Religion, Journalism and Democracy in a Post-Truth Era
Truth is upstream from culture
We witness today a striking indifference to truth. In parts of our government, swaths of the media, some of our classrooms, and key sectors of culture, the imperative to seek and tell the truth is ignored, even viewed with contempt. Authoritarian, anti-democratic, and anti-expertise movements are surging in the United States and around the world. The credibility of scientists, journalists, educators, and civil servants erodes as trust in the institutions of civic life falls away. Religious actors and institutions play ambivalent roles, in some cases resisting and in others supporting the traffic in fabrications and falsehoods.
To respond to this “post-truth” moment, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University is undertaking a three-year project: Recovering Truth: Religion, Journalism, and Democracy in a Post-Truth Era. This interdisciplinary research project encourages scholars, journalists, and students to deliberate on and create new platforms for thinking and communicating about the pursuit, meaning, discovery, and recovery of truth in democratic life. As a research unit in one of the largest public universities in America, we acknowledge our responsibility to consider whether and how the academy has contributed to the deterioration of truth as an object of civic care, and how it can marshal resources for reversing this trend. We also ask how the media might do better. We are especially interested in exploring the place of theology in democracy. In this project, theology serves as a provocation for deeper conversation—an invitation for apprehending truths that resist reduction to statements of fact. We wish to examine the role that different religious as well as secular beliefs about reality, transcendence, moral principles, and other truth claims have played—and might play—in animating democratic life. Other goals include creating professional networks of scholars, journalists, and civic leaders committed to recovering truth as the foundation of democracy; and developing innovative platforms to advance traditional and public scholarship that revitalizes the public’s interest in and commitment to truth.
At the core of the project is a collaborative laboratory for scholars, journalists, civic leaders, and students to deliberate together about the status and place of truth in democratic life. The co-lab encompasses a rich array of activities including seminars, workshops, social media, and websites, visiting speakers and fellows, video and podcast series, graduate fellowships, and publications in popular media outlets. These activities will initiate new conversations about religion and democracy, examine how truth is conceived and constructed in the media, and foster public scholarship that strengthens civic life.
The project seeks to nurture shared vocabularies and orientations by which journalists, academics, and citizens can scrutinize and speak about truth claims. To that end, the project will:
Cultivate new and renewed understandings of the relationship between religion and democracy, with critical attention to how religious ideas, actors, and institutions contribute to—or undermine—the democratic project. We will critically examine whether and how theological ideas, religious traditions, and secular accounts reveal compelling accounts of reality. While unpacking presumptions surrounding our current “post-truth” moment, we will cast an eye toward new understandings of the relationships among religion, truth, and democracy for the generation coming of age.
Advance traditional and public forms of scholarship that share project findings through innovative publishing and promotional platforms.
Create new professional networks—local, regional, and national—of scholars, journalists, and civic leaders eager to learn from one another. In forming a network of intellectual and community leaders—across the Southwest and beyond—the project seeks to promote and elevate those committed to recovering truth as the foundation of democracy.
The project is conceived around the following questions:
- Are we living in a post-truth era? If so, what does that mean, and how did we get here? What role have the academy, the media, and religious actors and institutions played in giving way to this moment of “alternative facts,” “fake news,” and irresponsible claims that “truth isn’t truth”?
- How do we move beyond this “post-truth” moment by pursuing truth as a shared aspiration and public good? How shall we conceive truth or recognize it? Is truth reducible to fact? What dangers do we court or avoid if we insist that it is? What is the relationship between facts and values? What is the relationship of personal experience, feeling, or authenticity to truth?
- What resources do theological traditions, religious practices, moral inquiry, and political thought provide for recovering truth in civic life? How do power, authority, law, and force either underwrite or undermine truth claims? Does truth have standing apart from them? What relation does truth bear to objectivity, neutrality, reason, fidelity, beauty, or virtue?
- Is truth singular or multiple? What does it mean to invoke universal or self-evident truths? Is the commitment to truth (or Truth) compatible with seeking or speaking one’s own truth?
Western Bureau Chief and a senior editor at NPR News. He edits reporters in states along the West Coast as well as religion coverage, Native American coverage, and LGBTQ coverage across the country. Prior to his current position, he was an economics editor (during the Great Recession) and a program editor at NPR. Earlier, he worked as an editor, reporter, and producer at public radio stations in Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Tampa. He has taught journalism at DePaul University and Northwestern University and has won national awards from the Religion News Association and NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and holds a master of divinity from the University of Chicago. He also studied religion reporting at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Reporting fellow at Type Investigations and author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump and God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters. Her investigative reporting and analysis on have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, The Nation, The American Prospect, HuffPost, Talking Points Memo, VICE, and numerous other publications.
PBS NewsHour correspondent and anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
Award-winning audio journalist and producer, currently working on a long-form documentary podcast that explores issues of religion, politics and culture. Previously she was executive producer of the podcast series, The Double Shift, a senior producer at Phoenix's NPR station KJZZ, a producer and editor at NPR headquarters in Washington, and taught podcasting at ASU’s Cronkite School. She won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her reporting on the community on the Utah-Arizona border known for being home to the FLDS church, and is one of the founders of Girls Rock! Phoenix, a nonprofit organization that works to empower girls, trans, and gender nonconforming kids through music.
Graduate fellows training program
The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict invites graduate students to apply for a limited number of positions in the Recovering Truth graduate fellows training program. This program is part of the Recovering Truth project, a collaborative research initiative funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. The project is directed by Professors John Carlson and Tracy Fessenden and gathers team members from across the university and beyond to focus on the pursuit, meaning, discovery, and recovery of truth. Society grapples today with a striking indifference to truth. This is so in parts of our government, in some of our classrooms, in swaths of media, and among the general public. Authoritarian, anti-democratic, and anti-expertise movements are surging in the United States and around the world. Credibility falters when trust in our institutions falls away. In response to these civic challenges, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University has undertaken the project Recovering Truth: Religion, Journalism, and Democracy in a Post-Truth Era. The project brings together scholars and journalists to collaborate as truth-seekers and truth tellers in order to safeguard public trust, enrich each other’s work, invigorate public discussion of the importance of truth, and help repair the fabric of democratic life. We are especially interested in exploring the role that different beliefs about reality, transcendence, theology, moral principles, and other truth claims have played in animating democratic life.
Graduate students accepted into the Recovering Truth graduate fellows training program will be engaged in various project activities. Components of the training program include: working directly with project team members to explore the project’s themes; attending training workshops on how to write and pitch public scholarship for publication; and attending project events (in-person and/or virtual). Students who successfully complete the training program will receive a participant stipend of $1,000.
Application deadline: June 15, 2022
John Carlson and Tracy Fessenden
- In Arizona, truth is on the ballot in 2022 – and the future of democracy is at stake
The Arizona Republic, October 28, 2022
- Is America Losing its Civil Religion?
ASU Now, January 22, 2021
- The 2020 election is over, but our problems are not. Where do we go from here?
The Arizona Republic, November 2020
Steve Goldstein and Phil Boas discuss this article on an episode of The Show on KJZZ, "The Nature of Truth", November 23, 2020
- Biden's Inaugural Address Bolsters Civil Religion
The Show on KJZZ, January 21, 2021
- Biden's inaugural speech called for Americans to embrace civil religion. What does that mean?
NBC News Think, January 20, 2021
- Health Care and Journalism Are Facing the Same Crises, Slate, December 17, 2021
- A Twitter tightrope without a net: Journalists’ reactions to newsroom social media policies
Columbia Journalism Review, December 2, 2021
- Coronavirus: News media sounded the alarm for months – but few listened
The Conversation, March 2020
- Debate over teaching books by Black authors has roots in violent 1974 clash in West Virginia
Washington Post, October 29, 2021
- How the Christian Right Helped Foment Insurrection
Reveal, January 30, 2021
- Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump
Random House, 2020
Posner discusses the book with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, July 2020
- The Mainstreaming of Alt-Right Media
Canopy Forum, December 14, 2021
- Futile Fantasies and Fascism: Conspiratorial Theologies and the Orthodox Far-Right Movement
American Academy of Religion, November 20, 2021
- Religion & Conspiracy
A Panel Discussion at the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture, November 20, 2021
- After Orthodox Priest Suspended for ‘Stop the Steal’ Activity, A Renewed Spotlight on the Orthodox Far-Right
Religion Dispatches, January 26, 2021
- Fieldwork and Fallout with the Far Right
American Ethnologist, June 2020
- Disinformation abounds in the wellness community. How one anti-vax influencer broke free
PBS NewsHour, February 17, 2022
Expert fears partisan actors may replace election workers who quit over threats
PBS NewsHour, November 2, 2021
- In Arizona, a Tale of 2 Pandemic Realities
PBS NewsHour, June 2020
Knowledge, Feeling, and Belief
Russia and the Religious Right
Truth In Journalism
Postmodernism, Post-Truth, and Democracy
Science, Anti-Science, and Democracy
The Truth Divide Grows Violent
Truth Is On The Ballot
What we're reading
What we're reading
- Arendt, Hannah. “Truth and Politics,” in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (Penguin, 1968). Note: originally published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, and reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future (1968).
- Blight, David W. "How Trumpism May Endure." New York Times (January 9, 2021).
- Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “What is Meant by 'Telling the Truth'”, In Bonhoeffer’s Ethics (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1964).
- Elson, John T. “Toward a Hidden God.” Time 87, no. 14 (April 8, 1966). Note: the cover says “Is God Dead?”, and the article that goes with the cover is titled “Toward a Hidden God”.
- Flake, Jeff. “Truth and Democracy.” Senate floor speech from January 17, 2018. Video of the speech: “Jeff Flake condemns President Trump's attacks on media -- FULL SPEECH (C-SPAN)." C-SPAN youtube channel (Jan 17, 2018).
- Lepore, Jill. These Truths: A History of the United States (W. W. Norton & Company, 2019).
- Lepore, Jill. The Last Archive (podcast: https://thelastarchive.com).
- Lewis, John. “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.” New York Times (July 30, 2020).
- Moyers, Bill. “Losing Reality: Can We Get the Truth Back? Bill Moyers in Conversation with Robert Jay Lifton.” Common Dreams. March 9, 2020.
- O’Gorman, Ned. Politics for Everybody: Reading Hannah Arendt in Uncertain Times (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020).
- Randazzo, Christy. "The Sleepers Must Awaken." Political Theology Network. March 23, 2020.
- Rosenfeld, Sophia. “Truth and Consequences.” The Hedgehog Review 21, no. 2 (2019). Issue topic: Reality and its Alternatives.
- Scherer, Michael. “Can Trump Handle the Truth?” Time 189, no. 12 (April 3, 2017): 32-39. Note: the cover says “Is Truth Dead?”, and the article that goes with the cover is “Can Trump Handle the Truth?”
- Kakutani, Michiko. The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump (Tim Duggan Books, 2018).
- Long, D. Stephen. Truth Telling in a Post-Truth World (Wesley's Foundery Books, 2019).
- McIntyre, Lee. Post-Truth (The MIT Press, 2018).
- Snyder, Timothy. “The American Abyss.” The New York Times (January 9, 2021).