Religion has played a pivotal role in the development of information and print cultures. In the case of Western history, the Protestant Reformation and the development of the printing press invigorated each other. The importance of private Bible study was conductive to an increasingly literate populace in Protestant areas. Print matter in form of books, pamphlets, tracts, newsletters, newspapers, and magazines disseminated different positions and thus contributed to the formation of communities as well as to the demarcation between competing worldviews. Print journalism, as a powerful form of communication, has been an influential instrument in defining news, shaping opinions, and unifying and dividing people. The religious press has been an important feature of this process. As Fackler and Lippy pointed out for the United States, “since the emergence of periodical publications geared toward a mass market, religious titles have accounted for a substantial percentage of the total; for much of the nineteenth century they outnumbered strictly secular magazines, newspapers, and cognate periodicals” (P. Mark Fackler and Charles H. Lippy (eds.), Popular Religious Magazines of the United States. Westprot, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1995, p. xi.). A study of religious press and print cultures in different times and places thus will be a worthwhile undertaking.
A rediscovery of religion in recent times has focused new interest on religions’ influence on the public sphere. While current studies focus on both, the use of public media by religious actors and the portrayal of religion in public media, relatively little attention has been paid to the religious press itself. Even in an avowedly religious country like the United States of America, the 1963 observation of religious scholar Martin Marty that “[t]he Protestant Press (…) [t]o the public (..) is largely invisible“ (Marty, Deedy, Jr., Silverman, Lekachman (eds.), The Religious Press in America, Holt, Rinehart and Wintston: New York, Chicago, San Francisco 1963, p. 16.) is still largely true today. With this conference, we want to address this shortcoming by bringing together scholars working on topics dealing with the religious press and print culture throughout US history.
The conference will explore how the study of the religious press can contribute to our understanding of both religions and religious actors, as well as the shaping of culture, politics, and society. We are interested in questions of method as much as in case study examples. How do we best approach religious print matter, what questions can such studies answer, and which new perspectives might they open up? Furthermore, we want to address questions like: What roles play individuals like editors, writers, and financiers in religious print culture? What structures underlie and what networks facilitate the religious press? What can we learn about the internal workings of religious groups? How do religious identities emerge and how are they maintained? How is the religious described and communicated? What strategies are employed to draw boundaries or unite disparate movements? How do different genres function within the context of the religious press? By what strategies are events explained and defined and do they impact the larger culture? What is the interrelation and meaning-exchange between a society and a religious subculture?
We invite scholars working on topics relating to religion, the press, and print culture from across the disciplinary spectrum and at all stages of their careers. The conference is situated within the framework of a project on “Early American Religious Periodicals” led by Prof. Oliver Scheiding and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The conference will take place at the Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.