Theology and Pop Culture

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This is the course description for “Neon Bibles and Broken Hallelujahs: Soundings in Theology and Popular Culture,” which I am teaching online through the Institute for Christian Studies in January. Register or get more information here!

Popular culture is a “matrix of meanings”: a complex network of texts, images and “memes” characterized above all by its mass accessibility. In contemporary, media-saturated society, television, music, movies, sports, fashion and social media constitute much of the cultural atmosphere in which we live, breathe, and are formed as individuals – a social reality almost impossible to circumvent. In particular, a younger generation growing up in an age of ubiquitous social media, streaming video and various portable devices is saturated with music, images and information in a way unprecedented in human history. Moreover, pop culture is constantly evolving, with its constant emphasis on what is “in” always threatening to leave the less savvy on the margins.

Theological engagement with “pop” or “mass” culture has traditionally been characterized by 1) avoidance; 2) a dismissal of popular culture in favour of “high” culture; or 3) a lack of vocabulary with which to discuss its patterns of meaning. However, a number of books over the course of the last decade have sought to creatively engage Western pop culture from a Christian perspective. Taking as methodological approach the idea that theology must always mediate between living Christian faith and a cultural “matrix,” this course aims to explore the nature of a dialogue between theology and pop culture, looking for theological “signs of life” in popular culture while effectively “mediating” the Christian gospel in a fluid social environment.

Here are our required texts, plus of course some Cal Seerveld!

Detweiler, Craig and Barry Taylor. A matrix of meanings : finding God in pop culture. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic, 2003.

Romanowski, William. Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2007.

Turnau, Ted. Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012.

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