USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Studying Faith

How might a journalist and a social scientist approach religion differently?

Qualitative sociology and anthropology are similar to journalism, but there are some key differences. The time a social scientist spends collecting data is usually much longer than a journalist. One of the reasons social scientists are able to spend so much time collecting data is that the research is not tied to the news cycle and the emphasis is on the analysis, not an up-to-date description of the event, place or group of people.

News stories offer some facts or data about a topic, and journalists can bring in greater context through in-depth features. The detailed process of a sociological or anthropological examination can offer insights and understandings of religious groups or phenomena that the journalistic reporting process may not uncover. Journalists, therefore, often seek out the expertise of scholars who have studied a topic extensively.

Additionally, the publications produced by social scientists are directed at other academics, so the structure, vocabulary, writing style and length of the books and articles they write will be much different from those written by journalists, who write for the general public.

How is social science and journalism different?

In this video, journalist Nick Street explores some of the differences between how a social scientist and a journalist go about making sense of their observations and interviews.


Nalika Gajaweera is a senior research analyst with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Andrew Johnson is a contributing fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.