Tony Carnes on A Journey through NYC Religions
Date: April 21st, 2013
Religion in New York City? Say it ain’t so! Well, we talk with journalist Tony Carnes, who over the past three years has been working on a project to document every nook and cranny of The Big Apple in a search for that city’s spiritual lifeblood. His multi-media endeavor, known as A Journey through New York City Religions, has uncovered a remarkably vibrant spiritual lanscape that is constantly changing as the city finds itself in the throes of constant immigration and emigration. We start our interview with a look at (East Coast) Tony’s life, discussing his upbringing in small town Texas as well as his first visit to NYC wherein he was pleased to find out he could order a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at The Four Seasons restaurant. He then explains his own personal religious development from a kid more interested in hot rods than in the Bible and how this changed while he was at the University of Texas. His journey then takes us around the globe, including a pit stop to study under Frances Schaeffer at L’Abri in Switzerland, until he finally lands a job as a journalist, contributing to such notable publications as Christianity Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Newsday. Our discussion probes a theme that has arisen several times before on this podcast series, namely why the mass media tends to overlook the nation’s religious life or portrays it in ways that are incongruent with people’s daily experience. Mr. Carnes then gets into the details of how he set up A Journey through NYC Religions based upon the changes he saw taking place in internet media and how that could be harnessed to explore stories that were largely being ignored. Our conversation then moves to a discussion of New York City itself and how it has changed over time, from what was once considered “Sodom and Gomorrah on the Hudson” in the late 19th century to its “burned out days” in the 1960s and ’70s, to what it has become today. He provides some interesting data on how religion, which appeared to be on the decline in the ’50s and ’60s, makes a remarkable turnaround in NYC starting in 1978, particularly with the growth of evangelical churches being founded in the city. We then discuss how Tony goes about this project including his initial plan for covering the 6,400 miles of roads in the city and what questions he asks of his religious subjects that he encounters. He also reveals the journalistic philosophy that undergirds his reporting, something known as “sympathetic objectivity,” and how this differs from “accountability journalism” that most other news outlets practice. (If you listen carefully at this point in the interview you can hear RoR’s very own canine mascot, Rocky Barkington, weigh in with his opinion.) We finish our interview with a few stories of Tony’s adventures, including trodding through one of New York’s biggest snowstorms to find a pastor’s house, his discovery of a Mayan evangelical church, and Tony’s reflections on what he has learned over the years of doing this project. Contrary to secularization theorists, or those folks who think secular culture is trumping religion, Mr. Carnes sees an awakening of spiritual fervor facilitated by the mixing of new people always feeding into this great metropolis. Starving to hear more specific stories of religion in New York, (West Coast) Tony invites (East Coast) Tony back on the show, to which Mr. Carnes gracefully agrees. Stay tuned. Recorded: April 19, 2013.
Tony Carnes’s profile on A Journey through NYC Religions
A Journey through NYC Religions main website.
Values Research Institute.
New York Glory: Religions in the City, edited by Tony Carnes and Anna Karpathakis.
Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries, edited by Tony Carnes and Fenggang Yang.
ProPublica, as mentioned in the podcast.
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