern Mass Media, Religion, and the Dynamics of Distraction and Concentration,” concluding lecture to the conference Modern Mass Media, Religion, and the Question of Community,University of Amsterdam, June 30, 2006.

— (ed.) (2010) Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Meyer, B. and Moors, A (eds) (2006) Religion, Media and the Public Sphere, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Meyrowitz, J. (1986) No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour, New York: Oxford University Press.

Mitchell, J. (2007) Media Violence and Christian Ethics,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mitchell, J. and Marriage, S. (2003) Mediating Religion: Conversations in Media, Religion and Culture,London and New York: T&T Clark, Continuum.

Mitchell, J. and Plate, B. (eds.) (2007) The Religion and Film Reader, London: Routledge.

Morgan, D. (ed.) (2008) Keywords in Religion, Media and Culture. London: Routledge.

Pantti, M. and Sumiala, J. (2009) “Till death do us join: media, mourning rituals and the sacred centre of the society,” Media Culture and Society, 31(1): 119-35.

Partridge, C. (2005) The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture,vol. 1, London: T&T Clark International.

— (2006) The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture,vol.2, London: T&T Clark International.

— (2009) “Religion and Popular Culture,” in L. Woodhead, H. Kawanami, and C. Partridge (eds) Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations,2nd edn, London: Routledge, pp. 489-522.

Rajagopal, A. (2010) Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rothenbuhler, E. (1998) Ritual Communication: From Everyday Conversation to Mediated Ceremony, London: Sage.

Schulz, D. (2003) “‘Charisma and Brotherhood’ Revisited: Mass-mediated Forms of Spirituality in Urban Mali,” Journal of Religion in Africa,33(2): 146-71.

— (2006) “Morality, Community, Publicness: Shifting Terms of Public Debate in Mali,” in B. Meyer and A. Moors (eds) Religion, Media, and the Public Sphere, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 132-151.

— (2008) “Soundscape,” in D. Morgan (ed.) Key Words in Religion, Media and Culture, London: Routledge, pp.172-86.

Sobchack, V. (2004) Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stolow, J. (2005) “Religion and / as Media,” Theory, Culture and Society, 22(2): 137-63.

Stout, D.A. and Buddenbaum, J.M. (eds) (2001) Religion and Popular Culture: Studies on the Interaction of Worldviews,Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Sumiala-Seppänen, J., Lundby K. and Salokangas R. (eds) (2006) Implications of The Sacred in (Post) Modern Media,Göteborg, Sweden: Nordicum.
Sweet, L.I. (ed.) (1993) Communication and Change in American Religious History, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Thompson, J.B. (1995) The Media and Modernity, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Winston, D. (forthcoming) “Religion and the News,” in Cambridge Handbook of American Religious History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, B. (2005) “Finding Aids to the Past: Bearing Personal Witness to Traumatic Public Events,” in E. Rothenbuhler and M. Coman (eds) Media Anthropology, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

— (1992) Covering the Body, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Discussion questions

  • Are all forms of religion and the sacred mediated? What are the implications of this for the ways in which religious life and practice might be studied?
  • Why might it be important to think about the significance of media in relation to your particular area of research interest?
  • In what ways might the nature of contemporary media change or affect religion in particular ways? To what extent is this wholly new, or does it reflect patterns of relationship between religion and media in other historical contexts?

Further online resources

Association of Internet Researchers
Academic association for those specialising in online research

Center for Media and Religion
New York University

Center for Media, Religion and Culture
University of Colorado

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication
Open access online journal

Mediating Religion
International network of researchers working on relationships between media and religion

When Religion Meets New Media
Blog by Heidi Campbell

Resources on religion, media and society based at University of Southern California