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?

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