The Church and Pop Culture Syllabus


Ethics 111 – 3 Credit Hours

1994, Jefferis Kent Peterson

Required Readings:

1. G. Goethals, The TV Ritual: Worship at the TV Altar

2 J. Nelson, Your God is Alive and Well and Appearing in Popular Culture.

3. Myers, Kenneth A., All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

4. S. Hauerwas, A Community of Character, Chps. 4, 11 & 12.

5. The course lectures.

6. Read the book review of The Emerging Order, by Jeremy Rifkin, and the explanation of the concept of Peter Berger’s “Sacred Canopy,” both by the instructor and available in the online library.


Course Requirements:

High School diploma, G.E.D., (for foreign, international, and advanced placement students, an equivalent degree or a demonstrated ability to write reference papers, with citations and footnotes) or exceptions granted by the instructor.

Goals of the Course:

The goal of the course is to compare and contrast the beliefs and values of the Christian community with those of contemporary culture; with a special emphasis on U.S. culture. The first goal of the course is to awaken the student to cultural influences and values which Christians in the United States may have adopted, some of which may be in direct conflict with the Truth of Jesus Christ. The second purpose of the course is to enable the student to understand the language of and speak prophetically to the contemporary popular culture from a biblical standpoint and to enable the student to communicate the eternal truths of Christ in a language this world can understand. The intent is to heighten awareness in the student of a biblical worldview as contrasted with contemporary society.


Format of the Course:

The course is divided into six lecture segments. In these lectures, the instructor will give concepts and perspectives helpful in the analysis of pop culture in relation to the life of the Christian community. The student will be asked to participate in pop cultural events and to analyze these events from a Christian perspective, drawing special attention to the religious and ritual elements of such events. Short papers ( 5 pages or less) will be required on these events.

A final paper on a specific area of study of American culture will also be required (15 pages). Graphics can be included in the file if using cross platform media or sent separately as GIF, PICT, TIFF, EPS files (try to keep them small!).


  • music & lyrics
  • advertisements (magazine, TV, radio)
  • the news media
  • sci fi
  • pulp romance novels
  • pulp detective novels
  • pop psychology and self-help books
  • popular magazines, e.g., Reader’s Digest, Charisma
  • Women’s Magazines, e.g., Ms. Glamour
  • TV sit. com., e.g., Home Improvements,
  • elections and political campaigns ( limit your focus)
  • TVsoaps, game shows, crime shows, etc.
  • social or moral issues as they reflect a prevailing cultural ideology, e.g., pro-choice or homosexual agendas, homelessness, soup kitchens.
  • Christian TV, Televangelism, etc.
  • News media and the treatment of Religion in the U.S.


In the first section, give a “history” of this cultural genre, indicate varieties, degree of popularity, consistent patterns. Use the second section to introduce he “religious” dimension of this form of culture and show how this form of culture represents or conflicts with the message of Christ. Finally, show how the Church should or could respond to this situation, and what would be the ideal outcome of such engagement. Suggest solutions for real ills, if appropriate.

Student papers will be kept on file in the library for future reference for other students, if the instructor finds them of sufficient merit and with the student’s permission.(A sample paper is available with the course) Reading Assignments as available (will be posted in the library if we have permission from the author).The grade for the course will depend on the quality of the papers. Each of these will count about 16% of the grade.



Lecture Subjects and Assignments:

1. Definition of Culture, Pop Culture, Ritual, Symbol: A Religious Hermeneutic of Pop Culture Objects and Events.

Assignment: briefly identity 3 contemporary items or events that fit the definition of folk, elite, and popular culture. Explain very briefly why these items fit those categories.

Read the book review of The Emerging Order, by Jeremy Rifkin and the explanation of the concept of Peter Berger’s “Sacred Canopy.”

Nelson: pp. 15-29

TV: pp. 1-31

Myers: pp. 1-52


2. The Study of Ritual, its characteristics, in being a Model of and Model for social behavior and identity.

Assignment: Take a particular aspect of pop or contemporary culture, analyze it and identify can i at cvs these 5 elements of ritual religion. Briefly comment on it from the perspective of the questions raised in number 5.

Nelson: pp. 111-162 (chps. 5 &6).

TV: pp. 33 -86.

Myers: 53- 102.

3. A Look at the TV NEWS

Assignment: Watch the evening news on two separate national networks on a single average news night (no thermonuclear explosions or major earthquakes). If you can get a Christian TV news station do that as well. Tape one, both, or all, and compare the order of news events (top stories vs. second vs. third, etc.) Comment on the editing and ordering process of what is and what is not considered important for that night. Note also any commentary or opinions on the events and what bias is being revealed.

Nelson: pp. 87-110 (chp.4).

TV: pp. 87-124.

Myers: 103-177.

4. Concept of American Civil Religion.

Assignment: 5 page paper on some aspect of American Pop Culture analyzed from the perspective of ACR. Use the tenets and beliefs of ACR in your analysis.

Hauerwas: pp. 72-86 (chp. 4).

TV: pp. 125-144.

Myers: 178-186.

5. A Look at the Movies:

Assignment: View a contemporary hit movie and analyze it within the context of the value structures being assumed. Use the existing categories or create a new one if the movie does not fit. Show how the movie reinforces or challenges ACR.

Nelson: pp. 30-86 (chps. 2 &3).

TV: pp. 87-124.

6. Christians and the problem of communicating with contemporary culture.

Assignment: take a current issue or pop cultural value and analyze it from both a Christian perspective and a non-Christian one. Show how the values and assumptions about the particular subject differ or agree. Show especially if and when the tenets of ACR are in conflict with the tenets of Christianity

Nelson: pp. 163-206 (chps. 7 & 8).

Hauerwas: pp. 196-229 (chps. 11 & 12)

7: Final Paper Due


Selected Bibliography:

Armstrong, Ben., The Electric Church, Thos. Nelson, Inc. 1979.

Berger, Peter, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, Doubleday, 1967.

Bird, M., “Film as Hierography,” Horizons, Spring (1979) 6.

Bluch, John, Beyond Neutrality, WCC, 1978.

Boorstein, The Image: Guide to Pseudo Events in American Culture.

Browne, Roy B., Grogs, Sam, Jr.; Sandrum, Larry, Theories and Methodologies

of Popular Culture, Bowling Green Popular Press, 1975.

Browne, Roy; Fishwick, Marshall (editors), Icons of America, Bowling Green

Popular Press, 1970.

Casby, Alan, Mass Media and Mass Man, Holt Rinehardt & Winston, 1973.

Cooper, John C.; and Skrade, Carl, eds., Celluloid and Symbols, Fortress

Press, 1970.

Drew, D., Images of Man: A Critique of Contemporary Cinema, Inter Varsity Press.

Fore, William F., Image and Impact: How Man Comes Through in the Mass Media (New York: Friendship Press, 1970).

Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures.

Ch. 1. Thick Description: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture.

Ch. 4. Religion as A Cultural System.

Ch. 5. Ethos, World View and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols.

New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973.

Goethals, Gregor, The TV Ritual: Worship at the TV Altar, (Boston,Mass.:

Beacon Press, 1981).

Goffman, Erving, Gender Advertisements, Harper & Row, 1976.

Gordon, George, The Languages of Communication, New York: Hastings House,

Publishers, 1969.

Hamel, William M., ed., The Popular Arts in America, New York: Harcourt,

Brace, Jovanovich, 1972.

Haseldon, Kyle, Morality and the Mass Media, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1968.

Jacobs, Norman, ed., Culture for the Millions, Boston: Beacon Press, 1959.

(Also an Issue of Daedelus)

Key, Wilson B., Subliminal Seduction, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973.

Kuhns, William, The Electronic Gospel, New York: Herder & Herder, 1969.

Lange, David L., et al., Mass Media and Violence, U.S. Government Printing

Office, 1969.

McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Signet Books, 1965.

Myers, Kenneth, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture, Crossway Books, Westchester, Ill. 1989/

Monaw, James, Media Culture, Delta Book, 1978.

Morgan, John H., (ed), Understanding Religion and Culture: Anthropological and Theological Perspectives, (Washington, D.C., University Press of America,

1979), esp. Chapters I, III, V, VII, X.

Nelson, John Wiley, Your God is Alive and Well and Appearing in Popular

Culture, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

Nye, Russell, The Unembarrassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America, New York, Dial Press, 1970.

Payne, R. and Heyer, R., Discovery in Advertising, Paulist, 1969.

Real, Michael R., Mass-Mediated Culture, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977.

Rosenberg, Bernard; White, David Manning (eds.), Mass Culture, New York: The

Free Press, 1957.

Small, William, To Kill a Messenger: TV News and the Real World, NY Communication Arts Book.

Tudor, A., Theories of Film, Viking Press.

Tillich, Paul, Theology of Culture, Oxford U. Press, New York, 1959.

Wall, Church and Anemia, Eerdmans, 1971.

Wright, Nachbor J; Wright, John (eds), The Popular Culture Reader, Bowling

Green Popular Press.


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