Kathryn Montalbano is a historian of communications who specializes in media law, religion and media, and surveillance studies.
Her research examines the history and impact of communication law and policy on speech, assembly, and religious expression in the United States since the nineteenth century. This multidisciplinary work draws from the fields of history, law, religious studies, sociology and communication studies.
She is an assistant professor of media law and ethics at the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky (starting in August 2023). She completed her M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in communications at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2016). She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in sociology from Haverford College (2009).
Her first book, Government Surveillance of Religious Expression: Mormons, Quakers, and Muslims in the United States (Routledge, 2018), compares how United States government agencies in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries monitored and negotiated the identities of three distinctive religious groups within cultural and legal frameworks deeply rooted in Protestant hegemony. Related research on mid-twentieth-century FBI surveillance of the Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), appears as a chapter in Making Surveillance States: Transnational Histories (University of Toronto Press, 2019).
Excerpts from reviews of Government Surveillance of Religious Expression
“Government Surveillance of Religious Expression is a meticulously researched and fair-minded examination of the multiple issues that emerge from the intersection of the American value of freedom of religious expression with the state’s concern for social order and safety. Montalbano demonstrates how this conflict becomes exacerbated when the state is dealing with religious movements which are outside the mainstream and hence often grossly misunderstood by law enforcement and surveillance entities. This timely work offers insight and guidance for what is likely to be a continuing issue in a culture where the continuing emergence of new religious movements leads to an ever-changing religious landscape.” – George Adams, Susquehanna University, Nova Religio
“While Montalbano makes her professional home in communication studies, she deftly engages with religious studies scholarship, and scholars such as David Sehat, Saba Mahmood, and Talal Asad richly inform her work. Her book is principally concerned with questions that will resonate with religion scholars investigating issues of secularity, surveillance, and the American state―and scholars of these topics would do well to consider the insights Montalbano offers.” – Michael McLaughlin, Florida State University, Reading Religion
“An important implication, then, of Government Surveillance of Religious Expression lies in its reminder that American society does not necessarily trend toward greater respect for individual rights of conscience, nor that a secular society is free of government-sponsored sectarian prejudice. In fact, with the growth of newer modes of monitoring, accompanying the expansion of new forms of state power generally, Montalbano details how the groundwork has been established for a ‘transnational hegemonic secularism that limits the religious expression’ (p. 160) of the targets of state surveillance.” – Ryan P. Jordan, National University, Quaker Studies
She has also published on the historical continuity between the opposition of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) to the 1949 Fairness Doctrine and the contemporary Open Internet principle, net neutrality; intercultural communication in three thirteenth-century Franciscan friars’ narratives documenting their travels through the Mongol Empire; Islamophobic discourse and misinformation in alternative-right media; tensions in Mississippi Valley news coverage of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic; why the hyperlocal, anonymous platform, Yik Yak, although recently resurrected, died in its original form; content moderation on anonymous social media platforms under the protection of Section 230; how contemporary religion reporters conceptualize their roles in the broader field of journalism; and how they confront the privileging of certain religions over others in their reporting.
Her second book project traces the historical precedents for protecting communication spaces through media law and policy in the United States since the nineteenth century, providing historical context for contemporary debates over Section 230.
Her other project currently under revision examines how broadcast journalists on the “Big Three” networks from 1968 to 1979 framed religion both within and beyond the United States.