Teaching Religion in Popular Culture: My Syllabus for Spring 2017

Since this is a blog about religion in popular culture, I though I would share the syllabus for my course on the same topic that I will teach this Spring here at New College of Florida. We will watch, among other things, The Walking Dead, Lost, True Detective (Season 1), Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, The Hobbit, The Avengers, watch some Oprah and a documentary on self-help guru (although do not call him that!) Tony Robbins. We will read Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Grant Morrison’s Supergods, some Nietzsche, Sartre,  Ligotti, Joseph Campbell and Mirea Eliade, the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, and more. I may still make a few changes but, overall, this is what we will cover.

Topics or reading suggestions?

Introduction

What can the AMC show The Walking Dead and HBO’s True Detective tell us about existential philosophy and the idea that God may be dead? What can the irreverent (and extremely intelligent) humor of South Park tells us about the role of religion in society? How does Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie The Master explore the complex nature of the founder of a new religious movement (and what is the difference between a charlatan and a savior?) Are Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins the culmination of American Spirituality (and if so, what does it say about America’s take on religion)? How does the recent success of Superhero movies reflect the hopes, fears, and anxieties of a post 9/11 world? What can Tony Soprano (of HBO’s The Sopranos), and Walter White (from AMC’s Breaking Bad) tells us about the dark side of human nature? The main goal of this course is to discuss these and many other important religious and philosophical questions as explored in contemporary popular culture. Popular culture will also be a gateway to our reading of important religious and philosophical works, from the Book of Revelations to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Week 1

Introduction to the course.

Monday

Introduction to the Course. Review of the Syllabus.

Thursday

What does Popular Culture have to do with Religion?

Readings:

  • Lynch, Gordon. “What Is ‘Popular Culture’?” In Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. Malden, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell Pub, 2005.
  • Clark, Lynn Schofield. “Why Study Popular Culture? Or, How to Build a Case for Your Thesis in a Religious Studies or Theology Department.” In Between Sacred and Profane : Researching Religion and Popular Culture, edited by Gordon Lynch. London ; New York: IB Tauris, 2007.

Week 2

Lost in the World: Looking for Meaning on Network TV.

Monday

To Watch:

  • Lost “Pilot” (part 1 and 2). Netflix.

To Read:

Thursday

To Watch:

Week 3

Is God Dead? Existentialism and Nihilism in The Walking Dead and True Detective.

Monday

To Watch:

The Walking Dead Episode 1. Netflix.

To Read:

Choose between Nietzsche and Sartre AND read Robinson-Greene

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science : With a Prelude in German Rhymes an an Appendix of Songs. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • ———. Thus Spoke Zarathustra : A Book for All and None. Harmondsworth, Eng; New York: Penguin Books, 1978.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism Is a Humanism = (L’Existentialisme Est Un Humanisme) ; Including, a Commentary on The Stranger (Explication de L’Étranger). New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Rachel Robison-Greene. “Better Off Undead.” In The Walking Dead and Philosophy : Zombie Apocalypse Now, edited by Wayne Yuen. Popular Culture and Philosophy ; v. 68. Chicago, Ill: Open Court, 2012.

Thursday

To Watch:

True Detective Episode 1. HBO.

To Read:

Week 4

Savior or Charlatan? Exploring the Beginnings of a Religious Movement in P.T. Anderson’s Movie The Master.

Monday

To Watch:

Movie: Anderson, Paul Thomas. The Master. Drama, 2012. Netflix.

To Read:

  • Hubbard, L. Ron (La Fayette Ron). Dianetics : The Modern Science of Mental Health. [New ed.]. Los Angeles, Calif: Bridge Publications, Inc, 2007. Introduction and Book 1.
  • Urban, Hugh B. The Church of Scientology : A History of a New Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. Introduction: The World’s Most Controversial New Religion and Why No One Writes About It. Chapter 1: American Entrepreneur, Spiritual Bricoleur L. Ron Hubbard.

Thursday

To Watch:

Tony Robbins: I am not Your Guru (on Netflix)

To Read:

  • Chidester, David. Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005. Introduction.

Week 5

God has Spoken, but what did s/he/it say? The Rapture in Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers.

leftovers

Monday

To Watch:

The Leftovers Episode 1 (HBO)

To Read:

  • Perrotta, Tom. The Leftovers. 1st ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011. “Prologue” and “Vow of Silence”
  • Thessalonians 4
  • Matthew 23-24

Thursday

To Watch:

The Leftovers Episode 5 “Gladys” (HBO)

To Read:

Week 6

From Heroes to Superheroes: Salvation as a Journey.

Monday

To Watch:

Jackson, Peter. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Adventure, Fantasy, 2012.

To Read:

  • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. [2d ed. Bollingen Series ; 17. Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press 1968, 1968. Chapter The Monomyth.
  • Eliade, Mircea. Myth and Reality. [1st American ed.]. World Perspectives, v. 31. New York, Harper & Row 1963, 1963.
 

Thursday

To Watch:

Donner, Richard. Superman. Action, Adventure, Fantasy, 1978.

To Read:

  • Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human. 1st ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Part 1 – Golden Age.
  • Garrett, Greg. Holy Superheroes!: Exploring the Sacred in Comics, Graphic Novels, and Film. Rev. and expanded ed. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. “Introduction,” “Modern Heroes,” and “Look Up in the Sky.”
  • Knowles, Christopher. Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes. San Francisco, Calif: Weiser Books, 2007. Chapters 1-3, Ch. 14 (Superman)

Week 7

The New American Pantheon: Superheroes as the New Gods in a Post 9-11 World.

supergodcover

To Watch:

Whedon, Joss. The Avengers. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, 2012.

To Read:

  • Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human. 1st ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Chapter “The NU Marvel,” “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” and “Respecting Authority.”

Thursday

To Watch:

Nolan, Christopher, The Dark Knight, Drama, 2008.

To Read:

  • Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human. 1st ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Part 3 – The Dark Age

Week 8

SPRING BREAK

Week 9

Exploring the Dark Side of Human Nature and Society: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

Monday

To Read:

Miller, Frank. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. New York, NY: DC Comics, 2002.

dark_knight_returns

To Read:

  • Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human. 1st ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Chapter 1 “The Sun God and the Dark Knight” and Chapter 13 “Fearful Simmetry” (Read only the section dedicated to Miller’s The Dark Knight).
  • Garrett, Greg. Holy Superheroes! : Exploring the Sacred in Comics, Graphic Novels, and Film. Rev. and expanded ed. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. “The Problem of Evil.”

Thursday

To Read:

watchmen_issue_1

  • Moore, Alan. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics Inc, 1987.
  • Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human. 1st ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011.  Chapter 13 “Fearful Simmetry” (Read only the section dedicated to Moore’s Wathcmen).
  • Berlatsky, Eric L., ed. Alan Moore: Conversations. University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

Week 10

The Rise of the Anti-hero

Monday

To Watch:

The Sopranos. Crime, Drama, 1999. Episode 1

To Read:

Thursday

To Watch:

Breaking Bad. Crime, Drama, Thriller, 2008. Episode 1.

To Read:

  • Glass, Stephen, “Better than Human,”In Breaking Bad and Philosophy : Badder Living through Chemistry, edited by David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp. Popular Culture and Philosophy ; v. 67. Chicago: Open Court, 2012.
  • Anderson, Aaron C., and Justine Lopez. “Meth, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In Breaking Bad and Philosophy : Badder Living through Chemistry, edited by David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp. Popular Culture and Philosophy ; v. 67. Chicago: Open Court, 2012.
  • Stephenson, Jeffrey E. “Walter White’s American Vice.” In Breaking Bad and Philosophy : Badder Living through Chemistry, edited by David R. Koepsell and Robert Arp. Popular Culture and Philosophy ; v. 67. Chicago: Open Court, 2012.

Week 11

Evil in Popular Culture

Monday

Are We the Evil We Fear? Failed Institutions and Society in The Wire.

To Watch:

The Wire. Crime, Drama, Thriller, 2002. Episodes: Season 1 Ep. 1 and Season 3 Ep. 1.

Season 1 focuses on the drug trade. Season 3 focuses on the political system in Baltimore.

To Read:

  • Detweiler, Craig. “The Wire: Playing the Game.” In Small Screen, Big Picture : Television and Lived Religion, edited by Diane H. Winston, 69–97. Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2009.

Thursday

Evil as Text and Subtext: The Witch

To Watch:

  • Eggers, Robert. The Witch. Horror, Mystery, 2016.

To Read:

  • Cowan, Douglas E. Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008. Selections.

Week 12

Oprah and the Gospel of Prosperity

oprahicon

Monday

To Watch:

Selections of the Oprah Winfrey Show

To Read:

  • Lofton, Kathryn. Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon. University of California Press, 2005. Read Introduction and chapters 1-3

Thursday

To Watch:

Selection of SuperSoul Sunday

To Read:

Week 13

What’s so funny about religion?

Monday

To Watch:

South Park episode S10E12 “Go God Go,” and “The Cartoon Wars parts I&II” S10E03 and S10E04

To Read:

  • DeLashmutt, Michael W., and Brannon Hancock. “Prophetic Profanity: South Park on Religion or Thinking Theologically with Eric Cartman.” In Taking South Park Seriously, edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

Thursday

To Watch:

Stone, Matt, and Trey Parker. The Book of Mormon. Comedy, Musical, N/A.

 To Read:

  • Sirvent, Roberto, and Baker. “South Park, The Book of Mormon, and How Religious Fundamentalists Always Find a Way to Be Naive and Arrogant at the Same Time.” In The Ultimate South Park and Philosophy : Respect My Philosophah!, edited by Robert Arp and Kevin S. Decker. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series ; 83. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Week 14

Burning Man: Art, Ritual, and Community.

Monday

To Watch:

To Read:

  • Gilmore, Lee. Theater in a Crowded Fire : Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010, Introduction.

Thursday

Week 15

GAME OF THRONES: ETHICS AND RELIGION IN AN UNJUST WORLD 

Monday

To Watch:

  • Game of Thrones. Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, 2011. Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2

To Read:

  • Littmann, Greg. “Maester Hobbes Goes to King’s Landing.” In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, edited by Henry Owen Jacoby. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2012.
  • Tullman, Katherine. “Dany’s Encounter with the Wild: Cultural Relativism in A Games of Thrones.” In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, edited by Henry Owen Jacoby. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2012.
  • Silverman, Eric. “Winter Is Coming!: The Bleak Quest for Happiness in Westeros.” In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, edited by Henry Owen Jacoby. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2012.

Thursday

To Watch:

  • Game of Thrones. Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, 2011. Season 1 Episodes 6 & 7

To Read:

  • Cox, Edward. “Magic, Science, and Metaphysics in A Game of Thrones.”In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, edited by Henry Owen Jacoby. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2012.
  • Schoone, Jaron Daniël. “‘Why Is the World so Full of Injustice?’: Gods and the Problem of Evil.” In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, edited by Henry Owen Jacoby. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2012.
  • Schwab, Abraham. “‘You Know Nothing, Jon Snow’: Epistemic Humility beyond the Wall.”In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, edited by Henry Owen Jacoby. Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture Series. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2012. 

Week 16

FINAL PRESENTATIONS

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