History of the Religious Press
The history of the religious press in America is fragmentary and
relatively unexamined as an area of historical study, especially in
relation to changing social and cultural forces. This paper reviews
coverage of the religious press in standard journalism histories and
scholarly journals and outlines the importance of an application of a
cultural studies approach could have for the study of the religious
press in the future.
Telling the Untold Story: An Examination of the History of
the Religious Press in America
The scientific conceit is the presumption that living in scientific
frames of reference is unequivocally superior to aesthetic,
commonsensical, or religious ones. The debilitating effect of this
conceit is the failure to understand the meaningful realms of discourse
in terms of which people conduct their lives.
There is reality and then, after the fact, our accounts of it.
James W. Carey
Communication as Culture
The history of the religious press in this country has largely gone
untold. It is a history that must be searched for in the nooks and
crannies of journalism histories, pieced together from the category of
"other" to which it has often been relegated. Consensus histories
usually give a slight nod to the existence of religious publications,
but there has not been any attempt to examine the religious press in
this country as a whole and to consider its changing role in
relationship to broader social and cultural themes.
This paper will offer a limited review of histories available on the
religious press in this country, focusing primarily on the Protestant
press. It will briefly consider the models of historical research
have been used in these histories and offer a modest proposal for
work in this area.
The Religious Press throughout American History
The religious press and topics of religious concern once figured more
centrally in the content of mainstream media in this country than
do today. Journalism historian Frank Mott notes that in the first
period of magazine publishing in this country, 1741 to 1794, five
religious magazines were published and "religion furnished an important
part of magazine contents. Most of the early magazines published
sermons occasionally in some guise or other, and a few were devoted
largely to homiletical literature. . . .There were many clerical
contributions to general magazines, and heresies were pretty strictly
banned" (I, 56).
The next thirty years would mark "a prolific period in the founding of
religious magazines and in religious discussions in
secular periodicals," Mott states, as publications both secular and
religious responded to missionary enthusiasm, the Kentucky revivals and
a perceived "torrent of infidelity" (I, 132). Mott characterized
early 1800s as a period of "comparative prosperity" for religious
weeklies and a time when "religious periodicals as a whole found a
kinder welcome than the magazines of more general appeal" (I, 138-9).
The religious weekly newspapers competed with their secular
counterparts, but differed in their "political neutrality" and focus on
religious and denominational news.
By 1828 one listing of religious publications enumerated 28 religious
monthlies and 73 weekly religious newspapers but omitted, according
Mott, "some of the most important" (I, 370). And in 1840 the
Repository claimed that "of all the reading of the people
is purely religious...of all the issues of the press three-fourths
theological, ethical and devotional" (Mott, I, 370). From 1865 to
the number of religious publications doubled in number to over 650,
with a surprisingly large number of religious weeklies, according to
Most large cities had several of these papers; by 1869 fourteen cities
had three or more apiece. Though in both aggregate number and
circulation they fell far below the secular newspaper press, they
not, as a rule, fall below it in ability; and they possessed a
formidable power" (III, 67).
After the Civil War, the religious press consisted of reviews which
were published monthly or quarterly and were "devoted largely to
theology and scholarship" and the weekly newspapers that covered more
general news," although the "rise of the great dailies crowded the
religious weekly out of the news field" (III, 63, 66). It was a period
of lively, and often acrimonious, debate between religious
and some discussion as to whether religion and journalism were even
compatible. After a religious journal attacked the Atlantic's
its editor, James Russell Lowell, labelled the religious press "a
sour-cider press, with belly-ache privileges attached" (Mott III,
Although the 1890s marked the beginning of a decline in the influence
of religious publications, religious issues continued to be
general interest magazines. Mott notes that debates over evolution,
existence of hell and the religious revivals were covered by the
press ( III, 85-6). Religion may have been losing its hold as a
cultural force, but it would continue to figure centrally in the public
square. Thus, in 1908 it was considered perfectly acceptable when
Williams, founder and dean of the University of Missouri School of
Journalism, delivered a speech entitled, "The Bible: A Textbook for
Journalists." The address became so popular it was given several
and eventually was published in pamphlet form.
Speaking to the Iowa State Press Association, Williams called the Bible
"the best text-book I know on journalism" and "a model of good
journalism" (1,5). Moses, he said, was "the first great editor," Luke,
"the best reporter whose works I have read," and the converted Saul,
"the best special correspondent" (3,4). Liberally sprinkling his
remarks with Scriptural quotations and references to biblical
personalities, Williams made his case for the link between good
journalism and a faith in God. He stated:
From an intimate acquaintanceship with newspaper men, I can say with
confidence that in journalism there are few, if any, men who
have not an
abiding faith in the Fatherhood of God. They may not attend
churches as they should; they may sometimes speak lightly of
and creeds; they may appear affected with modern indifference;
criticize the sermons of the yellow pulpit. But you will find,
know newspaper men as I know them, that they have the highest
for holy things, the most sincere faith in a personal God, not
absentee First Cause. Fundamental to good journalism is keeping
faith; faith in God and faith in man" (9).
One would be hard pressed to find a serious journalist or practitioner
of religion today who would speak so glibly about the merits of such
union. The kind of religious patriotism that Williams espoused would
be viable or desirable in the pluralistic culture of our times. But,
the last one hundred years, with the erecting of an ever-more-firm
of separation between church and state, the religious dimension
has been excised from public debate by the secular media. A
to that compartmentalization has been the viewing of the religious
as nothing more than a quaint carry-over from an earlier era, a
far back in the developmental scheme of things. The religious press
been considered by many in the field of mass communications as a
marginal player with little import to anyone but those "singing in the
Whether or not it has relevance to the wider world, the religious press
is a topic worthy of scholarly consideration, if for no other
because of its persisting presence on the journalistic scene. Some
its many publications have been short-lived and small in
be sure, but when examined as a whole, the religious press offers an
illuminating reflection of changing social and cultural forces.
The Religious Press Today
Today the umbrella of the religious press covers upwards of 2500
periodicals (Lippy, vii). Obtaining precise numbers is, of course, a
challenge not only because every fledgling ministry, parachurch
religious program or church organization has a publication of some
but also because defining "religious" is not clear-cut. There is
considerable overlap between religious identity and political,
and ethnic identity, for instance, and it is difficult to determine
where one category ends and another begins. For instance, is a "New
Age" publication more of a general interest/lifestyle publication or
does it fit into the religious category? Or, does a magazine about
Judaism deal more with a cultural and ethnic group than it does with r
Because the focus of this study is on the Protestant press, a
consideration of the membership of the two largest Protestant press
associations in the country gives a general sense of the size of this
subset of the religious press. The Evangelical Press Association has
350 member publications and an estimated combined readership of 20
million. The 47-year-old organization has seen steady growth since its
beginnings. In 1970, for instance, the EPA had 176 members. Last
25 new members were added to its rosters, but EPA Director Ron
says this is no where near the number of evangelical Christian
publications in existence. "Every organization, ministry, and
para-church ministry has its own publication these days," he stated,
noting that the biggest area of growth in religious publications is in
regional or local Christian newspapers. Wilson estimates that 40 or
such publications now exist in this country.
The Associated Church Press, which draws its membership from the
mainline Protestant denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran,
Episcopal, Congregational), has experienced a decrease in membership
recent years, according to its director John Stapert. The
organization reached a high point of membership in 1990 with 200
publications. In 1994 its membership was down to 183 publications
a combined circulation of 9 and a half million. Stapert who
the ACP, EPA and five other religious press associations with regard
postal concerns, estimates that the combined memberships of these
organizations is between 1200 and 1300 publications.
The Religious Press in Standard Journalism Histories
To get a sense of how religious journalism has been covered in standard
journalism histories, a few of the seminal texts in the field have
surveyed to determine the treatment given to religious publications.
The most comprehensive coverage was found in the oldest text under
consideration. In his Journalism in the United States, from 1690 to
1872, Frederic Hudson devotes a nineteen-page chapter to the religious
press. His central concern is validating the publication date and
location of the first religious newspaper in the United States. He
excerpts at length the autobiography of Nathaniel Willis, in order to
authenticate Willis' right to be called the "father of religious
journalism" through the establishment of the Boston Recorder in 1816.
Hudson also presents evidence provided by the family of Sidney
Morse, Willis' first editor, that Morse deserved the laurels.
the question of origins is the foremost historical concern for
and he provides a useful early history in that regard. With his
excerpts of pertinent documents he also creates an important history
Hudson's comments about the religious press in general are also
Since 1814-16, when the two Recorders made their appearance as
wonderful innovators on the religious customs of the people, this
of journals have sprung into existence in endless numbers in
direction, and pinned to every faith. Some have reached long
those we have mentioned. Others, like hundreds and hundreds of
papers, have been strangled in infancy by the public(300-301).
organs of the Catholics, of the Episcopalians, of the Jews, of the
Mormons, of the Spiritualists, of the Swedenborgians, are numerous,
able and influential, with thousands of readers and believers
There were two hundred and seventy-seven religious periodicals
in the United States in 1860. Three hundred and thirty or
issued now. There are probably 100,000,000 copies printed
Hudson's chapter on the religious press is followed by another on the
New York World and "its religious character." What the publishers
the World wanted, Hudson tells us, was "a daily moral paper"
"to shut out wretched criminal police reports, to ignore the
slander-suits and prurient divorce cases; not to shock the public with
the horrid details of murders, but to give the news, such as ought
satisfy any reasonable being--indeed, it was to publish a paper
conducted on high moral principles, excluding advertisements of
theatres, as the Tribune for a time had done; excluding all improper
matter, as the Times for a time had done; and giving all the news,
the Herald always had done." (667)
Hudson relates how this effort failed because by ignoring the facts of
the day, under the motto of "Principles with Principal, or nothing,"
World only frustrated its audience. "No better men than the
originators of this paper every lived," Hudson states. "They wished to
inculcate sound principles and sound morals among the masses. Their
intentions were excellent, but difficult to carry out" (668). Thus,
World changed hands and became "a worldly World," he cleverly
In his later history of American magazines, Frank L. Mott comments on
"a natural antagonism" that often occurs between journalists and
who function as editors, noting in particular Hudson's "facetious
not untouched with gentle scorn" (III, 65).
If Hudson is guilty of speaking of the religious press in less than
respectful terms, James Melvin Lee is even more at fault in his
of American Journalism, published in 1923. He acknowledges the
religious character of the news the colonists received from England in
his introduction and then devotes four pages to religious daily
newspapers. Contrary to Hudson's findings, Lee labels The North
American in Philadelphia, first published in 1839, as the first
distinctly religious daily newspaper. With its ban on advertisements
from theatres and saloons the paper was short-lived and was sold to
owners intent on "getting the news first." (267) With tongue in
Lee relates the "temporary eclipse" of the New York Sun, when the
editor, "an able, but fanatical, newspaper man, laboring under the
delusion that he acted under the direction and guidance of the Lord in
answer to prayer" decided to publish a daily religious newspaper.
and a wealthy clergyman "decided that the Lord needed a newspaper of
own in New York City," Lee relates. The Sun refused ads for
cigars, theatres and other irreligious goods, a policy that soon led
the paper's sale and reorganization.
Lee also recounts the beginnings of the New York World, "a one-cent
religious daily newspaper" that was advertised "extensively in the
religious press and in the back part of church hymnals" (269). Within a
year it too had merged with another paper and dropped the religious
aspect. "Two hundred thousand dollars were spent in this second
to give New York a religious daily newspaper. The paper then became
worldly World," Lee quips using Hudson's exact wording but giving
In his classic, American Journalism, A History: 1690-1960, Frank
Luther Mott gives scant coverage to the religious press. He devotes a
paragraph to religious newspapers in his Party Press section, five
to denomination publications under the heading "class periodicals,"
makes mention of the "experiment in mildly evangelical journalism" with
the New York Sun and concludes his section on the press from 1872
1892 by noting that religious newspapers "unable to keep up in the
for general news, tended to become, shortly after the Civil War,
organs of denominational news on the one hand, or journals of
the other" (513).
Mott's five-volume History of American Magazines, on the other hand,
gives thorough coverage to religious periodicals, especially in the
first three volumes. His massive work is without a doubt the best
historical record we have of religious publishing and lays the initial
groundwork for future studies of a more particular nature.
In addition to devoting 17 pages of general history to religious
publications in Volume 1, Mott treats a dozen religious publications in
depth through separate sketches of them. Volume 2, covering the
from 1850 to 1865, includes a 16-page section on the religious press
reference throughout to the response of the religious press to
such as war, novels, politics, etc. Mott covers the religious press
denominational category and offers individual sketches of eight
In Volume 3 of his series, Mott devotes a 27-page chapter to the
religious press and includes discussion of periodicals devoted to
spiritualism and philosophical inquiry. The Catholic World, Old and New
, Outlook, Southern Review and the Unitarian Review are among
publications to which he gives separate treatment. Volume 4 covers
religious press during the Gilded Age (1885-1905) with the rise of
New Thought movement and the emergence of religious monthlies
from Christian Scientist publications to the Christian Socialist .
shrinking number of pages Mott devotes to the religious press in
volume is indicative of religion's diminishing importance in the
culture at large.
Mott died before the final books of this series could be completed,
and the fifth volume includes no general history and only those
of individual publications he had completed, none of which were
religious in nature. (Mott had planned a sketch on Christian Century
magazine, according to his daughter's editorial note.) In keeping
linear, progressive perspective--a sort of "survival of the fittest"
mentality--Mott allocates few pages to the religious press in his
volumes. Religion has fallen by the wayside, it appears, as the
becomes more forward-thinking, objective and professional. These
all unstated assumptions on Mott's part, but they do influence the
issues and publications that receive attention.
In his essay "Unfinished Story," Mott reveals something of his own
purpose in writing this series:
There is...what I am wont to think of as "grand history," which deals
with epic movements of people or elucidates the meaning of a
great events. But, among the various types, there is also a
of history that Moses Hadas recently called "ancilla," and
once referred to (in describing his own work) as
history." This is the category in which my work belongs--though
encouraged to think that I have, here and there, helped to
patterns of thought (and sometimes lack of thought) in the American
Mott's histories of American magazines have been labelled "a sort of
syllabus of our cultural history," and with regards to religious
publications, they do establish a general framework from which a
developmental approach can be understood ( V, xiv). Mott does not
examine the interplay of religious influences and the press or the
impact of theological considerations on the development of the press.
But in the 3,000-plus pages of Mott's histories one can find nuggets
about the religious press that are as close as one will probably come
a gold mine of specific information on the subject. In light of the
Herculian task Mott undertook in this project and the important
foundation in press history that was laid by his efforts, he cannot be
faulted for failing to take the task the next step further.
In The Press and America, now in its sixth edition, Michael Emery and
Edwin Emery paint the history of journalism with the kind of broad
strokes that a general overview of the entire discipline perhaps
necessitates. In so doing, the authors give the religious press the
most cursory coverage and make little mention of the role of religion,
even in the press's infancy. Relating history from a liberal,
materialistic perspective, the authors include a page-long section on
the contemporary religious press which highlights a range of
publications among the 1700 being published by 1970.
The Magazine in America, 1741-1990 by John Tebbel and Mary Ellen
Zuckerman has a more narrow focus than the Emery text and considers
magazines within a cultural context. While not purporting to be a
history of the religious press in particular, the book does present the
religious press as a fluid entity. The authors address the diverse
roles of religious publications and appear to recognize religion as
relevant to discussions of many aspects of press history. Their
introduction to a case study of Christian Century magazine illustrates
an effort to give religious publications serious treatment.
The authors state:
A survey of intellectual currents between the wars would not be
complete without at least a brief mention of religious
because to address the subject, in all its multifaith
would require far more space than can be given it here. A single
history cannot stand for all, of course, but if may illustrate
Protestants, at least, through the ecumenical Christian
confronted the intellectual issues of the times (223).
Journalism Histories and Historical Methods
Journalism historian John Nerone contends that one of the misleading
aspects of the "standard plot of journalism history," a plot that
the story from the top down, is its failure "to connect developments
'journalism' with developments in related media, such as scientific,
religious, and literary publications" (40). He identifies three
weaknesses from which journalism histories suffer, all of which have
been especially detrimental to an adequate understanding of the
religious press. He cites a "present-mindedness" by which "scholars are
interested primarily in finding the ancestors of the contemporary
in the past. This focus on the present in the past has hampered
study of the cultural significance of the press in the past" (38-9).
The whiggishness of much journalism history, says Nerone, has led to
"disproportionate attention" being paid to publications "notorious
their longevity." The result has been a failure to seriously
or recognize the cultural significance of "the overwhelming majority
early journals" that were failures (39).
Finally, Nerone chides journalism historians for their "topical
compartmentalization," studying newspapers apart from periodicals and
giving separate treatment to "literary and religious, scientific, and
reform publications. . . .Yet the development of the press in all
areas is more aptly treated as a single historical phenomenon" (39).
Scholars who are only looking to find "ancestors of the contemporary
media in the past" have failed to recognize the cultural significance
the religious press in the past because it has not been a central
on the journalistic scene for some time. By giving disproportionate
attention to successful (i.e. long-lived) publications, scholars have
failed to recognize the social role of religious publishing in the
culture, how it has intersected with religious movements or its
development within a wider cultural context, including changing
political and legal systems.
According to Nerone, these weaknesses are all rooted in a failure to
recognize that a medium is "something in between other things. A
is a set of relationships within a social and cultural
proper unit of study is not the individual medium, but the whole set
media within a particular ecology" (39).
The history of the religious press which has been told to date could
for the most part best be categorized as descriptive history, one
"basically lists salient features over time" (Stevens/Dicken Garcia,
16). In the past decade more interpretative or explanatory research
has been forthcoming, histories which emphasize content and address
"reasons behind the salient features" (16). But, as historians John
Stevens and Hazel Dicken Garcia note, the dissecting of media into
isolated parts obscures commonalties, inhibits the development of strong
conceptual frameworks and diverts attention from media-society
The history of the religious press has suffered in particular from this
approach. For rather than being progressive, the development of the
religious press in some respects could be considered regressive.
a linear view which "assumes each subsequent event is an
an inadequate model for understanding the religious press. "Viewing
past as a linear progression dictates a narrow investigative
Stevens and Dicken Garcia charge. "It also predisposes a researcher
look for events in a straight line over time, and it produces data
construed to fit foregone conclusions....It describes characteristics
instead of analyzing principles. And it focuses on uniqueness rather
than continuity, complexity, disjunction, or change" (40).
Histories of the religious press that can be extracted from general
journalism histories are illustrative, for the most part, of a Whig
interpretation. Time-bound events are examined according to universal
principles from a linear and progressive perspective. "Based in a
conflict paradigm of (liberal) good versus (conservative) evil, this
portrayal dominates journalism history some twenty years after other
historians have moved away from it," Stevens and Dicken Garcia contend
(43). Such a paradigm would quite obviously put the religious press
(conservative/evil) in a disadvantaged position from the onset.
The Religious Press in the Journals
"The religious press is a neglected area for research by communications
scholars," David Sumner began a 1989 Journalism Quarterly article,
case study of diocesan newspapers of the Episcopal Church. "[N]o
published research, to my knowledge, has ever focused on issues related
to the religious press" (721). While Sumner's overstates the case,
looking for research on the religious press in scholarly mass
communications journals, will not yield much fruit.
From 1966 to 1994, Journalism Monographs published two issues related
to the religious press (Gilbert A. Williams, "The Role of the
Recorder in the African Emigration Movement, 1854-1902, April 1989;
Barbara Straus Reed, "The Antebellum Jewish Press: Origins,
Functions," June 1993) and another which fits under the category of
religion and the press more generally (David Paul Nord, "The
Origins of Mass Media in America, 1815-1835," May 1984).
Since it began in 1924, Journalism Quarterly has published 25 articles
dealing with some aspect of religion and the media. Of those, only
have dealt specifically with religious publications. Occasionally
mass communications journals publish an article on the religious
For instance, the spring/summer 1989 issue of Media History Digest
featured several articles on the religious press, including "When
Was Editor in Kansas," "Christian Century: History Front Pew,"
Newspapers in America," and "Early Black Religious Press: Christian
Recorder." And Judith M. Buddenbaum's article on the religious
journalism of James Gordon Bennett was published in the summer/autumn
1987 issue of Journalism History.
In a paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Journalism
Historians Association in 1993, Julie H. Williams argued that the
Puritans, contrary to some characterizations, valued free expression
"within the boundaries of godly expression." "Although historians
sometimes jump to the conclusion that the Puritans had no interest in
free expression, the Puritans' printed works show toleration and
encouragement of free speech and free press within certain limits,"
Williams stated in "America's Puritan Press, 1630-1690: The Value of
Free Expression." Basing her research on an examination of hundreds
tracts, pamphlets, books and broadsides rather than just on the
records of free speech cases, Williams was able to contextualize the
Puritan limits on free expression.
David Paul Nord's research on the relationship between the country's
religious roots and the development of the press perhaps offers one
the best example of good scholarship in this area. His Journalism
Monographs publication in 1984, "The Evangelical Origins of Mass Media
in America, 1815-1835," links the development of mass distribution
techniques used by Bible and tract societies in the early 1800s to the
emergence of mass media in America. Similarly, Nord's article "The
Authority of Truth: Religion and the John Peter Zenger Case," which
appeared in a 1985 Journalism Quarterly, looks at the religious roots
the concept of freedom of expression. The dispute in the case
the issue of truth and "how truth is revealed to man," Nord
"Religion lay beneath the surface and between the lines of the
Nord's later essay, "Teleology and News: The Religious Roots of
American Journalism, 1630-1730," offers the type of cultural analysis
that is missing from the treatment of the religious press in standard
journalism histories. Like Williams, Nord gets into the mind set of
England Puritan culture in order to understand the world view out of
which the first definition of news emerged. "All four of the defining
elements of news were shaped by the belief that everything happened
according to God's perfect plan," states Nord (10).
That approach parallels the work of Gerald Baldasty in The
Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century. In this study
Baldasty argues that news is "a social construct rather than an
undistorted reflection of what occurs in the world" and chronicles how
changing definitions of news in the nineteenth century reflect "the
changing economic base of the press from a political one to a
one" (6). Nord, likewise, considers news as a social construct, one
that in the seventeenth century was wedded to a teleological world
A Cultural Studies Approach
One substream of journalism history is cultural studies, the objective
of which, according to media scholar James Carey, is "not so much to
answer our questions as. . . to understand the meanings that others
placed on experience. . . to enlarge the human conversation by
comprehending what others are saying" (61-2). Research such as Nord's
study of teleology and news in 17th century New England enlarges the
human conversation because it "listens" to the participants of
rather than imposing a meaning upon them.
Carey offers cultural studies as a means by which "multiple realities"
or "several cultural worlds in which people simultaneously exist"
understood (65, 67). This approach does not attempt to explain
behavior in terms of "the laws that govern it or to dissolve it into
structures that underlie it." Rather, says Carey, understanding
meanings is the goal.
Carey delineates some of the differences between the transmission view
of communication, which has "dominated American thought since the
1920s," and the ritual view, which, although the older of the two
perspectives, has been "a minor thread in our national thought" (18).
Central concerns under the transmission view of communication are
disseminating news and knowledge, transmitting messages for purposes of
control, and the technology of communication. Words like
"sending," and "transmitting," are descriptive of this view, says
Under the ritual view of communication, central concerns are the
maintenance of society, the representing of shared beliefs, and drawing
people together in community. News, here, is seen as "drama" rather
than information. "It does not describe the world," says Carey, "but
portrays an arena of dramatic forces and action; it exists solely in
historical times; and it invites our participation on the basis of our
assuming, often vicariously, social roles within it" (21). Words
"sharing," "participation," "association," and "fellowship,"
characterize this view (18).
The 19th century drive to use communication as a means of controlling
wider markets and greater populations contrasts starkly with the
view which "conceives communication as a process through which a
culture is created, modified, and transformed" (43) With the
of a cultural studies approach in the 1960s and '70s, questions
be raised in communications studies about whether the emphasis on
of behavior, persuasion, attitude change, and behavior modification
sufficient to explain the complexity of communication. A shift in
viewing communication as more ritual than transmission had begun to take
Because of society's "obsessive commitment to a transmission view of
communication," says Carey, we are "coerced by our traditions into
seeing it as a network of power, administration, decision, and
control--as a political order" and we see society in terms of "property,
production, and trade--an economic order." What we are missing is
emphasis on "aesthetic experience, religious ideas, personal values
sentiments, and intellectual notions."
For Carey, the study of "communications" is too narrow a concern
because it is "isolated from the study of literature and art, on the one
hand, and from the expressive and ritual forms of everyday
life--religion, conversation, sport--on the other." Cultural
then, with its anthropological emphasis on "the study of an entire
of life" replaces communication studies "which directs us to the
of one isolated segment of existence" (42).
It is no wonder that journalism histories which have fit so neatly
within a transmission model of communication have missed almost
the role and importance of the religious press within the wider
context. It points to what church historian Martin Marty has called
"invisibility" of the Protestant press. "Hardly anyone outside the
denominations or, occasionally, the interest groups represented, sees
any of these periodicals," he states. "The Protestant press is in a
paradoxical situation. To the public it is largely invisible. To
Protestantism it is furiously active and ever-present" (14, 16).
Carey and Clifford Christians offer guidelines for doing competent
qualitative research of a cultural studies sort. In order to
the interpretations" by which people live, researchers much aim for
naturalistic observation, becoming immersed in the symbolic world and
learning to think in the "foreign language" of those being studied.
Furthermore, such an approach requires the researcher to become a
"master of context," one who is able to penetrate the historical setting
(365). Reducing the distance between "imposed concepts and those
employed by the people being studied" is the goal of this type of
research, Carey and Christians note. Qualitative research that follows
these guidelines should lead to a discovery of "an integrating
within the data themselves" (370, 373).
The history of the religious press lends itself particularly well to
this form of analysis. As a cultural "text" it brings together two
powerful and complex societal institutions: the church and the media.
A cultural analysis approach to the history of the religious press
surely lead to important insights on the order of those David Paul
and Julie Williams have discovered as they have attempted to"listen"
the common culture of 17th century New England.
It is no wonder that most of the standard journalism histories--driven
by a progressive, transmission view of history--have marginalized
religious component of society and consequently the religious press.
But religious considerations fit much more comfortably within the
context of a ritual view of communication whereby community, shared
beliefs and maintenance of society are foregrounded. The time is ripe
for further attempts to "enlarge the human conversation" by
that multifarious entity, the religious press.
Baldasty, Gerald. The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth
Century (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).
Buddenbaum, Judith, "'Judge...What Their Acts Will Justify': the
Religion Journalism of James Gordon Bennett," Journalism History,
14:2-3, Summer/Autumn 1987, 54-67.
Carey, James. Communication As Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989).
Christians, Clifford and James Carey, "The Logic and Aims of Qualitative
Research," in Research Methods in Mass Communication, edited by
Stempel III and Bruce H. Westley (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Inc., 1989), 354-374.
Emery, Michael and Edwin Emery. The Press and America, 6th ed.
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988).
Hudson, Frederic. Journalism in the United States, from 1690 to 1872
(New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1873).
Lee, James Melvin. History of American Journalism (New York: Houghton
Mifflin Co., 1923).
Lippy, Charles, ed. Religious Periodicals of the United States
(Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1986).
Marty, Martin et. al. The Religious Press in America (Westport, CN:
Greenwood Press, 1963).
Mott, Frank Luther. American Journalism, A History: 1690-1960, 3rd ed.
(New York: MacMillan Co., 1962).
_________________A History of American Magazines, 5 volumes (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1930, 1938, 1938, 1957, 1968).
Nerone, John, "A Local History of the Early U.S. Press: Cincinnati,
1793-1848," in Ruthless Criticism edited by William Solomon and Robert
McChesney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993),
Nord, David Paul, "The Authority of Truth: Religion and the John Peter
Zenger Case," Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1985, 227-235.
_______________, "The Evangelical Origins of Mass Media in America,
1815-1835," Journalism Monographs, May 1984, No. 88.
_______________, "The Nature of Historical Research," in Research
Methods in Mass Communciation edited by Guido H. Stempel III and Bruce
H. Westley (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989), 290-315.
_______________, "Teleology and News: The Religious Roots of American
Journalism, 1630-1730, The Journal of American History, June 1990,
Sumner, David, "The Religious Press: A Case Study," Journalism
Quarterly, 1989, 721-23.
Stevens, John and Hazel Dicken Garcia. Communication History (Beverly
Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980).
Tebbel, John and Mary Ellen Zuckerman. The Magazine in America,
1741-1990 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Williams, Julie, "America's Puritan Press, 1630-1690: The Value of Free
Expression." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
Journalism Historians Association (Salt Lake City, UT, Oct.. 6-9, 1993).
Williams, Walter, "The Bible: A Text-Book for Journalists," pamphlet,
Selected Studies of the Religious Press: An Annotated
Apart from a half-dozen books on the craft of writing for religious
publications (Church and Newspaper by William Norton, 1930; Out of the
Hell-Box by Irwin St. John Tucker, 1945; Interpreting the Church
Press and Radio and Careers in Religious Journalism by Roland
1951, 1955; Christian Journalism for Today by Benjamin Browne, 1952;
The Printed Word by Dewi Morgan and Michael Perry, 1969) there have
few book-length treatments of the Protestant religious press.
are some of the pertinent titles, listed chronologically by
date, in this area.
The Protestant Clergy and Public Issues, 1812-1848 by John R. Bodo
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954). A study of
patriotism and the American Protestant clergy. Only tangential reference
is made to publications in this study of the dream to establish an
The Religious Press in America by Martin Marty et. al. (Westport, CN:
Greenwood Press, 1963). Marty takes the Protestant press to task for
withdrawal from the public sphere and does not offer a history of
religious press as much as an examination of the religious press in
tionship to culture. "The Protestant churches deserve a
press; the national community would be better served by one," Marty
concludes. "If [the Protestant press] can move with freedom to portray
an evangelical style of life, the hiddenness of the Christian faith
could be exposed to public view. That is the function of the
press" (63) The book also includes chapters on the Catholic and
Religious Newspapers in the Old Northwest to 1861: A History,
Bibliography, and Record of Opinion by Wesley Norton (Athens, OH: Ohio
University Press, 1977). Norton focuses his study on the religious
newspaper and their editors who "contributed, and probably in no small
way, to making moral outrage a national institution" (136).
U.S. Religious Journalism and the Korean War by Harold H. Osmer
(Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, Inc., 1980). Examines
responses by religious publications to U.S. foreign policy related
the Korean War. Protestant, Roman-Catholic and Jewish press are
examined to discover the relation of foreign policy to expressed
religious values. The author examines positions on the containment of
Communism as justification for the Korean War to determine what role
religious press played in disseminating viewpoints.
So It Was True: The American Protestant Press and the Nazi Persecution
of the Jews by Robert W. Ross (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1980). This book examines the information American Protestant
churches disseminated through their publications with regards to the
Jews in Germany during the Nazi era. It concludes that the press did
report events more widely than previously assumed but they "tried to
deal with events as if they 'were a part of an ordered, stable, normal
world" and seemed "unable to cope with something as unreal, even
unimaginable, as the mass slaughter of millions of people" (300).
Religious Publishing and Communications by Judith S. Duke (White Plains,
NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc., 1981). Offers a market
analysis of religious publishing in general and includes a very brief
history of religious magazines.
Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media by
Marvin Olasky (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988). Relates to
coverage of religion in the secular media more so than to religious
publications but begins with a chapter on "The Decline of American
Journalism" which seems to assume Christian roots in secular journalism.
Reporting Religion: Facts and Faith edited by Benjamin J. Hubbard
(Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1990). Includes brief chapters on the
history and role of the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish press,
respectively. "The Protestant press," states contributor Charles
Austin, "has had a distinguished history, paralleling the steady
influence of Protestantism on the development of American society, But
this parallel means that as the church itself has become less
to Americans and their society, the influence of the Protestant
s declined" (108). Austin highlights the role of the church press
serve as an "alternative media," looking at current events "from the
perspective of faith" (115).
American Evangelicals and the Mass Media, edited by Quentin J. Schultze
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,1990). Essays in this collection look
the ways in which evangelicalism has shaped the American mass
communication system, the relationship between
evangelicals and new media technologies and the influence of American
media on evangelicalism.
Central Ideas in the Development of American Journalism: A Narrative
History by Marvin Olasky (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991).
Olasky narrates the history of journalism from the perspective of three
"macrostories": the official story, the corruption story and the
oppression story. He concludes that "American journalism, which had
developed as an antiestablishment force, had become part of a new
establishment that did not have the self-understanding to recognize
itself as one" (122). Includes an appendix on "Journalism Historians
and Religion" which echoes the views Olasky presents elsewhere, that
journalism historians have written Christianity's central role out of
Liberals, Radicals, and the Contested Social Thought of Postwar
Protestantism: Christianity and Crisis Magazine, 1941-1976 by Mark
Hulsether (University of Minnesota Ph.D. thesis, 1992) Uses a case
study of one publication to examine the process of polarization and
reconfiguration. Explores broad cultural movements during the life of
Christianity and Crisis to determine whether or not the
political radicalization led to its decline.
Communication and Change in American Religious History, edited by
Leonard Sweet (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993). This collection of
essays explores the "interplay in American history between the
of new communication forms and religious and social change." It
examines the broader social history of which religious publications are
a part and concludes with an extensive annotated bibliography on
American Christianity and the History of Communication.