The associate professor of communications recently published “Religion and Media in America,” which explores how Christianity both adapts to and is affected by new media forms.
Much of Anthony Hatcher’s professional and academic pursuits have centered on his interest in religion, media and culture, and how the three subjects intertwine.
It should come as little surprise then that the associate professor relished the chance to write a book about these topics when offered the opportunity by publisher Lexington Books.
A few years ago, following his presentation on a religion and media topic at an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference, Hatcher was approached by a Lexington representative to expand his session into a book.
“They asked if I had a book idea,” Hatcher recalled. Matter-of-factly he replied, “Why, yes, I do.”
Hatcher pitched the publisher several chapter ideas and a signed contract followed shortly thereafter. The results of Hatcher’s research and work are now available with the May publication of “Religion and Media in America.” Hatcher’s first solo-authored book, six chapters in all, explores how Christianity both adapts to and is affected by new media forms.
According to Hatcher, the text focuses primarily on three areas: civil religion, religion and entertainment, and sacred and profane media.
“The book touches on a variety of topics, but it all has to do with how religion intersects with culture,” he said.
“Religion and Media in America” opens with an examination of the Moral Monday movement and a comprehensive look at the protests by civil rights groups and citizens opposing policies viewed as discriminatory passed by the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly.
The opening chapter is supported by an in-depth interview with Christian writer and preacher Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a frequent collaborator with Rev. William Barber II, who initiated the Moral Monday movement in 2013.
Hatcher’s book goes beyond just the motives of the movement, investigating how the well-publicized protests were organized through emails and social media, as well the news coverage and response the events received. Hatcher also looked at the movement’s online critics and digital pushback, which included an online game aimed at criticizing and humiliating its participants.
The chapter also includes a reflection on Barber’s rise as a national figure, which led to his appearance at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
“I feel like I’ve written a fairly definitive history of how Moral Mondays got started, while also looking at how it played out on both traditional and online media – something I was fascinated by,” Hatcher said.
Other book chapters examine relatable subjects, including the “copyrighting” of God and the marketing of various versions of the Bible; the insertion of “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance; and how religious satire comes from both religious and secular sources. The last topic was the basis of Hatcher’s Ph.D. dissertation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a subject he’s revisited periodically in research.
Hatcher’s book also highlights the crossover between religion and the entertainment industry, with a deep dive into Actors, Models and Talent for Christ, a recently disbanded talent agency for young performers who sought a Christian-centered career. Before AMTC’s January 2018 closing, the professor interviewed the agency’s principals, attended a casting audition that began with prayer, and spoke with an aspiring actress about her beliefs and pursuits.
While Hatcher, a former newspaper reporter who has covered religion for the Durham Herald-Sun and the Charlotte Observer, has studied religion for three decades – the nearly 200 related books in his home office confirm this interest – the Elon professor credits his Religion and Media course and his students for influencing his thoughts and writings.
“In my book, I thank my students who I have had in class for their thoughts, for their feedback, and what they have responded to,” Hatcher said. “That has shaped my thinking over the years, and I’m indebted to them for their incredible insights.”
Several Elon colleagues were also quoted in Hatcher’s book, including Jeffrey Pugh, Brian Pennington and Geoffrey Claussen from the university’s Department of Religious Studies.
Hatcher previously co-edited a textbook, “Mass Communication in the Global Age,” with School of Communications colleague David Copeland.