UHV associate professor wins national award for research on religious media

Mark Ward Sr., a University of Houston-Victoria associate professor of communication, will receive a national award in November for the outstanding scholarly article of the year in religious communication from the Religious Communication Association.

Mark Ward

The association will present the honor at its annual convention Nov. 13 to 17 in Baltimore. The award-winning article, “A New Kind of Church: The Religious Media Conglomerate as a ‘Denomination,’” was published during the spring in the Journal of Media and Religion.

“This is a prestigious award, and UHV is proud to see a member of its faculty receive such national recognition,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “Mark Ward has produced compelling research throughout his career, and this is a welcome acknowledgement of his dedication and hard work.”

A leading scholar on popular religious media and culture, Ward has published four books on the subject, plus numerous scholarly articles, and has been quoted in the national media. His work previously has received national recognition. In 2018, he was the recipient of the UHV Research and Scholarly Activity Excellence Award.

Jeffrey Di Leo

“My research article takes a trend that’s happening in the media industries – namely the growth of huge media companies that control large swaths of the market – and applies it to the religious media that are used every day by tens of millions of Americans,” Ward said.

These companies own or supply programming for hundreds of local stations. They dominate religious radio and television as well as other forms of communication, he said.

“They also have acquired print media and, in turn, now repackage all their media content, electronic and print, for distribution through mobile apps and other on-demand digital media,” Ward said. “Size pays in the media industry because, while it costs a lot to produce content, it only costs a little to expand distribution.”

Clergy can go to a religious media conglomerate for sermon outlines and PowerPoints, youth ministers for children’s videos, worship leaders for song tracks and overheads, and staff for church supplies. They can subscribe to clergy professional journals and use the conglomerate’s online job search services.

Members of the public not only consume religious radio, television and websites. They can access the conglomerate to stream their favorite daily religious programs, talk shows and music artists on demand; purchase inspirational books and song downloads; subscribe to popular religious magazines, as well as email newsletters and podcasts; sign up for daily devotional and Bible study apps; and even buy wellness products and financial planning services.

“For the 1 in 4 Americans identifying as evangelical Christians who are often independent and nondenominational, the religious media conglomerates may fulfill the functions historically performed by denominations,” Ward said. “But, where denominations are nonprofit institutions, media companies are for-profit corporations in which a few private owners control what millions see, hear, read and download.”

Ward’s article also describes how some evangelical media conglomerates have become players in conservative politics by entering conservative talk radio and acquiring conservative publications, web communities, and news and opinion blogs.

“Compared to a previous generation when most religious media outlets were small and locally owned, the emergence of religious media conglomerates makes it possible to centralize the same religious and political message and then distribute that unified message nationwide to the masses as never before,” Ward said. “In turn, this trend is a contributor to our polarized, culture-war discourse in America.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.