Religion/ Theology and Popular Culture

[...work in progress... last updated: 3/22/11]


Instructor: Jessica DeCou

Course Description

This course will introduce students to the study of popular culture in Religious Studies and Theology. We will begin with the question "what is popular culture?" and survey the methods and theories applied to its study in the other disciplines, from the early cultural studies of the Frankfurt School to more recent efforts in media studies and literary theory. We will then explore how these approaches are adapted by scholars in the subfields known as "religion and popular culture" and "theology and popular culture." The second half of the course will examine the ways in which these concepts have been applied to particular forms of American popular culture, first by theme (materialism, celebrity, gender, violence) and then by medium (music, movies, television).


Assigned Readings

There are 7 required books and a reading packet (detailed contents of reading packet listed below), which are available for purchase at the Bookstore. Required books are also on reserve at the Library.

Required Books:
  • Detweiler, Craig and Barry Taylor. A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.
  • Hinds, Harold E. Jr., Marilyn F. Motz, and Angela M.S. Nelson, eds. Popular Culture Theory and Methodology: A Basic Introduction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.
  • Lynch, Gordon. Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.
  • Lynch, Gordon, ed. Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.
  • Romanowski, William D. Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001.
  • Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cultural Liturgies Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.
  • ---. The Devil Reads Derrida and Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.


A Matrix of Meanings
by Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor


Popular Culture Theory and Methodology
edited by H. Hinds, et al


Between Sacred and Profane
edited by Gordon Lynch


Understanding Theology and Popular Culture
by Gordon Lynch


Eyes Wide Open
by W. Romanowski


Desiring the Kingdom
by James K.A. Smith


The Devil Reads Derrida
by James K.A. Smith

Reading Packet:
  • Adorno, Theodor. "How to Look at Television." The Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television 8.3 (1954): 213-235.
  • ---. "On Popular Music." Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9.1 (1941): 17-48.
  • Cobb, Kelton. "Reconsidering the Status of Popular Culture in Tillich's Theology of Culture." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63.1 (Spring 1995): 53-80.
  • Hall, Stuart. "Notes on deconstructing the 'popular.'" Cultural Theory: An Anthology. Edited by I. Szeman and T. Kaposy. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons, 2010: 72-80.
  • Horkheimer, Max. "Art and Mass Culture." Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9.2 (1941): 290-304.
  • Tanner, Kathryn. "Scripture as Popular Text." Theology and Scriptural Imagination, edited by L. Gregory Jones and James Joseph Buckley. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 1998. 117-136.
  • ---. "Theology and Popular Culture." Changing Conversations: Religious Reflection & Cultural Analysis. New York: Routledge, 1996: 101-120.
  • Tillich, Paul. "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture." Visionary Science. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987: 17-41.
  • ---. Theology of Culture. Edited by Robert C. Kimball. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. (excerpts: Chs. 1,4, and 8)
In the schedule below, texts from the reading packet are indicated by (RP)


Grading and Assignments

Grades for the course will be based on a take-home midterm (30%) due at the end of week eight, a
10-15 page paper (50%)
due at the end of the semester, and in-class participation (20%).

Details on the paper assignment will be distributed in due time, but here is a preview of what to expect:

For the final research paper, students may choose to
  • compare the approaches adopted by theologians and/or religious studies scholars with those used in cultural studies, literary theory, etc.
  • argue for or against the value of studying popular culture in the academy
  • explore a particular popular cultural form by utilizing the concepts and methods of one (or more) of the authors from the class.
  • argue for or against the value of applying theological concepts to popular culture.
  • suggest an approach to "theology and popular culture" from the perspective of a tradition not explored in the course (e.g. Buddhism, Islam, etc.)


Schedule

Part I: What is Popular Culture?

Week 1
Date Topic Reading
08/23 Introduction No Reading
08/25 Popular Culture as "Mass Culture"- The Frankfurt School Horkheimer, "Art and Mass Culture."

Adorno, "How to Look at Television."


Week 2
08/30 (Cont'd) Adorno, "On Popular Music."

Popular Culture Theory, Chs. 2 and 3
09/01 Beyond Frankfurt: Defining and Assessing Popular Culture Popular Culture Theory, Chs. 7, 11, and 14


Week 3
09/06 Evaluation and Aesthetics Popular Culture Theory, Chs. 18-20

Suggested: Popular Culture Theory, Chs. 21-22
09/08 Encoding, Decoding, and Recoding Popular Culture Theory, Chs. 8, 13, and 27-28

Hall, "Notes on deconstructing the 'popular'"

Suggested: Popular Culture Theory, Ch. 9


Part II: What is Theology of Culture?

Week 4
09/13 Tillich and the development of "Theology of Culture" Tillich, "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture" (RP)
09/15 The relevance of traditional "Theology of Culture" for studying popular culture Tillich, Theology of Culture (selections)

Cobb, "Reconsidering the Status of Popular Culture in Tillich's Theology of Culture."


Part III: What is Theology and Popular Culture?

Week 5
09/20 History of the sub-field Lynch (ed), Between Sacred and Profane, Chs. 3-4 (RP)
09/22 How this field answers the questions: What is religion? Theology? Popular Culture? Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Ch. 3

Lynch (ed), Between Sacred and Profane, Ch. 1


Week 6
09/27 Why study religion and popular culture? Lynch (ed), Between Sacred and Profane, Ch. 9
09/29 Why study theology and popular culture? Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Ch. 2

Tanner "Theology and Popular Culture"


Week 7
10/04 Why study theology and popular culture? (cont'd) Romanowski, Introduction

Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Introduction

Smith, Devil Reads Derrida, Introduction
10/06 Popular Culture: For Better or For Worse? Romanowski, Chs. 1-3


Week 8
10/11 Popular culture: For Better or For Worse? (cont'd) Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Ch. 4

Smith, Devil Reads Derrida, Ch. 24
10/13 (cont'd) Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, Introduction and Ch. 2

** Take Home Midterm Due in Class on October 13 **


Part IV: Methods and Theories

Week 9
10/18 Frameworks and Methodologies Lynch (ed), Between Sacred and Profane, Chs. 2 and 5
10/20 Theological Approaches to Popular Culture Pt. 1: Lynch and Detweiler/Taylor Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Ch. 5

Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Ch. 1


Week 10
10/25 Theological Approaches to Popular Culture Pt. 2: William Romanowski Romanowski, Chs. 4-6
10/27 Theological Approaches to Popular Culture Pt. 3: James K.A. Smith Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, Ch. 3


Part V: Applying the Methods - by Theme

Week 11
11/01 Materialism Romanowski, Chs. 8-9
11/03 (cont'd) Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Ch. 2

Smith, Devil Reads Derrida, Ch. 25

Suggested: Detweiler/Taylor, Ch. 7


Week 12
11/08 Celebrity Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Ch. 3
11/10 Gender and Violence Smith, Devil Reads Derrida, Ch. 3

Romanowski, Chs. 10-11


Part VI: Applying the Methods - by Medium

Week 13
11/15 Music Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Ch. 6
11/17 (cont'd) Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Ch. 4


Week 14
11/22 Movies Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Ch. 5

Smith, Devil Reads Derrida, Chs. 26-29
11/24 THANKSGIVING No reading


Week 15
11/29 Television Detweiler/Taylor, Matrix of Meanings, Ch. 6
12/01 (cont'd) Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, Ch. 7


Week 16
12/05 Looking at the Bible and Popular Culture Tanner, "Scripture as Popular Text"
12/07 Conclusions No Reading


***Research Paper is Due by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 9 ***






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