A narrative analysis of religious journalism’s approach to disaster reporting
Parker, Neil Ian
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This qualitative study examines the description of disaster events in religious journals in order to better understand how faith communities access their faith traditions and master narratives to encourage, motivate, and engage members of the faith community in responding to disaster needs. Religious journals provide a snapshot of how a religious community is reflecting on the meaning of an event, close to the action, yet one level removed from first-hand and individual accounts; they are structured in such a way as to connect the individual experience to the larger network of concerned individuals, and thus provide a rich resource for the study of how communities understand significant disaster events. Religious journals were searched using an online search engine for occurrences of the most common terms associated with natural disasters. Sample articles were chosen to demonstrate the use of narratives that describe disaster events according to different worldviews, based on narrative frameworks proposed by Northrop Frye (1957) and John McClure (2002). The characteristics of these narrative frameworks are described, and examined for instances of fatalistic descriptions which are often assumed by disaster researchers to be part of the religious perspective on disasters. Very few such instances of fatalistic descriptions were found, but it is important to note that narratives that employ high agency by God or divine forces may still be read as fatalistic by readers outside the religious community of discourse (e.g., disaster researchers). Analysis of faith-based narratives included in this study shows a very high emphasis on disaster response, encouragement to assist, and empathy with victims and survivors on the basis of common humanity rather than religious affiliation. Understanding the ways in which different communities, including faith communities, describe and understand disaster events is an important facilitator in aiding communication and cooperation between disaster researchers and faith-based organizations. This improved understanding and communication should address a persistent bias in disaster research that can underestimate and minimize the importance of religion and faith groups in disaster management and may lead to the underutilization of the resources of religious communities.
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