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Teaching helps inform Church’s religious literacy efforts with UK Parliament and media

It was an unusual Sunday morning in June 2019 in Flushing, located in the New York City borough of Queens. I and a group of 25 BYU travel study students were seated in the Flushing chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was not a typical sacrament meeting. The ward is bilingual and every participant received a headset. As leaders and fellow Saints spoke during a testimony meeting, there was simultaneous translation from either English to Spanish and vice versa. The Spirit was evident in either tongue.

That unusual start at Latter-day Saint services was followed by a visit to sacred spaces in what is considered one of the most diverse ZIP codes in America, including ethnic and national origin as well as religious diversity. Within walking distance of the Latter-day Saint meeting house there are dozens of houses of worship including a 1600s Quaker meetinghouse, Korean Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, Jewish synagogue, Sihk gurdwara and a seemingly endless number of other Christian churches — many emblazoned with non-English scripts. Even inside the Latter-day Saint chapel there are services in Korean, Chinese, English and Spanish.

To spend some time visiting sacred spaces in Flushing is to understand religious literacy in a pluralistic society. This experience and others has been part of a journey to understand how to both teach religious literacy and help improve the journalistic reporting of religion in courses such as Communications 482 offered by the BYU School of Communications.

On that June Sunday, BYU students were guided through the Hindu temple and attended a Sihk worship service and were hosted with a langar meal. Students visited numerous other houses of worship during the eight-week program.

Most recently, I was given the opportunity to apply my learning about journalism and media in other situations. Malcolm Adcock, Europe Area associate communication director, invited me to participate in the research and documents submitted in the United Kingdom as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engaged with an “All-Party Parliamentary Group” studying religious literacy.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Religion in the Media recently engaged with newspaper editors, major broadcasters, faith groups, and media experts in an effort to foster a more religiously literate media environment and avoid misrepresentation of religious organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of 15 churches and community groups to submit written evidence for the APPG’s report, Learning to Listen.

In the Church’s brief, I was quoted as follows.

I believe that religious literacy is key for citizenship in a pluralistic society. To have the “fluency” in the beliefs, traditions, practices and world views of people of faith and no faith is often a missing component in critical policy discussions and decisions.  As a journalist and journalism educator I also see the critical role news media must play in its coverage of religion and faith, particularly as it helps citizens understand motivations, ethics, implications and recognizing the rights of all.

The Church’s full news release about the parliamentary document and related activities can be found here.

While previous plans were canceled because of COVID, there may be a possibility of a future training about religious literacy with U.K. journalists and BYU students. It is hoped that such a training can be part of the BYU Global Diplomacy and Journalism Study Abroad Program in Summer 2022.

I appreciate the School of Communications’ support in the past to help build my competencies in journalism and religion including funding for me to earn a certificate at the Religious Freedom Center at the Freedom Forum (formerly Newseum) and allowing me to teach one of my favorite courses, Communications 482, both at the Salt Lake Center and in New York City. It has been a joy in those settings to see students increase their religion and media literacy.

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Journalism faculty, staff and students at Brigham Young University started this project to strengthen journalism through research and innovation. The project is supported by a BYU President’s Innovation Fund Grant and operated within the BYU School of Communications.