Sunday, November 2, 2008

Looking for in the Matrix

This week our case study will be looking at how the media contributes to the construction of Lived Religion through the movie The Matrix (1999) The Matrix trilogy was a box office smash and the first film quickly became a cult classic 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.

Case Study Discussion Questions:

- What are the different narratives Matrix people from different faith traditions and metaphysical positions have used to interpret The Matrix?
- What does the film illustrate about how media producers may contribute to the construction of popular or lived religion?
-What implications might this have for perceptions of religion in popular culture?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

iPhone as the Jesus Phone & Cult of Mac: Implicit Religion in Popular Technology

This week we will be exploring a unique example of implicit religion within popular culture by looking at how the iPhone became framed as the "Jesus phone" by bloggers, then the press and then how religious imagery was embraced by Apple itself in its ad campaign for the iPhone. In order to understand this phenomenon we will read these events in light of the "Cult of Macintosh" ideology which promotes a number of religious-like myths about Mac technologies and its users. To learn more about the roots of the Jesus phone check out the tech blog gizmodo who coined the term and have discussed the cult of Mac. Also check out the blog which is dedicated the the so-called cult of the iphone.

Case Study Discussion Questions:

•Why do you think the iPhone was framed as the Jesus Phone?
•How did the Cult of Mac myths contribute to this framing?
•What does the “Jesus phone” tell us about the relationship between media technology and religion in popular culture?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Kosher Cell Phone

This week we will explore birth of the kosher cell phone in Israel. The Kosher cell phone was developed in 2005 in response to the Ultra Orthodox community cry for phone technology that provide essential mobile services minus the problematic functions that might allow users access to questionable moral influences. Kosher cell phones have been stripped of video, web & sms access that might expose users to harmful content. They also bear a kosher symbol, indicating the devices are approved for use by a number of rabbis in their community. Besides the assigned reading, if you are interested in finding out more check out these recent articles: Kosher phone line to be launched, Partner to provide kosher cell phones and Israel's 'kosher' cell phone testing appetite for growth
Case Study Discussion Questions:

-Discuss briefly how the 4 categories of religious-social shaping of technology influence the emergence of the kosher cell phone?
-How does the Ultra Orthodox engagment and negotiation with the cell phone compare to the Amish response?

Bishop Fulton Sheen: Catholic televangelism

This past week's case study focused on an exploration Bishop Fulton Sheen as the first American televangelist. For your case study reflection consider the following questions...

Case Study Reflection Questions:

-How does Bishop Sheen's persona and use of television differ from or resonate with the Catholic theology of communication set forth in Communio et Progressio?

-What core values and traditions within Catholicism are central to their development of a response towards new forms of media?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Amish and the Cell Phone

This week's case study will focus on Amish response to the cell phone. The core reading is Howard Rheingold article on what 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. For more background on the Amish response to technology see The Amish: Technology Practice and Technological Change. Based on these articles and the class discussion on Wednesday reflect on the following questions?

Case Study Reflection Questions:

-How does this history, tradition and core values of the Amish set the stage for their response towards new forms of media?

-How does the Amish response to the cell phone differ or resonate from Zimmerman's assessment of the Amish response and the Telephone?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Exploring Religious Community Online

For this week's case study we will be discussing some of on my own work on religion and the internet. The reading " Approaches to Religious Research in CMC" from Mediating Religion offers a preliminary report of my PhD research which culminated in a book called "Exploring Religious Community Online: We are one in the network". This provides insight into a 4 years study on how people use the internet to build Christian community online and the effect this participation has in the offline church involvement. For more info on the book check out this review.

Case Study Reflection Questions:

- Compare and contrast online and offline religious community. Can online religious community relations be authentic?
- Do you think the internet and religion online are transforming traditional ideas of religion? Do you think they are influencing traditional religious structures?
- Of the typologies discussed in “spiritualizing the Internet” which forms of religious use of the internet seem most potentially problematic?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Theology Over Popcorn & Images of God in FIlm

This week's case study looks at how popular films present images of God and the stories they tell about religion. We will be looking at two very different films presentations of faith and the divine coming from the Comedy Genre: Dogma and Bruce Almighty. Dogma (1999) tells the story of abortion clinic worker who is called upon by God to help save the existence of humanity after two renegade angels threaten it by trying to exploit a loophole and re-enter Heaven. Listen here to what producer/writer/director Kevin Smith has to say about religion and the film and religion in general. Bruce Almighty (2003) tells the story of a man who complains about God too often, so the almighty decides to give him his powers and responsibility to teach him how difficult it is to run the world. Here's what Tom Shadyac, director of Bruce Almighty, has to say about God and Religion in the film. While Dogma focuses its satire on organized religion and Church mythology Bruce Almighty deals with popular, playful interpretations and ideas about the character of God.

We will consider several issues including how religion and God are framed in these films and and the cultural factors or beliefs that seem to shape these presentations. To do this we will be looking at several film clips from Dogma (such as the introduction of Buddy Christ and how God is portrayed in the film) and Bruce Almighty (such as Bruce's first meeting with God, God's explanation of Free Will and the narrative set forth in the trailer). Use these clips to respond to the following questions.

Case Study Reflection Questions:

-How are the characterizations of God similar and/or different in these two films? What factors seem to influence how God is presented?
-Select two of the six religious film scholars we discussed on Wednesday and consider how their approaches would influence how you would interpret these films and the presentation of "God"?

Southern Baptist Convention and the Media

This week in our case study 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".

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). This article provides some interesting insights into SBC policy & justification for their views about the media.

Case Study Reflection Questions:

- Why was the press drawn to the fundamentalist’s story? Why did the moderates story not receive as much attention?

- What does this teach us about how the press may frame stories about religion?

- What can religious organizations learn from the this incident about interacting with the press?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Religion in the Simpsons

For our first case study we will be looking at religion 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.

Case Study Reflection Questions:

-According to this episode how might "religion be defined? How does this definition relate to or differ from your understanding of religion as indicated in the belief-o-matic quiz?

-Consider the "media as social institution" perspective described by Ferre...What role do the TV writers/producer play in shaping Audience understanding of religion in The Simpsons? What role does the audience play in the process?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Consider your own perceptions of religion...

A main thrust of this course is to investigate how religious groups view and respond to the mass media as well as how community discourse shapes the kind of media technologies they use and the ways the implement them. Beginning such an investigation requires self-reflection, considering how personal views of the media, religion and popular culture influence our own perceptions.

"For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are." - C. S. Lewis in The Magician's Nephew

According to this quote it is important to be aware of who you are and what you believe... as it affect how you interact with the rest of the world. This is especially important when dealing with issues related to religion and mass media. In order to help you begin on this process of self-reflection, to become aware of how your own beliefs effect how you see other, start by taking the Belief-o-matic quiz and come prepared to discuss your results in the next class.

Consider the relationship between Religion & Media

One of the key questions we will explore in this class is relationship between mass media and religion, or How does the Mass media frame religion? Another common questions asked the media anti-religious?

Consider the reflection of Paulist Priest Father Jeffery and his video podcast on GodTube that explores this question:

So how does he answer this question? What factors seems to influence his response? What points might you challenge in his explaination?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Welcome to COMM 480!

Welcome to COMM 480. In this course we will explore three key areas of religious communication

(1) the relationship between mass media and the coverage of religion

(2) the relationship between religious communities and the media and

(3) how mass media shape perceptions of popular religion.

This will involve studying how religious communities and institutions respond to and utilize different forms of media, as well as how media outlets present religious groups and ideas in various media products which shape ideas about popular religion.

This blog is a space for you to share your thoughts on issues and ideas raised in class. It is also a space where additional information and readings will be posted regarding in-class case studies. I am looking forward to reading what you learn!