Islam and Politics Dominate Religion Coverage in 2011


Religion does not typically receive a lot of attention from the mainstream news media, and 2011 was no exception. When religion did make news, it was often because of accusations about extremism or intolerance.

The biggest religion stories in the news during 2011 centered on tensions over Islam and the U.S. presidential campaign, with more than half of the politically-focused coverage involving Republican hopeful Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith. This was the finding of the annual review of religion coverage by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Stories related to the 2012 election topped the list of religion stories in the mainstream media last year, with much of it prompted by an evangelical pastor’s suggestion that Romney’s faith should be a concern for voters. Six of the top ten religion stories focused at least in part on Islam — the highest number since PEJ and the Pew Forum began monitoring religion news in 2007. The top Islam-related story of the year was the congressional hearing organized by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on the subject of radical Islam in the U.S.

The discussion of religion in social media differed significantly from the coverage in the mainstream press. None of the top religion-related subjects among bloggers in 2011 was a top story in traditional media outlets. Favorite topics for bloggers included the Rapture predictions of a Christian radio host, and science and religion. Bloggers also tended to cover religion in a less sustained way than the mainstream media. On Twitter, there was only one week during 2011 when a religion-focused story appeared among the top five subjects on the micro-blogging site.

Read the full report for more findings, including:

  • A review of the top ten religious stories of 2011 in the mainstream media.
  • The amount of attention paid to religious stories.
  • The amount of coverage given to different religious faiths.
  • Trends in coverage of religious stories over the last five years.


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