Good Reads - Media and Religion: Foundations of an Emerging Field (2012)

Daniel A. Stout’s 2012 book, geared toward the undergraduate student, offers a foundational look at the field of media and religion by demarcating key concepts, tracing the history of scholarship, reviewing theoretical and methodological approaches from related fields, and focusing on specific media forms. While the book may not be the best source for more experienced scholars or scholars who focused specifically on new media and religion, it is perfect for professors of religion and media to introduce undergraduates to the field.
First, the book begins with a broad sweep key concepts such as “Media as Religion” “Personalized Religion” and “Levels of Analysis.” A brief history covers everything from ancient rituals to the Internet age. Stout also expertly introduces new students to theoretical concepts such as mediatization, media ecology, and secularization. However, other media-related theories, such as the mediation of meaning, mediation of sacred forms, and the social shaping of technology are not discussed and professors may have to supplement these areas with other readings. Perhaps the most useful elements in beginning and subsequent chapters are the “Key Term” and “Questions to Ponder” sections. These elements provide a starting point for students and professors to develop insightful in-class discussions. Another unique feature, the last chapter of the book, includes a classroom activity in which students act out a play that engages them with the often sensitive topic of religion and media.
The next section of the book focuses more on specific mediums and genres, such as the Internet, news, entertainment media, and strategic communications. While all of the chapters provide historical and current information on each medium or genre, the Internet chapter provides the most interest for religion and new media scholars as it is the only one that deals specifically with technology. The chapter is very basic but does a good job of briefly outlining the issues of authority, community, and identity in terms of religion online. Because the book was written fairly recently, new media and religion scholars may find the lack of social and mobile media chapters disappointing.
In conclusion, "Media and Religion: Foundations of an Emerging Field" provides exactly what it offers, “… an ideal introduction for undergraduate students in need of a foundation” in religion and media. The book is a good text for religion and media professors to introduce and engage student with theoretical and practical concerns. However, if professors want to engage more with new media scholarship they may need to supplement the reading list.