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The Kirk, the Church, and the Umma: Conceptions of religious authority among Glasgow journalists

Munnik, Michael ORCID: 2013. The Kirk, the Church, and the Umma: Conceptions of religious authority among Glasgow journalists. Presented at: IAMCR 2013, Dublin, Ireland, 25-29 June 2013.

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Authority is one of the key markers by which journalists assess the usefulness of a particular source, regardless of the field the source represents. Journalistic culture and practices influence judgements about this authority – whether it is useful or credible, and how to accommodate it in news texts. This paper compares journalistic conceptions of the most prevalent non-Christian religion in Glasgow – Islam – with those of the most numerically significant faith communities, the Church of Scotland (a Presbyterian Protestant denomination) and the Roman Catholic Church. These two Christian denominations account for three-fifths of religious affiliation in Glasgow, and their sometimes fraught sectarian relationship has (pre)occupied much of the reporting on religion in Scotland. Whilst statistically much smaller than either of these, Islam tends to draw a disproportionately high degree of news coverage in the UK as a whole (Moore et al. 2008). Much of the scholarly work attending to Muslims in Britain suggests the news media are egregiously wrong in this coverage, whether through misunderstandings, bad faith, or underlying trends of Islamophobia or Orientalism. Drawing on tentative data from ongoing ethnographic research, I will suggest that journalists have a better understanding of authority in Muslim communities than they are given credit for. Yet this understanding does not necessarily lead to “better” or “more responsible” coverage of the religion in whatever normative sense scholars might use the terms. I will detail how some journalists participating in my research describe the authority structures of the religions in question, briefly comparing these with other informed depictions of the same. I will then demonstrate how journalists operationalise these structures, considering the Catholic Church to be relatively “strong” because of its hierarchical structure, the Church of Scotland to be relatively “weak” because of its bureaucratic and dialogical nature, and the diffuse Muslim population to be ambiguous, manifesting both strength and weakness while seeming to lack an identifiable structure at all. There is no “Muslim pope,” and despite its name, the Glasgow Central Mosque is not central in a representative way for Glasgow Muslims. Journalists recognise the absence of a definitive, authoritative Muslim voice and are therefore uncertain how to portray comments from Muslims within their news texts. Understanding how journalists conceive of these religious communities and their practical expectations of spokespeople will give us a context in which to analyse reporting on religion in Scotland’s mass media.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BP Islam. Bahaism. Theosophy, etc
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BX Christian Denominations
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2022 09:23

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