The ritual roots of rock

Music has always had an association with the numinous and has been commonly put to ritual use. It was performed by our ancestors to placate the gods and invoke their assistance. Psalmody (chanted prayers sometimes accompanied by stringed instruments) arose in ancient Israel and was passed on to both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity in the first century ce. Both Tertullian and Augustine endorsed the use of music in prayers and to lift the heart in worship. The Mass was recited in plainsong and...

Tableaus of the peaceable kingdom

A noteworthy feature of the Lord of the Rings, particularly as it was brought to the screen in the three recent films by director Peter Jackson, is its scenery. The tranquil Hobbit's shire and the misty surrealism of the elves' ancestral home at Rivendell are stunning achievements of New Zealand's natural beauty enhanced by the artistry of stage crews and CGI (computer generated imagery) technology. These are utopian landscapes, both in their idealized beauty and in their ideological ways of...

Conclusion On Popular Culture

In his novel, About a Boy, Nick Hornby introduces us to a character who has essentially sealed himself up inside a universe of popular culture. Will Freeman is a 36-year-old who, because he lives off the generous royalties from a hit Christmas song his deceased father wrote in 1938, enjoys a life of uninterrupted leisure. From his high-tech, gadget-filled bachelor's flat in London, he plots his days around perfecting his wardrobe, making regular visits to the hair stylist, eating at the newest...

Shades of Faith and Broken Faith

Night Shyamalan is a filmmaker who uses his craft to openly raise issues of religious faith. In the movie, Signs (2002),17 which he wrote and directed, crop circles are reported to have begun appearing all over the world and rumors are circulating of UFOs hovering in the earth's orbit. When a crop circle appears in the corn field of their family farm, the lead character in the story, Graham Hess - a disillusioned and recently widowed Episcopal priest played by Mel Gibson - is asked by his...

Chapter

1 One doesn't have to travel back in time to be confronted by the absence of images that has typified most of human history. The filmmaker, Wim Wenders, recalls a trip to Hungary in the years before the fall of communism When I first came to a city in the Eastern bloc, it was Budapest, I went into shock there was nothing. A few traffic signs, some ugly banners, otherwise the city was empty of imagery, of advertising. That's when I realized how used I was to all that stuff, how addicted. From...

Popular Cultures Religious Vitality Augustine

While he lived there about 150 years after Tertullian had died, Saint Augustine was familiar with Carthage. In his Confessions he recalls this city where he was sent to be educated at the age of sixteen, and where he spent most of the decade of his twenties, first as a student, later as a teacher I went to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust. As the largest cosmopolitan city in the Roman territory of Africa, Carthage was an epicenter of popular...

Religious Symbols

American patriotism is surrounded by a latticework of symbols the stars and stripes, the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, the White House, fireworks, the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg, Apollo, cowboys and the Supreme Court, to name a few. An outsider would see a flag, a bell, a parchment, a building, an explosive, an obelisk, a statue, a battlefield, a rocket, a herdsman, a courthouse. But to an insider each of these objects is a vessel in which something...

The dearly departed

Popular culture has been brimming lately with bold conjectures about the afterlife. The matter of what follows death is one of those middle concerns from which many Christian theologians have kept a respectful distance, not wanting to speculate beyond a general hopefulness, and still smarting from Marx's rebuke that the promise of eternal life distracts people from demanding justice in this life. For decades popular culture concurred in this Marxist suspicion of the debilitating effects of the...

Fanfare for the common man

Aaron Copland premiered his Fanfare for the Common Man in 1943, a soaring and triumphant tribute in honor of - take your pick - soldiers fighting at that time in Europe and the Pacific, American taxpayers who consented to an early filing deadline that spring, and the poor woman who cleaned his office at night - depending on which music historian is to be believed. Fanfares generally are composed as tributes, or to announce with trumpeted flourish the entrance into the hall of some great...

Signs of the Times

One of the most cherished forms of salvation found in popular culture is the phenomenon of redemptive violence. In her book on the cultural meaning of the western in fiction and film, Jane Tompkins singles out redemptive violence as the key attraction of the genre. Every western plot culminates in an act of retaliatory violence that follows a certain formula First, the hero is seen saddling his horse or sitting pensively in the saloon (or something along these lines), minding his own business....

Love songs

So, there are salvific themes in songs of protest. In Tillich's terms, these songs express a moral faith, a faith that the holy enters the world through acts of justice and human kindness. Love songs, too, are sometimes infused with more hope for salvation than first meets the eye. True, at one level, all love songs are about salvation - we place much stock in having love returned by the human object of our affections. We can turn any person into an ultimate concern and torture them with the...

Hegemony

Like the Frankfurt School, the Birmingham Centre was driven by strong Marxist undercurrents. But, again like the Frankfurt School, its Marxism was selective. It retained the view that the ruling class seeks to impose its ideology on the rest of society, and remained committed to the priority of praxis in the way it analyzed popular artifacts - that is, that the purpose of scholarly analysis is to change the order of society and the power relations that exist between social classes. But, as...

The secular apocalyptic

In Chapter 7 some attention was given to how effective science fiction can be, particularly in its apocalyptic mode, for isolating the sin de jure and imagining its consequences if left unchecked. Thus, in A Canticle for Leibowitz, the craving for absolute security was seen to lead, ironically, to the devastation of the planet, which then ejects the human race as the consequence for this craving. This genre of the apocalyptic has become common in popular culture since the advent of the atomic...

The Popular

In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote a seminal essay reflecting on the impact that the new technologies of mechanical reproduction (lithography, photography, sound recording, movies) were having on Western culture.4 What distinguished a work of art before these technologies was its aura, the sacred, one-of-a-kind quality that inheres in a painting like the Mona Lisa or the live performance of a Beethoven symphony. The genius and originality of this paint on this piece of canvas hanging on this wall...

Annotated Bibliography of Books on Theology and Popular Culture

These are works that search for culturally influential religious or theological themes based upon a cross-referencing of (with a few exceptions) multiple avenues of popular culture, for example, film, novels, television, advertising, music. Books that do the same kind of analysis but limit themselves to a single medium are listed separately. By background theorists, an attempt is made to single out the thinkers these authors favor or are consciously in conversation with. This is intended to...

The amused bricoleur

The theme of the dignity of ordinary life explored earlier is in tension with the powers and aspirations we come to believe about ourselves through this accessorizing of our identities. Our celebration of ordinary life affirms the bonds of work, marriage, family, neighborhood and community, including the limitations on our individual freedoms that these bonds entail. The fetishized world that is being projected to us through commodities, on the other hand, entices us to disregard bonds and...

Paul Tillichs Theology of Culture

Paul Tillich was born in 1886, the son of a Lutheran pastor in a village near Berlin, Germany. By the age of 28, he had received his doctorate in philosophy, been ordained as a Lutheran pastor, and had served for several years in a church in a working-class neighborhood of Berlin. Within months of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Tillich volunteered for military service and was appointed to serve as a chaplain in the Army. His first orders took him to the western front, where for 4...

Reading the Signs of the Times

The Second Vatican Council tract, Gaudium et Spes, among the more significant documents to emerge from the Council, was organized around the proposal that At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task. This trope, reading the signs of the time, is an allusion to Matthew 16.3, in which Jesus criticizes religious leaders who can interpret the skies for tomorrow's weather, but...

Theologians and the Study of Culture

Christian theologians are notorious for either preemptively dismissing theory that is making the rounds outside their discipline, or rushing headlong to embrace it. The work of cultural studies has caught the attention of many of us, and, true to form, some view it as yet more evidence for the decline of godly civilization, while others, at the opposite end, herald it as the key to understanding all past failures of godly civilization.1 What has caught the interest of its heralds, in...

Accessorized identities

Near the beginning of FightClub, Jack is seen sitting on the toilet in his stylish condo, studying a magazine and rotating it as if to examine a racy centerfold. The magazine, it turns out, is an Ikea catalogue, and he is on his cell phone placing an order for an Erika Pekkari dust ruffle. Like so many others, he voices over, I had become a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct. If I saw something clever like a little coffee table in the shape of a yin-yang, I'd have to have it I'd flip through...

Confession in religion2

Paul Ricoeur has argued that the notion of human beings standing guilty before some transcendent tribunal for evil deeds they have committed is one that had to gestate over many centuries, and go through several stages of development, before it entered the minds of our ancestors.37 In its earliest stages, evil was viewed as some impurity in the environment that needed to be avoided because it defiled those who came into contact with it. Like an infection that was contracted through the body's...

Franco Ferrucci The Life of God as Told by Himself 1996

Franco Ferrucci is a literary critic from Italy whose previous published work has focused on Dante. The Life of God as Told by Himself is offered as autobiography, told throughout from God's first-person point of view. From the outset, the story follows a biblical sequence that is blended with evolutionary spans of time. But given that the genesis of the cosmos is told here with an eye to God's own consciousness of these events, some imaginative liberties are taken. In Ferrucci's account, God...

Commodity Fetishism

Richard Niebuhr contended that we find ourselves pulled almost irresistibly toward polytheism, and that epicureanism Ferucci and existentialism Morrow are mere pauses between traditional monotheisms and the polytheism of modernity. Polytheism, as he defined it, is a religion of many small and mostly unintegrated concerns, inspiring adherents to chase haphazardly after many shiny gods - purported sources of meaning and power - to provide life with direction and consolation. The marketing of...

Popular Cultures Congenital Defects Tertullians de Spectaculus

Tertullian was a church father from Carthage, a Roman city on the north coast of Africa, who lived from 160-225 ce. Born a pagan, he studied law in Rome, converted to Christianity in his thirties and had a long career as a theologian and apologist for the Christian faith. He stands out for the moral rigor he expected of Christians, and for his vigorous defenses of the minority Christian community against charges of atheism, cannibalism, and treachery toward the state that circulated in the...

James Morrow The Towing Jehovah Saga34

The next work of fiction to be examined is actually a trilogy written by James Morrow, a science fiction writer from Pennsylvania, about a chain of events that begins with the splashdown of the Corpus Dei in the early 1990s. In 1992, to be precise, a giant male corpse, two miles long, was discovered floating face-up in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. The Vatican and a handful of other individuals were notified of this by dying angels, who confirmed that it was indeed God. The...

Covenants and Jeremiads

When the descendants of Jacob fled Egypt and followed Moses into the desert, they waited at the foot of Mt Sinai until God made a covenant with them. The covenant acknowledged that this God had delivered them from slavery and was preparing to make them into a great nation, and it assured them that the same God would remain faithful to them and to their descendants. In turn, the covenant stipulated civil and religious obligations that they now had to accept in order to be worthy of God's...

Images of

In 1946, Nikos Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek, a novel about a laborer named Zorba, who exuded a colossal zeal for life, and his boss, a well-educated, wealthy mine-owner who hired Zorba as a foreman at one of his mines. The two became friends. Late in their friendship, Zorba became ill and, knowing that he was dying, turned to his boss for some comforting words. I want you to tell me, Zorba said, where we have come from and where we are going to. During all these years you've been burning...

The Frankfurt School

The earliest concerted effort to theorize popular culture is to be found in the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, which was founded in Germany in 1923 by neo-Marxist sociologists who pioneered the field of critical theory. Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Leo Lowenthal, Herbert Marcuse, and Erich Fromm were among its celebrated roster of intellectuals. Expelled from Germany by the Nazis, all of them migrated to the US in the early 1930's and temporarily relocated the...

Tillich and the Frankfurt School

There is an interesting and enduring connection between Paul Tillich and the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. From 1929 to 1933 Tillich taught at the University of Frankfurt. As a professor of philosophy at Frankfurt, Tillich oversaw Theodor Adorno's dissertation on Kierkegaard's aesthetics, and later helped him secure a teaching position at the university. It was with Tillich's support as dean that Max Horkheimer was appointed in 1929 to a new chair in social philosophy at Frankfurt,...

Antinomianism and Anarchy

In 1975, Robert Bellah, after reflecting on the cultural experimentation of the 1960s' counterculture, made the comment, A period of great social change always produces a certain amount of antinomianism and anarchism.11 Antinomianism is a rich term in Christian theology, referring to Gnostic sects in the early centuries of the church, some of them loosely Christian, who believed that spirit and matter were so opposed to each other that what one did with one's body was of no consequence to the...