Thursday, September 27, 2007

Doing Theology over Popcorn: The Matrix

In week 6 we will be exploring the interaction between Theology/Religion and film. For the case study we will be discussing the movie The Matrix (1999) The Matrix trilogy was a box office smash and teh first film quickly became pop cultural icon for its critique of technology, authority and its religious undertones. It has the subject of numerous books dealing with Philosophy, theology and popular religion.

The film's creator's, the Wachowski brothers, consciously set out to create a postmodern spiritual narrative in which they weave images, metaphors and themes from Christianity/ Western Spirituality, Buddhism /Eastern Spirituality and Myth/ Greek Mythology into a deep, reflective story illustrating their own pic-n-mix spirituality. It also offers interesting conglomeration of competing interpretations of ideas related to human identity, existence and transcendence/the afterlife.
Consider the different ways the Matirx has been interpreted by people from different faith traditions and metaphysical positions. What story about religion being told through the Matrix? What does the film show us about how media producers may construct or portray popular religion? What implications might this have for perceptions of religion in popular culture?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Simpsons and Religion

This week we will be looking at religion on TV in the context of The Simpsons, the longest running cartoon series on TV. Since it's inception The Simpsons has dealt with themes related to religion dedicating numerous episodes to issues of personal crisis of faith, science verse religion, the afterlife and organized religion. Notable character's whose faith plays an important part in their cartoon life include Rev Lovejoy-Pastor of a "American Reformed Presbylutheranism" church, Apu who is Hindu and manager of the Kwik-E-Mart, Krusty the "Jewish" clown and the terminally cheerful evangelical Ned Flanders.

The Simpsons have also been the topic of much religious debate and theological reflection. Notable is Marin Pinsky's book, The Gospel According the the Simpsons. Please read the Christian Century article from 2001, Simpsons have Soul and reflect on possibilities and challenges offered by the Simpson's narrative of religion.

In class we will be viewing the episode Bart Sells His Soul where Bart casually sells his soul to his friend Millhouse for $5 because he does not really believe the soul exist. This leads to a troubled journey and Bart's self-reflection of his own spiritual/eternal state. Come prepared to discuss the examples of religious imagery & narratives about religion that appear in this episode, as well as what this example might teach us about how popular media might view religion in larger society.

Monday, September 24, 2007

SBC and the media

Our group discussed the way that this case really does emphasize the fact that controversial ideas are always going to get more press coverage than moderate ones. Clearly, within the SBC, theology was a huge issue, but in terms of media interest, theology is only interesting to a theologian. Therefore, the media had to frame it in the context of a power struggle. The story of the Fundamentalists had all of the elements of a great, scandalous news story, hence, they got the coverage.

We thought that the SBC's current position on the media was very interesting, because it's incredibly realistic and encourages active involvement instead of passive resistance. They recognize that media is an incredibly powerful force and ignoring it is impossible, but they remind their members that as consumers of media they have choices, and can choose to support positive media and use their resources to control the influence of negative media.--Emily Parry, Group 2

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Southern Baptist discussion group

In class we discussed the whole Southern Baptist and Media relationship struggle. Our group added a great point that perhaps one of the reasons why there was such controversy over the interpretation of The Bible was because power was wanted by one of the groups. I personally disagree with this but it is still an interesting point. I think we pretty much came to the conclusion that the media focused more on the "radical" side of the debate because they were more "news-worthy". Also we talked about how when a group is speaking to any type of media outlet, whether that be television, radio, or the internet, one must be careful of what is being said and make sure to remember that you are representing the entire group (this came up because of the whole Jewish comment the one Southern Baptist leader said). So overall the group was pretty interesting and we had some good comments. It was also interesting to see how the, since that event described in the chapter, a formal media group has been formed by the Baptist to perhaps make sure this doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Southern Baptist Convention and the Media

This week we will be looking at press coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the 1980s and discussions about how the secular press deals with religious controversy. Specifically we will look at press coverage around the 1979 Southern Baptist Convention held in Houston.

In order to fully contextualize these events it is important to see how the SBC's relationship to the mass media. The SBC has long been active in issuing a number of resolutions "defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action" related to the mass media. These include resolutions related to Television Programming (1982), TV Morality (1992) and Youth and Violence in the Media (1999). They have also been active in trying to create their own sources of news and information such as the Baptist Press, an Online news service from the SBC offering "news with a Christian perspective". What do these actions and positions tell us about how the SBC sees the secular media?

Interesting insights can also be gained about how the SBC view its relationship to the secular press by reading ABP editor admits spinning news during SBC (2001). What does this article tell us about SBC policy or justification for their views about the media?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ultra Orthodox and the Television

In this week's case study we look at a particular part of the Jewish community and their response to one media technology. Ultra Orthodox Jews represent about 13% of Israel's total population of about 4.5 million and have significant communities in many other parts of the world including London & NYC. With the rise of many new media technologies it is a community that is constantly in conflict with the "tools of modernity" and having to make tough choices about what media forms they will and won't accept. You have been asked to read an article on the Ultra Orthodox and their response to TV. For a hint of larger tension between the Ultra Orthodox , modernity and the media also look at articles from the Guardian Online: The ultra-Orthodox Jews on a mission to save Jerusalem from secularism or this article from the Jewish News Week: Secular media continue to scapegoat the Orthodox. So what do these article argue about Ultra-Orthodox engagement with the media?

Before you say the Ultra Orthodox only condemn/reject the media...take a look at this exception "Israel's Tele-Rabbi" where one sephardic rabbi is using TV & the web as a tool for evangelising wayward Jews. What does this tell us UltraOrthodox views of media? Is TV acceptable or unacceptlable, and why?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Amish and the (Cell) Phone

On Thursday we will be discussing Zimmerman-Umble's article on the Amish and the Telephone. Related to this you should check out what Howard Rheingold learned about the Amish & their interaction with the cell phone in "Look Who's Talking" published in Wired. Also take a look at Time magazine's article and on the same topic. Based on these articles, How does the Amish response to the cell phone differ or resonate with Zimmerman's article on the Amish and the Telephone?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Studying Media & Religion

On Tuesday this week we will be discussing the growth of Media, Culture and Religion as a growing interdisciplinary field of inquiry. This area bring together scholars student from Communication, Sociology, Religious Studies, Theology, Political Science and the arts who are interested in exploring how religion is presented in popular culture and how religious groups negotiate with the mass media.

Our reading (Stewart Hoover, 2002. “The Culturalist Turn in Scholarship in Media and Religion” Journal of Media and Religion, 1(1): 25-36) presents the thinking of one of the leading scholars in the Field. Professor Stewart Hoover teaches at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is also head of the Center for Media, Religion & Culture. So based on the reading what have you learned about how this area of study has developed? What are some of the different perspective researchers have taken when studying this intersection?