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Morgan Knobloch - Friday, August 23, 2019 - 13:26

With new media’s presence in people’s daily lives continually expanding, Dr. Angela Williams Gorrell explores its capacity to aid Christian leaders in the outreach of their ministries throughout her new book, Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape. Acknowledging that while the media can have a negative impact on users, the former research scholar for the Yale Center for Faith and Culture argues that maintaining a reflective awareness of media usage actually fosters its potential to minister to those in need. Gorrell acknowledges that new media’s increasing foothold in people’s lives creates new opportunities for evangelization in modern society. While she does note that the media can often perpetuate brokenness through promoting racism, sexism and other hateful content, she counters by arguing that a mindful usage of media presents “glorious possibilities” for Christianity online.

To tap into the opportunities Always On promotes, church leaders must understand how to navigate the new media landscape in ways that spark fruitful conversation and illustrate the Christian life. Written for those who are hesitant to take their faith online, Gorrell encourages leaders to embrace new media use in their ministries, suggesting that refraining from using new media would be detrimental to their church’s outreach. Following her call for ministries to move into the world of new media, Gorrell provides readers with a guide to navigating the constantly evolving landscape of digital communities through her research.

In the first pages of her book, Gorrell states, “New media is always changing, and Christian communities need lasting Christian visions of true life that will guide them well into the future” (p. 4). Throughout her book, readers will find reflections and examples that illustrate what Gorrell calls “hybrid faithful living,” or a way of life that allows people to integrate media use into their daily experiences. She writes that this hybrid lifestyle is essential for leaders to establish a stable image of Christian living among digital communities.

Always On recognizes modern society’s continual movement toward online interactions and presents this reality to Christian leaders. If Christians fail to build an online presence, they forgo the possibilities new media offers to extend faithful living beyond the walls of their churches. Gorrell presents a challenge to Christian communities by highlighting the reality of the media’s influence in people’s daily lives and calling Christians to respond accordingly. While her research lends itself to observation and reflection, it does not necessarily demonstrate a strong foundation in concurrent research on how social media can shape an individual’s life.

Gorrell’s book does, however, provide readers with clear instructions and tools to establish their ministry’s presence in the media. Her research demonstrates the possibilities for connection online communities provide and expands upon methods to live out the hybrid lifestyle she describes. Overall, Always On explores new media’s impact on Christianity and equips leaders to practice their faith in a space that may seem altogether unfamiliar as they traverse the landscape of new media.


Heidi Campbell - Thursday, August 15, 2019 - 12:08

The International Society for Media, Religion and Culture is happy to announce a call for papers for their 2020 conference on Rethinking Media, Religion and Secularities. This conference will be held at the Sigtuna Foundation, Sigtuna, Sweden, 4-7 of August 2020. More information about conference abstract submission on the ISMRC webpage: https://www.ismrc.org The full CFP follows here...

Call for Papers: Rethinking Media, Religion and Secularities
Deadline for Paper proposals: 6 December 2019
Notification of acceptances: Mid February 2020

The globalization of our lifeworld has brought attention to how we think about religion and non-religious contexts. The existence of secularity in contemporary society and culture is contested in many fields in which scholars of media, religion and culture studies engage. Some strongly argue the secularization thesis is dead, as digital media and globalization help give rise to a post-secular condition that enables new forms of spirituality and religious sensibilities throughout networked cultures. Yet other thinkers contend secularization and secularism are actually on the rise, and argue scholars supporting post-secular views rely on overly simplistic definitions of religion.

The 2020 ISMRC conference theme “Rethinking Media, Religion and Secularities”, seeks to interrogate these assertions and debates and the role media plays in communicating and mediating secularity in contemporary society. We suggest there is not just one, but multiple forms and understandings of the secular at work within global society and culture. We encourage presentations that explore cross-societal, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary investigations of the concepts “secular”, “post-secular” and “non-secular”. For example, ideas of the post-secular need interrogation in the face of the decline of mainstream churches in North America and yet the rise of popular-folk religions in Nordic and European countries, which challenge the notion of European secular culture. Such trends give rise to contested definitions, and call for considering the very definition of “religion”, and the role various forms of media play in communicating, amplifying and/or shaping secular and post-secular manifestations.

The conference, which represents the biennial meeting of the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture, will explore these issues from a range of disciplinary perspectives. International participants from such disciplines as media studies, journalism, religious studies, anthropology and sociology of religion, as well as history, literature and public policy are welcome. Since its first meeting in 1996, the conference has become the leading international gathering for the discussion of research in religion, media and culture.

Confirmed key notes and speakers include:
Professor Linda Woodhead, Lancaster University;
Professor Marwan Kraidy, University of Pennsylvania;
Associate Professor Titus Hjelm, University of Helsinki

The conference invites proposals for panels and roundtable sessions as well as individual papers of up to 350 words. Panel and roundtable proposals should include paper titles, 150 word abstracts for each paper, and names and titles of up to four participants (a moderator/respondent might be added).

Please note that conference attendees are not allowed to make more than two presentations (i.e. present on a panel and offer a paper, take part in a panel and a roundtable, have their name listed on two papers). Paper and panel sessions conducted in other languages than English will be considered, however abstracts should be provided both in English and proposed language for such submissions.

Potential panel, workshop and paper proposals may address, but are not limited to the following themes:
• Media and the contested visibility of religion
• The role of media in framing and promoting various notions of the secular
• The role of media in the formation of post-secular tendencies and contexts
• Digital religion and the rise of secular religious-like practices
• Secular and post-secular themes in entertainment media
• Media and the politicization of the secular
• Rethinking media, religion and secularities in public theology
• Secular journalism and new religious and secular diversities
• Theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of religion, media and secularities
• Religious and secular (il)literacy among media audiences
• Media and varieties of non-religion
• Media, religion and secularities in a global perspective
• Material and symbolic mediations of sacred and secular

More information about conference abstract submission and registration will be available on the ISMRC webpage: https://www.ismrc.org
The conference will be held at the Sigtuna Foundation, Sigtuna, Sweden, see https://sigtunastiftelsen.se/en/

For information about the venue, housing and transportation see the conference page: https://www.ismrc.org/2020-conference/
We warmly welcome you to Sweden and ISMRC in 2020!

Johanna Sumiala, Associate Professor, University of Helsinki, President, International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture

Heidi A Campbell, Professor, Texas A&M University, Conference Program Planner and Vice President, International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture: heidic@tamu.edu

Local hosts:
Director Alf Linderman, Sigtuna Foundation, alf.linderman@sigtunastiftelsen.se Professor Mia Lövheim, Uppsala University: mia.lovheim@teol.uu.se


Callie Burch - Friday, March 15, 2019 - 12:15

The digitalization of religion has and continues to increase every day. It is believed that this increase in digital religious interaction creates an opportunity for seminary students to further understand the roles of ministry sites in teaching religion.

Kyle Oliver, Doctoral student studying digital storytelling in faith-adjacent settings in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, along with many other accomplishments, discussed the pedagogical approach to training seminarians for faith leadership in the era of digital religion in the article, “Networked religion meets digital geographies: Pedagogical principles for exploring new spaces and roles in the seminary classroom.” Oliver explores various learning experiences that encourage active learning through various avenues, such as observation, immersion, simulation and role-playing.

Oliver’s interest is “digitally mediated meaning-making in religious and theological education, particularly in the context of teaching and learning in faith and faith-adjacent settings.” He uses Heidi Campbell’s “networked religion” model to conduct his research for the article. The main theme discussed in the article relates to the new opportunities in religious media and how it can be used for seminary instructors.

The article emphasizes four pedagogical principles that are essential for teaching purposes, such as “new media connect classrooms to authentic sites of ministry practice, digital geographies are navigated by embodied persons with human identities, communication practices shape our community spaces, and learners need orientation to spaces' structural, representational, and social dimensions.” Oliver believes that the strongest idea in the article is the idea that classrooms can become a bridge for digitalization and ministry.

In conclusion, this paper created an opportunity to merge the ideas of digital geographies and digital religion together, creating a pedagogical guideline for how “theological educators can think about convening new types of very practical student learning in seminary classrooms.”


Heidi Campbell - Friday, February 15, 2019 - 12:31

The Call for the 2019 Network Digital Religion Research Award submissions has been extended to June 15, 2019.

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (NMRDC; http://digitalreligion.tamu.edu) is pleased to announce the call for published works (an article or book chapter) for consideration for the newly established Digital Religion Research Award. This award is to recognize outstanding research in the area of Digital Religion studies, which explores the intersection between religion, technology and digital, networked cultures. Preference will be given to research engaging with the work of Heidi A Campbell, Director of the Network, who is considered a pioneer in the field of Digital Religion Studies. As a Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University Campbell has written numerous articles and books exploring religious communities use of the Internet, as well as key theoretical works in the study of digital religion.

The Award Committee is made up of members of the Advisory Board of the NMRDC Network. To be considered for this award, submissions may explore themes related to the practice and understanding of religion in online and offline spaces, rhetoric of digital technology, ethical implications of network or mobile technologies, religious engagement with emerging media and how forces of the secular and religious interact in digital cultures. Interdisciplinary works are encouraged, as well as those addressing at least two of the following fields: Area Studies, Communication, Ethics, Game Studies, Gender Studies, Information Science, Internet studies, Philosophy of Technology, Media Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology of Religion and/or Technology, and Theology.

Submissions will be evaluated based on the quality of their: (1) advancement of knowledge in the area Digital Religion Studies (2) application of Campbell’s approaches and concepts, (3) originality and creativity of research topic, and (4) clear organization and presentation of overall argument.

Awardees will receive an honorarium, plaque and be invited to give a guest lecture at Texas A&M University where the award will be given. Reasonable travel expenses to the Award Ceremony and Lecture will also be covered.

Only single authored works are accepted. Applications and articles may only be submitted for award consideration once. Published materials submitted must have appeared in print between April 2017 to May 2019, to receive this year’s award. Please send a PDF or electronic copy of the article/chapter to digitalreligion@tamu.edu along with a 1-2 page letter, addressed to the committee, which provides an abstract of the work to be considered and a narrative that explains how your article meets the stated evaluation criteria.

NEW Application deadline is June 15, 2019
Notification of the award will be sent out in August 2019.


Callie Burch - Friday, February 8, 2019 - 17:08

Media and religion increasingly intersect in social, cultural, religious and political avenues. The ever changing contexts of communication play a large role, specifically in the Muslim faith.

Raoof Mir, Assistant Professor in Journalism at the Cluster Innovation Centre at the University of Delhi, discussed the relationship between religion and media in Kashmir, India in the research article, “Communicating Islam in Kashmir Intersection of Religion and Media.” The intent of this article is to ask the inhabits of Srinagar and Anantnag, two districts in Kashmir, about their relationship with media, in relation to religion. Both of these areas are very different, creating a great avenue for comparison. These studies are often characterized by in-depth interviews with the participants. According to Mir, “in these interviews people recount the pleasures, irritations, satisfactions, boredom, revulsions while describing media.”

This is the first study of its kind to be conducted on the theme of religion and media in Kashmir. This article examines different media types, such as orality, manuscript tradition, printing technology, radio, television, cassettes and more. Mir noted that one of the crucial findings of the study was the fact that there has always been a “unique relationship between various religious practices and the media that have mediated these practices.”

Through the study, Mir discovered that it is not feasible to fully comprehend the media and Islamic traditions in the regions without connecting each other. “Islam and media in Kashmir have never been two separate realms and therefore Islam in Kashmir cannot be defined outside the forms and practices of mediation that define it.”

In conclusion, the integration of approaches and theoretical frameworks, gave Mir’s study a feeling of uniqueness. This study pulled from history, philosophy, media studies, anthropology and political science. It can contribute to current research in religious studies by extending evaluations of individuals and organizations in religious studies in a holistic sense. Mir believes that this study, “criticizes the neglect of religion and media intersection so far in the South Asian contexts.”


Callie Burch - Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 15:54

For religious organizations, the implementation of digital media has greatly expanded their horizons, specifically for the Catholic Church. Through social media profiles of religious figures, such as the Pope, Catholicism has vastly stretched its reach around the world.

Miriam Diez Bosch, PhD, director at the Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture discussed how global Catholic organizations have used tools of digital media in the research article, “Open Wall Churches. Catholic Construction of Online Communities.” This article explores the shift from the past Catholic focuses on liturgical limitations, to its current emphasis on participation, social justice and avenues to reach new targets.

Bosch is a journalist, specialized in religion, as she has been covering the Vatican for 10 years. Her research focuses on 3 prominent areas: Leadership and Authority in Religion, Community Creation on the Catholic World in the Digital Age and Youth, Religion and Technology. This specific study analyzed how Catholic websites engage with audiences and “how they try to evangelize using the digital sphere.” However, the digital sphere has created difficulties including difficulties in authority and accessibility.

An important insight is that the biggest Catholic portals have 3 commonly shared sections, content, services and community. According to Bosch, this is “not a new community, but an offline community “put” into the Internet.” Because of this, there is not much interaction. Out of 19 websites observed, only 1 was digital and had a live policy regarding social media.

In conclusion, Bosch believes that their research brings insights in trends of Catholicism and highlights the websites observed in 5 different languages in the Catholic “web sphere.”


Callie Burch - Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 16:47

Religion has become a topic of growing controversy and an avenue for differing opinions and discussions. The ways that the media interacts with issues regarding religion can be complicated and difficult.

Knut Lundby, Professor Emeritus, discussed mediatization research and the study of media and religion in the book, "Contesting Religion: The Media Dynamics of Cultural Conflicts in Scandinavia.” He conducted this study out of a “long-term cooperative researchers’ engagement with mediatization of religion among Scandinavian scholars and a pressing need to understand growing conflicts over religion”, especially to study Muslim immigration into secular societies with a strong Lutheran church affiliation. Primarily, they conducted research due to funding received from the program on The Cultural Conditions Underlying Social Change at the Research Council of Norway.

This book explores research conducted by Swedish researchers regarding the radio program People and Belief and the commonly debated topics regarding Islam. This program’s goal is to create an alternative to the pessimistic media issues typically addressed. However, this program leans towards reconstructing the frames of Islam in society and discussing the relationship between strong and weak voices in public discourse.

Lundby believes that “Despite a general awareness among media producers and teachers to overcome the negative media framing of Islam and Muslims, the case studies in the CoMRel (Conflict, Media and Religion Studies) project show that the frame is difficult to overcome: the dominant images of Muslims and Islam are continuously reproduced and remediated in all of the Scandinavian settings.” To support this claim, Islam can be seen as a threat to culture by approximately 50% of Scandinavian respondents, according to a 2015 survey from CoMRel. However, a majority of Scandinavians reported that hostile positions toward foreigners should not be tolerated.

Lundby sees the conclusions contributing to current research in religious studies by portraying a nuanced theoretical comprehension of the mediatization of religion and “through discussions of the media dynamics as well as of the conceptualization of religion.”


Callie Burch - Tuesday, November 13, 2018 - 14:24

The internet plays an increasing role in our everyday lives. Not only does it affect how we send and receive messages, but also can influence one’s religion.

Dr. Moch Fakhruroji, lecturer in Da’wa and Communication Studies at Universitas Islam Negeri (State Islamic University) Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung, Indonesia, discussed religious practices in the digital era in the journal article, “Digitalizing Islamic lectures: Islamic apps and a religious engagement in contemporary Indonesia.” His interest in exploring this phenomenon began when he was completing his doctoral degree which revealed the theme of mediatization in SMS-based religious services initiated by Abdullah Gymnastiar, a popular Indonesian preacher.

This article explores the growing number of Indonesian internet users and “how Indonesian (millennial) Muslims are increasingly aware that the internet and religion have reciprocal relationships.” In this study, Fakhruroji identifies the role that the internet plays in their religious life in relation to digital culture. Fakhruroji states that the relationship between the internet and religion is a positive one. One of the findings is that the practice of Islamic lectures on the internet shouldn’t be just “transferring religious authority into a digital context, but rather an extension of religious authority.”

The “Aa Gym” apps have aided in this extension of religious authority. They have shown how religious authority interacts in the online context in contemporary Indonesia and the fact that “the emergence of new forms of religious engagement is not a form of media technology domination over religion, but instead illustrates the reciprocal relations of the internet and religion.” There is no longer an offline-online context. The “Aa Gym” apps carry out religious engagement symbolically through technological interfaces.

In addition, Fakhruroji highlights the relationship between the preacher and the audience, which also exemplifies the producer-consumer relationship. Essentially, religious engagement in the context of digital religion can be connected to other cultural contexts.

For the link to the article, click here: https://www.springerprofessional.de/digitalizing-islamic-lectures-islami...


Callie Burch - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - 10:53

In today’s society, religion is an ultra-sensitive topic. Religious attire can often spark controversy or religious debate, especially attire of public figures.

Mona Abdel-Fadil, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oslo, discussed religious-political interactions online in the journal article, “Identity Politics in a Mediatized Religious Environment on Facebook: Yes to Wearing the Cross Whenever and Wherever I Choose.” This article explores the prohibition of the cross for Norwegian news anchors. A special interest Facebook group was established to discuss the visibility of Christianity in the media, but ended up creating conversations on immigration, Islam, atheism and more.

In this study, Abdel-Fadil focused on the ways that media participants are, “amplifying, multiplying, intensifying or subduing cultural and religious conflicts.” She noted how various groups have different ways of enacting conflicts and approaching challenges. Through research, Abdel-Fadil found that a notable number of women were participating in the online debate with more “intensity, and far more emotional labour” than most men. Men tend to have intensity in their responses, yet they do not have near as much regularity as women.

A significant finding exemplified in Abdel-Fadil’s article, “Conflict and Affect Among Conservative Christians on Facebook”, is that “media users appear to act in near identical emotive patterns across a variety of conflicts irrespective of theme, so long as ‘trigger themes’ such as ‘climate change’, ‘financial crisis’ or ‘immigration’ are involved.” Through this study, Abdel-Fadil suggests that online conflict may be seen as entertainment and enjoyment for some users.

Abdel-Fadil notes that her research demonstrates the difference between believing vs. belonging in Christian culture. Her conclusions portray that one can both, “strongly believe and perpetuate an exclusionist reading of Christianity that is also very much about belonging.”


Callie Burch - Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - 17:22

Mememing Muslims: Study on how Islam, Race and Religion are Framed by Internet Memes

Morgan Knobloch, Danielle Gonzalez & Heidi A Campbell

This report summarizes a research study conducted in Summer 2018 at Texas A&M University as part of a undergraduate course entitled, Religious (In)Tolerance and Diversity in Digital Media & Culture.
DO NOT CITE WITHOUT PERMISSION!

An ever-changing presence in today’s society, digital media, impacts people’s lives through content such as Internet memes and the discourse surrounding them. Memes have the potential to spark discussion over sensitive issues, like race and religion, through the implicit and explicit messages they convey. When the messages of memes criticize beliefs around Islam and the identity of its followers, they often conflate the ideas of religion and race. In other words, Internet memes often address how those outside a religious group tend to equate them with a single identity and racial group. This research finds this to be especially true in relation to the Muslim faith, as Internet memes about Islam often highlight how they are mistakenly framed as a racial, rather than a religious group. This study seeks to address the messages memes send when pushing these concepts together by asking the question: In what ways do Internet memes conflate race and religion when talking about Islam, and what messages does this send about how people understand the relationship between race and religion?

In this study we analyze the messages internet memes communicate when they conflate Islam and race. We note that this conflating of religion and race often appears to be born from misconceptions about of Islam as a religion and lack of understanding of the diversity of racial groups which describe themselves as Muslim. In other cases we find memes conflate these two categories because their creators equate being prejudices toward the Islamic faith, with being racist. We will seek to understand the common ways memes communicate anti-Islamic messages, and whether or not such associations can be seen as taking a racist stance.

Understanding Internet Memes
Understanding previous research about Internet memes and religion by scholars such as Börzsei and Shifman facilitates a proper understanding of the messages memes spread and allows us to make valid observations and inferences about their impact. Scholar Limor Shifman (2013) said that the humor found in internet memes can be “a unique key for the understanding of social and cultural processes.” Internet memes serve as a mode of understanding the social and cultural messages exchanged between Internet users who use memes to defend/explain their ideas or sentiments. Scholars such as Börzsei (2013) have studied the evolution of the Internet memes and recognized their unique ability to communicate messages among Internet users. “Internet memes showcase a new kind of understanding of the world, and a new kind of creative and social outlet,” (2013). Using memes to investigate the commonalities between messages that conflate race and Islam will give us a better understanding of how these issues are viewed and depicted in society.

How Religion intersects with Internet Memes
Since the rise in popularity of internet memes in digital culture today, scholars have studied how memes are used to convey messages related to religion. A study by Bellar et.al. (2013) identifies the different approaches in construction, meaning making, and circulation of religious internet memes. Memes are used as a form of Lived Religion which is a process by which people draw from religious (including digital) sources to make sense of their world. “Analyzing which cultural artifacts and ideas are used within religious-oriented memes – humorous or otherwise – reveals how various religious practitioners make sense of religion in their lives and how the public perceives faith in contemporary society,” (p.7). This pilot study seeks to understand the ways in which religion and race are perceived in contemporary society.

Framing Race in Memes
Reviewing previous studies on themes of race in memes provided a better understanding of how memes concerning racism affect society. Internet research on memes has found that people of color who experience subtle forms of prejudice in offline interactions are more likely to perceive the messages of Internet memes regarding race as more offensive than those who do not. According to Williams (2016), “Our results demonstrate the blur between offline and online realities; socialization experiences offline can influence how people construe their online world” (p. 431). People’s experiences in the offline world have the power to shape how they perceive sensitive messages on the internet.

Researchers have also discovered that the discourse surrounding memes on themes of race and gender has the potential to either move society in a positive direction or cause further division. Milner (2013) states, “With enough voices engaging and enough of a balance between irony and earnestness, the ‘logic of lulz’ could be a tool vibrantly employed” (p. 89). Though Milner did not find that memes were sparking positive conversation about social issues yet, he believes they could if consumers use them with the intention of partaking in constructive discourse.

In addition to these arguments, studies show that memes can be used in the classroom to create a space for discussing race-related issues if their content is analyzed as art. To make this argument, Yoon (2016) addresses the concept of "colorblindness," or ignoring racism within memes, which is present in memes that suggest discrimination is permissible. Yoon says, “I found that the majority of meme creators and commenters misunderstand not only the meaning of racism and racial issues, but also the detrimental impact of systematic racism” (p. 117). Though they may come across as insignificant images on the web, memes have the power to enhance or combat racism depending on how they are used by consumers.

When studying racial stereotypes in memes, it is important to consider how they will affect people. Memes can be perceived in different ways depending on the experiences of the consumer. This is a concept to keep in mind to evaluate the messages of memes. With their ability to draw attention to controversial issues through simple imagery and text, memes can help people discuss sensitive topics. Therefore, they have the potential to influence levels of tolerance regarding race and religion in society.

Methodology
This pilot study seeks to identify the ways in which internet memes conflate Islam and race to better understand the messages they spread. First, a sample of 20 memes was collected from the first 100 results of a Google Image search using the terms “race and Islam memes.” These 20 images were selected because they each commented on Islam and race through either the text or image used. After identifying the final sample, the memes were analyzed to determine whether they showed the conflation of race and Islam. Then the memes were coded using three different categories, which were determined after analyzing the messages of these memes and considering whether they were positively or negatively oriented. The categories describe whether each meme conveys that the conflation of race and Islam is ignorant, the conflation of race and Islam is rooted in prejudice, or the conflation of race and Islam is anti-Islamic. Memes could be coded into more than one category.

Findings
In this study, we collected a sample of twenty memes and analyzed them according to codes that would identify themes relating to both race and religion. After reading through the memes to determine if themes of race and religion were present, we considered whether they implied that the conflation of race and religion was ignorant, displayed prejudice, or suggested that being anti-Islamic is permissible.

(1) Conflating race and religion in internet memes expresses ignorance

Eighteen of the twenty memes in our sample implied that equating religion with race is based on ignorance of the individual and problematic assumptions.

For example, this meme uses the Mean Girls “clueless blonde” to address people who assume that all followers of Islam are non-white. It reads “So if you’re Muslim, then why are you white?” The image implies that this comment is meant to be perceived as an ignorant assumption because this movie character routinely asks questions with obvious, straightforward answers. Race and religion were equated because of an ignorant assumption and misunderstanding what the actual definition of race is.

Another meme shows “It is not racist to criticize a religion (so nice try)” and shows four different pictures of Islamic men who each come from a different race. This illustrates that Islam is not composed of a single race. In doing so, it argues that equating race and religion is an assumption that arises from misunderstanding what actually constitutes race and religion. Therefore, this meme also supports the claim that ignorance leads a person to conflate race and religion.

(2) Equating race and religion Internet memes is based on prejudices

Eighteen memes from our sample of twenty also displayed themes of prejudice by conflating race and Islam. Such memes showed that meme creators display conscious and unconscious prejudices toward Muslims.

This takes the “One does not simply” stock character to argue that explaining the difference between race and religion is not as simple as it should be. It states, “One does not simply explain to someone that disliking Muslims isn’t racist because Islam is a religion and ideology, not a race.” This meme suggests that while disliking Muslims is prejudice, it is not the same as racism. This displays a conscious prejudice because the meme accepts disliking Muslims based on their religion and not race.

Unconscious stereotyping and not recognizing it

Another strong assumption highlighted is that unconscious stereotyping toward Islam still represents prejudice. Using the villain from the Austin Powers film series, this meme conflates racism and religion in saying “People make uninformed, stereotypical assumptions about Islam . . . then claim [they’re] not racist or Islamophobic.” This meme addresses the tendency to defend oneself as denouncing racism and stereotyping while actually unconsciously harboring religion-based prejudice.

(3) Internet memes about Islam and race show that while being racist is not permissible, being anti-Islamic is

Finally, thirteen out of twenty memes from our sample displayed messages that were anti-Islamic by absolving criticism/discrimination against Islam as racism.

This re-mixed version of a Donald Trump meme uses additional commentary to display anti-Islamic sentiments. While the original memes points out that the Muslim ban is racist, the commentary below counters that it cannot be because Islam is not a race, seemingly dismissing the prejudice expressed here. Since Islam is a religion and disliking it does not count as racism, this meme suggests that religious prejudice is permissible.

Using the Condescending Wonka stock image, this meme displays anti-Islamic sentiments by claiming that the conflation of racism and religion “is a trick.” This meme addresses equating race and Islam as a form of prejudice, but defends anti-Islamic sentiments in saying that others are not criticized for their prejudice against other religions.

Analysis and Summary
This study has sought to explore some of the ways Internet memes conflate race and religion especially when visualizing and talking about Islam. We found that within our sample, Internet memes either affirmed or critiqued stereotypes related to race and Islam. Shifman suggests that the humorous effect of memes can sometimes come from the comic clash between two narratives: “a false one that adheres to stereotypic conventions and the true one in which the stereotypes prove false,” (p. 243). Sometimes memes affirm stereotypes rather than critique them. Similar to what Bellar et. al. (2013) claims, memes about race and religion require the reader to understand diverse contexts to decode the complete message they seek to communicate. This includes not only understanding the image used in the meme, but also having a working knowledge of popular assumptions concerning race and Islam. Without taking context into account, memes can easily be misinterpreted because they often rely on irony or sarcasm to make their point. Memes typically employ rhetoric used in stereotypes to address issues of race and religion, so the ability to recognize these phrases and what they mean is essential to completely understand a meme. In his article, Milner argues that digital culture often reinforces oppressive ideologies. “[posters] operate in an environment where racial stereotypes were an understood and largely unchallenged assumption,” (p. 39). Our findings echoed this assumption, showing that memes tend to convey stereotypical messages.

Memes convey compact messages that reflect larger conversations about race and religion. Yoon (2016) argues that they “have the potential to open a new door” (p. 117) by relating seemingly lofty concepts to pop culture and thus, making them more easily understandable to the average person. In addition to discussing the obvious content of the meme, Yoon suggests analyzing the power relations, emotional reactions, and ways in which the messages of the memes are portrayed to study their deeper meanings.

When studying memes, one should ask questions like: What do the objects portrayed represent? What kind of initial reaction does this meme create? What does the text convey? How does the text connect to the imagery? What biases and assumptions does this meme seem to communicate? If the consumer learns to ask these sort of questions when considering internet memes and develop their skills in understanding the criticisms expressed in digital culture, they could create civic discourse that calls prejudice into question and moves society toward increased tolerance for people’s differences. As creations of today’s culture, memes address important social issues, and if critically considered, they could help create a more tolerant society.

Bibliography

Aguilar, A., Campbell, H.A., Stanley, M., & Taylor, E. (2017). Communicating mixed messages about religion through Internet memes. Information, Communication, & Society 20(10), 1458-1520.

Bellar, W., Campbell, H., Cho, K., Terry, A., Tsuria, R., Yadlin-Segal, A., & Zeimer, J. (2013). Reading religion in Internet memes. Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture, 2(2). Retrieved from https://www.jrmdc.com/journal/article/view/13.

Börzsei, L. (2013). Makes a meme instead: A concise history of internet memes. New Media Studies Magazine, 7. Retrieved from http://works.bepress.com/linda_borzsei/2

Campbell, H. (2017) “Theoretical Approaches within Digital Religion Studies” New Media and Society. 19 (1):15-24.

Milner, R. M. (2013). FCJ-156 Hacking the Social: Internet Memes, Identity Antagonism, and the Logic of Lulz. The Fibreculture Journal,(22). Retrieved June 3, 2018, from http://twentytwo.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-156-hacking-the-social-inte...
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Shifman, L. (2013). Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Williams, A., Oliver, C., Aumer, K., & Meyers, C. (2016). Racial microaggressions and perceptions of Internet memes. Computers in Human Behavior,63, 424-432.

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