Basic Information

Key course commitments

  • Living with popular mass media means engaging and making meaning with these media
  • We are thoroughly embedded in a variety of mediated environments
  • Our faith is revealed in our practices
  • God reveals Godself in our meaning-making
  • Pastoral leaders need to be adept and agile meaning-makers — “gardener” leaders
  • We have a mission to learn, to create disciples (learners) in the world

Course description

Emerging scholarship within media studies, particularly that focused on a cultural studies approach, has begun to discard an instrumentalist perspective on the mass media — one which emphasized a picture of media as trucks carrying messages — in favor of a culturalist perspective which emphasizes the ritual aspects of communication and perceives mass media as providing elements from which, and within which, people construct meaning in myriad ways.

Among the consequences of such a shift in paradigm is an appreciation both for the meaning-making resources resident within popular cultural contexts, as well as for the ways in which mass mediated commercial popular culture can flatten and constrict our symbolic inventories and narrow the focus of our attention.

This “postmodern” shift in sensibility highlights new opportunities for communities of faith within media culture. In the past religious communities have been quite adept at situating themselves, particularly through the embedding of faith practices from a tradition, within a specific cultural context. Our deepest and most powerful resource in this postmodern context may be precisely our ability to construct context, to embed our beliefs in ways of knowing and being that support them. Such embedding occurs not simply in doctrines, or other “content-oriented” frames, but within body postures, ritual practices, and other multi-sensory experiences.

Yet how do we share these richly varied religious interpretations with people immersed in a mass-mediated context in which a teenager named Joan regularly talks to God, or in which the ritual of watching a “reality” show has more community continuity for many people than Sunday morning worship?

This course proposes that part of the answer lies in taking seriously the spiritual resonance of people’s experiences within popular cultural practices, and then using that resonance as a bridge into a renewed and transformative understanding of explicitly religious practices.

This course assumes that one of the best ways to engage these issues is to dive right in and begin “writing” in various media drawn from such contexts, so all assignments will be structured to support and enrich such creation.