Renowned scholar says memes shape religious perceptions

Heidi Campbell

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Internationally renowned communication and religion scholar Heidi Campbell of Texas A&M shared that internet memes are shaping the way viewers perceive religions in Seton Hall University’s Institute for Communication and Religion’s new podcast, which can be heard at www.shu.edu/communication-religion/podcasts.cfm.

Campbell explained that while meme humor may seem harmless, messages that poke fun at various faiths can actually propagate stereotypes and present belief systems in a negative light. As a result, people who are only exposed to these religions online could develop misconceptions about them, which can lead to more offensive content being produced. To end this cycle, Campbell said those who truly understand the affronted faiths must be willing to engage the uninformed in constructive conversations.

“We need people who are trained,” Campbell said in the podcast, “to go online and be an advocate and show another way to communicate that models grace and truth and love.”

Campbell’s current research into memes was a major talking point of the podcast, but it was far from the only topic discussed. The expert also explained how practicing one’s faith online impacts offline worship before delving into other subjects like how the Catholic Church can connect with young people in today’s digital world. 

The podcast featuring Campbell is the first in a series of interviews the institute plans to conduct with leading professionals and researchers in the communication and religion fields. The ICR has hosted acclaimed journalists William McGurn and David Gibson since its launch in 2017. And according to Institute Director Jon Radwan, Seton Hall students and visitors have much more to get excited about in the coming months.

“The institute, and by extension the college and the whole university, cares about getting them the best,” Radwan said. “We want to bring the best research directly to everyone. They can look forward to quality events providing in-depth knowledge because that’s what helps us grow. That’s what helps us become enlightened.”

Campbell will be returning to Seton Hall in the spring. The ICR has been awarded a grant from the National Network Board of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts; known as a Lilly Grant, the funding will support a one-day, regional conference on April 22, 2020, called “Communication and Religion in the Year of a U.S. Presidential Election.” Campbell will be a featured speaker at the event, along with professors Ron Arnett of Duquesne University, Peter Beinart of CUNY and Jaroslav Franc of Palacky University, Czech Republic.

For more information on the ICR, visit https://www.shu.edu/communication-religion/.

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