Media Portrayals of Religion: Introduction

Canada is a culturally diverse country that is home to many different religions. These religions, however, are not always equally represented in Canadian media, where portrayals of religion are often stereotyped and disempowering.

These stereotypes exist for a variety of reasons, from political to financial: religion might be misrepresented in order to disparage a particular group, it might be misrepresented in order to sell more newspapers [1], or it might be misrepresented due to a lack of knowledge on the part of media creators.

This section discusses the most common media stereotypes faced by Canada’s most visibly represented religious communities. It also explores what these communities can do to positively change potentially negative media images. It is important to stress that while media misrepresentation is an obstacle for some religious groups, a lack of media representation is a challenge faced by others. Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists each account for about 1 per cent of Canada’s population [2], but are virtually invisible in Canadian media. Those with no religious affiliation – the second largest religious group in Canada [3] – are underrepresented as well. Inequality can take the form of what the media does not talk about at all, in addition to what is talked about inaccurately.

Religious stereotypes can be found throughout a wide variety of media, including television, movies and video games. Traditionally, these stereotypes have been negative; alternately, many minority religions are not portrayed at all. Today, media are beginning to include more diverse portrayals of certain religions in an attempt to dispel these stereotypes or generate awareness. In television and film, these types of religious portrayals are beginning to emerge. For example, CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie, a sitcom centered on a Muslim community in Saskatchewan, has received praise and numerous awards for its portrayal of Islam as well as its portrayal of multiculturalism and inter-faith relations. Video games, while rarely containing direct religious references, often contain religious metaphors. Julian Murdoch, computer gaming author, writes that, “Virtually every fantasy role-playing game… includes the divine in the form of priests calling down healing prayers or smiting evil foes” [4].

New media also shapes the way religion itself is practiced, in addition to shaping perceptions. The Internet, for example, allows like-minded individuals to connect instantly, but has also decreased the need for community churches; similarly, religious podcasts have rendered scheduled religious programming unnecessary [5]. In order to navigate the complicated relationships between religion and media, it is important to promote tolerance and media literacy, both within religious institutions and among the general public.


[1] Caudill, E. (2010) Intelligently designed: creationism's news appeal, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 87(1), 84-99.
[2] Statistics Canada. Religions in Canada. Accessed: January 4, 2011.
[3] Statistics Canada, 2001.
[4] Murdoch, J. (2010, January 13). GameSpy: God's PR Problem: The Role of Religion in Videogames. GameSpy. Accessed: February 9, 2011.
[5] Bailey, M. (2010). Media, religion and culture: an interview with Michael Wakelin. Journal of Media Practice, 11(2), 185-189.