Course syllabus

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Course description

Why is Jesus always played by white actors in Jesus movies? Why is the Bible so popular in contemporary advertising? Who is the new messiah – Harry Potter or LeBron James? Does Beyonce think she's the Virgin Mary? Why are filmmakers so obsessed with the end of the world? What do Winston Peters and Donald Trump know about the Bible? And why should we care?

This course introduces you to the various ways that biblical themes, images and characters have an enduring presence and influence within contemporary popular culture. By learning to analyse religious and biblical references found in music, film, TV, art, advertising and the media, you will discover that, even in today’s increasingly secular world, the Bible continues to both influence and be influenced by our cultural, political, and religious landscapes.

Some of the cultural texts we'll be studying will include:

  • Movies such as Samson and Delilah, Son of God, Exodus: God and Kings, 2012, and Harry Potter.
  • Political rhetoric, including analysis of politicians such as Winston Peters, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump.
  • Social media sites, including popular blogs, vlogs, Twitter, and FB.
  • Musicians and celebrities such as Harry Styles, Beyonce, and Bob Marley.
  • TV shows such as The West Wing and Lucifer. 
  • Video games, including Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, and Bioshock.
  • Visual arts and advertising images that depict biblical themes and characters.

The class will interest you regardless of your knowledge of the Bible. Any student can study the Bible whether they are of the Jewish or Christian faith, another faith, or of no religious faith at all. The Bible is explored as a cultural text in this course and all we require from students is a desire to learn more about significance and influence of the Bible in contemporary cultures, both national and global. 

Your lecturer for this course is Dr Caroline Blyth: c.blyth@auckland.ac.nz 

 Topics covered in this course will include:

  • Introducing the study of religion in popular culture
  • The Bible: studying the Bible as a cultural text 
  • Biblical characters and their cultural afterlives: how are biblical stories retold on screen? 
  • The Jesus industry - how is the Jesus of the Bible 'transcribed' into visual form?
  • Prophecy in the Bible and popular culture - who were the biblical prophets, and who fills this prophetic role in contemporary culture?  
  • Apocalypse and the end of the world. What cultural function do apocalyptic stories serve, both in the Bible and pop culture? 
  • The messiah, or "supersaviour", in the Bible and popular culture; including "popular messiahs" such as Harry Potter, Kendrick Lamarr, Beyonce and LeBron James.
  • The Bible in contemporary politics and the media: how is the Bible used and misued in contemporary politics? Why do politicians quote the bible, or insist that it is their "favourite book"? We consider the continuing political power of this ancient text. 
  • Biblical violence in popular culture: is the Bible a violent book? What forms of violence does it contain? And does it have the potential to inspire contemporary forms of violence, including gender violence, racism, homophobia and transphobia?  
  • Good and evil - God and Satan in the Bible and pop culture.
  • The Bible and selling power - has the Bible become a cultural commodity? And why are biblical themes so popular in advertising?  

Availability 2019

Semester 2

Class times and locations: check on SSO

Learning outcomes:

Upon completion of this course, students should:

  1. Have learned basic theories of analyzing popular culture and be able to apply these to cultural texts, including those encountered in class;
  2. Be able to explain how the Bible influences popular culture and how popular culture influences interpretations of the biblical texts;
  3. Be familiar with the ways in which the Bible functions as a cultural resource in a wide variety of contemporary contexts and cultures;
  4. Be able to identify some significant Biblical themes and characters as they appear in popular culture texts, including film, music, art, advertising, television and the media;
  5. Have learned the skills of writing an engaging and well-written essay, which others will want to read.

Reading/Texts

There is no textbook for the course, readings are listed and available on Canvas under the Reading List. Students need to have access to a Bible (either hard copy or online, e.g.https://www.biblegateway.com/).

Assessment 

Online tutorial discussions - 15%

Essay proposal - 10%

Essay - 25% (see essay help module here)

Final exam - 2 hours; 50%

Points

15.0 points

Restrictions

THEOLOGY 101, 101G

 

Course summary:

Date Details