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Reimagining Religion: New Stories, New Communities

A Special Video Series 

Reimagining Religion: New Stories, New Communities

by Rev. Bud Heckman 

One of the biggest religion stories today is the rising number of Americans who no longer identify with a particular religion. That is a given. But disaffiliation is only one side of the story. There is a lot more to tell about what is happening with religiosity in our midst.

The current period of transition is characterized by both curious and religious people and congregations who are exploring spirituality and experimenting with new forms of religious expression. 

As communicators and journalists, how do we tell these stories? Today's religious creativity represents opportunities for more complex and compelling narratives of meaning, purpose, and identity that will engage audiences. 

On January 26, 2018, a cadre of partner organizations hosted a one-day conference titled Reimagining Religion at the University of Southern California to explore this very question. Participants heard from Hollywood creatives, religion reporters, communications and journalism academics, regional activists, and pioneers in emerging communities and innovative storytelling.


More than 200 people were in attendance to explore reimagined communities and new forms of storytelling. The conference was an extension of a conference the year prior which looked at research on reimagined communities. Here is a quick review of its findings on reimagined communities. The objective of the follow-up conference was to highlight how, through storytelling, communicators are instigators for change.

Reimagining Religion 2018 was hosted by the Knight Program in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California in cooperation with Religion News Association and Religion Communicators Council, as well as with co-sponsors: the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Claremont School of Theology, and Los Angeles First United Methodist Church.

Diane Winston (l) and Joy Gregory – Photo: BH

Diane Winston (l) and Joy Gregory – Photo: BH

You can take in all nine videotaped segments of the conference at your leisure. Including short introductions to each, the full lineup of videos is available at USC’s CRCC website here. The descriptions and schedule details are here. Individual videos are listed below.

The videos include: an introductory session with USC’s Richard Flory highlighting historical research by the CRCC on reimagined communities, a plenary by Joy Gregory (Hollywood writer and creative behind Felicity, Madam Secretary, Joan of Arcadia) on how religion finds its way in Hollywood storylines, a plenary by Jason DeRose (of NPR) on the future of religion storytelling, and a series of six workshops featuring an array of religious activists, communications academics, and reporters.

Overview: Reimagining Religion 2018: New Stories, New Communities

Featuring Richard Flory on Reimagined Communities

Opening Plenary: Engaging Ideas – Religion and Ethics in Entertainment Media

Featuring Joy Gregory

Workshop: Getting Better Coverage

Featuring Jaweed Kaleem, Deepa Bharath, Liz Kineke, and Ian Lovett

Workshop: Revitalizing and Reinventing Religion

Featuring Cathleen Falsani, Mandy Sloan McDow, Eddie Anderson, Edina Lekovic

Workshop: Making Change Public

Featuring Megan Sweas, Noah Farkas, Umar Hakim, Aziza Hasan, and Zach Hoover

Workshop: New Storytelling Skills and Outreach Strategies

Featuring Diane Winston, Laura E. Davis, Rossella Gambetti, and Mira Zimet

Workshop: From Non-fiction to Fiction

Featuring Diane Winston, David Craig, and Jody Hassett Sanchez

Workshop: New Communities of Healing

Featuring Nick Street, Rita Burgos, Susan Goldberg, and Nkem Ndefo

Closing Plenary: The Future of Religion Storytelling in Mainstream Media

Featuring Jason DeRose in conversation with Diane Winston

New Communities of Healing workshop – Photo: BH

New Communities of Healing workshop – Photo: BH

As one takes in these different videos, it is obvious that religion is not dead, nor is it even dying. It is doing what it has always done –  changing and adapting. Traditional religious communities are experimenting with new forms of connection and community, seeking to tell old stories in new ways. New communities are emerging with new forms of spiritual and religious expression that defy expectations and norms. Communicators and storytellers are keeping up and giving shape to the change through their work.

This article reflects language, insights, and content contributions from the entire leadership team and various presenters at the Reimagining Religion 2018 conference. It is not the singular voice of contributor Bud Heckman, who was privileged to initiate the conference and serve as an administrative team leader for the partners.

Header Photo: ASC