The concept of heaven, social media and its impact on spirituality as well as religion and the media dominated a roundtable discussion with award-winning religion journalist Lisa Miller.
Miller, who was on campus to deliver this year’s Daryl D. Schmidt Lecture on Religion and Public Life, met with a select group of students Monday afternoon, before giving her lecture in the evening, which was open to the public.
Many of the students had read her recent book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, so the topic came up frequently. Students asked if writing it changed her view on heaven, and how she started writing on it, given it is such a broad subject.
Miller discussed how at first she was overwhelmed with previous scholars work. Writing became easier, she said, once she realized it was a book about her own journey, not about analyzing what previous scholars have said.
“I’m not a scholar,” she said. “The only way anyone is going to trust me on a journey is if they know where I’m coming from.”
She said her view on heaven was changed in the sense that she can now offer an answer to the question “do you believe in [heaven]?”
Students also brought up the topic of how social media has affected religion.
The discussion touched on range of subjects, from why the Facebook profiles of those who have died are left active, to how the Internet has given people a new community to profess their faith in.
“You find ghosts of people all over the Internet,” Miller said, “and I find that completely okay.”
But, the topic of how Miller initially got started in the field of religion reporting, came up the most.
Miller explained that initially, she came about it in a haphazard way. She said religion reporting was not a thing at the time.
“[In the 90’s] Nobody was doing it, nobody was paying attention, I could do whatever I wanted, it wasn’t competitive,” she said.
Her passion, she explained, derived from hearing what other had to say.
“As a journalist there is nothing more exciting than to call someone up on a phone and ask them what matters most to them…it’s a blessing, it’s a privilege,” she said.
Miller said it wasn’t until 9/11 happened, that religion reporting really gained momentum and prominence.
“9/11 made religion an important beat and I don’t think anything will ever change that,” Miller said.