Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

The Muted Voice: Religion and the Media

by Michael W. Higgins

What is the difference between religion and spirituality? How does the media distinguish between the two? Or does it at all? In The Muted Voice: Religion and the Media, Michael W. Higgins takes an anecdotal look at radio, television, and print media in Canada and how they deal with the sensitive issue of religion. The book is based on talks delivered by Higgins at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax in 1998.

Higgins, president of the University of St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ont., and a professor of religious studies and English, states that his study is neither systematic nor scholarly, but an overview based on more than 20 years as a religion commentator for the CBC. As such, his book is an informal, accessible examination into the role of religion in a society driven by sound bytes and sensationalism.

Higgins describes how his role with the CBC uniquely positions him to reflect on the topic at hand. His one appearance on Ralph Benmergui Live brings him to the crux of his lectures: “spirituality was the in thing; it was trendy,” Benmergui points out. For Higgins, this was deeply disturbing. Religion was being equated with Chicken Soup for the Soul; self-affirmation, self-expansion, and self-fulfillment instead of the self-negating, self-emptying characteristics of true religious spirituality.

With this came the realization that religion receives in-depth media coverage only if it is accompanied by scandal. Higgins notes that in the print media, religion editors, if they exist, are at the bottom of mastheads. Few dailies actually cover religion in the way they cover sports, books, arts, or culture. There might be a religion beat, but most often, to justify column inches, the story must be one of pederasty or pedophilia.

Higgins brings some unpleasant realities to the forefront with a refreshing conciseness. His is one voice that should not be muted.

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