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Religion In Popular Culture Essay

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Within this section I have chosen books which I have found helpful towards my quest of better understanding the permeable boundary between religion and popular culture, at the same time however, I have made sure to include books which outline the use of religion in the pop. culture realm, as well as those which can provide a guide for constructing the idea of a secular religion from pop. culture icons. All of these books serve as sources for constructing the broader argument for the importance of the study of religion and how it intersects with pop. culture.


Authentic fakes: religion and American popular culture
David Chidester – University of California Press – 2005
In his 2005 work, David Chidester uses various representations of popular culture – Coca-Cola, baseball, rock-n-roll, Jim Jones’ charismatic leadership, the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, and the free market are just a sample of the many case studies he analyzes – and how they interact, are shaped by, and use and are used by religion. For Chidester, the importance of studying the the relationship between religion and popular culture is because although, there is no real “Church of Baseball” or a rock-n-roll religion, there are people who describe these cultural phenomena as their religion. In addition to people identifying these cultural facets as religions, they can also fit the “classic” academic definitions, do authentic religious work (by negotiating what it means to be human in relation to the sacred or ultimate human concerns). For Chidester, all of these phenomena are defined as “authentic fakes.” That is to say, the religious activity in American Popular culture are fake religions, “doing real religious work in the ways of forging a community, focussing desire and facilitating exchange in ways that look just like religion.” Chidester aims to emphasize the functions begin preformed in the veneration of the Human Genome Project and the sanctity of the words of actor turned president Ronald Reagan. He attempts, with his many case studies, to show the various ways in which popular culture uses and is used by religion, influences and is influenced by religion, and how it can be religion for some. Chidester also moves beyond the boundaries of America to show the missionary prowess of global icons such as McDonald’s restaurants and Disney, and their portrayal of what makes America “sacred.” This books serves an overview for those studying popular culture because it does not present just one way in which it relates to religion. It provides the reader with roads to travel and expand on, instead of providing an in-depth analysis of any one intersection.  Link to Purchase

Religion and popular culture in America

Bruce David Forbes – Jeffrey H. Mahan – University of California Press – 2005

In this collection of 14 essays, that contain a variety of studies including an analysis of Madonna’s Like a Prayer, gender in The Da Vinci Code and apocalyptic fiction (The Left Behind series), the world of sports, and the cultural religion of Star Trek – to name a few- we see different expressions of religion in popular culture as well popular culture in religion. Assembled by Bruce David Forbes, each of these essays aim to show readers what popular culture can reveal about the state of American religion. In it’s introduction by Forbes, he mentions the goal of the book is the eclectic mix of methods used to explain the relationship of popular culture and religion. He puts forward a small list of the methods to be found in the book: those that appear “religious studies or theological disciplines,” anthropology, film and television studies, and other cultural fields. By doing this, Forbes sets readers up to understand, the message of this collection, which is that “religion has developed in the midst of, and adapted to the demands of, a consumer-orieted, mss-media culture.” This unified framework, which Forbes constructs in this collection serves to show readers (with the target audience being “students of religion and popular culture”) the importance of work put forward by scholars outside their discipline, and help them appreciate what other methodologies can provide. It is because of this, that I have chosen this as a vital read for those looking to research religion and popular culture. The interdisciplinary nature of this book allows the reader to see multiple sides of the discussion of religion and popular culture. Link to purchase

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