Media and Religion in American History

Article excerpt

Media and Religion in American History. Wm. David Sloan, ed. Northport, IL: Vision Press, 2000. 293 pp. $24.95 pbk.

This book offers eighteen chapters on media's religion coverage, religious media, religions' public relations, and reporters and publishers' religious motivations from the seventeenth century until the 1970s. Editor Sloan, University of Alabama journalism professor and prolific author/editor, has gathered contributions from many of this area's most respected scholars. The book's chronological order highlights its effort to cover, in one way or another, the entire period. The book, which claims only to offer "contours of the general history" of religion and media, omits only two periods:1783 to 1815, and about 1840 to about 1860.

What is more important is what is here. The last few years have seen many scholarly and popular books about religion and media (four chapters here are journal article reprints), but this book still is unique. Through its mixture of narrow historical episodes (three of which are Julie Hedgepeth Williams' story of the Christian Science Monitor's founding, Judith Buddenbuam s chapter on Sigma Delta Chi's founding, and an analysis of the National Courier's birth and death by John D. Keeler, J. Douglas Tarpley, and Michael R. Smith) and broader panoramas, Sloan's book provides well-documented detail plus overall themes and issues. But while some contributors are critical of individual religious leaders, editors or organizations, the book overall could be said to be "pro-religion"; for instance, no chapters condemn mainstream media for giving a "free ride" to certain religious leaders or organizations, nor do any chapters chastise religious leaders who have successfully pressured or stonewalled mainstream media on major religion-related stories. …