July 26, 2008

Research Proposal on Religion in Popular Culture




Discussing, reflecting and even questioning religion in popular culture raises skepticism of the public – Christians and non-Christians. In an era where the media becomes a more powerful influence in the lives of the people, especially the youth, religion, spirituality and faith has now come to a point wherein paradoxical depiction is the main issue. Parents, teachers and religious leaders as well as some policymakers concern the bogusness or fake portrayal and treatment of religious conviction and tradition in various popular culture avenues. These include television, film and radio, children literature, music, sports and games, arts and crafts and others. As such, how the popular is becoming an important element in the development of the religious belief system of the modern youth made its way on the forefront of international debate.




Our first hypothesis is that popular culture has though-provoking contents that otherwise distorts the teachings of the religious institutions, the scriptures and the theologians.


The second hypothesis points to the reality that popular culture is a pure form of entertainment and that all the things visually or aurally depicted or portrayed falls under this category. 


Third, popular culture is being regarded as the secondary source of meanings and information when it comes to religion, the 'ultimate truth' and God. 


How religion is represented in popular culture


Forbes and Mahan (2005) contend that reflecting upon the appearances of religion in popular culture and to understand how both shape and reflect the people is important. As of this writing, biblical studies, literature, cultural studies, anthropology, theology and even history cannot pinpoint the history and evolution of integrating religion into popular culture. The interest in the subject came in full force in the last two decades; nonetheless, such field remains to be lacking in terms of definition, articulated methodologies and fuller awareness of the contributions already made (p. 9).


The authors maintain that the popular culture has limitations when it comes to the intention of the creators and the nature of the popular culture itself (p.7). The interplay between religion and popular culture happens in four ways: religion in popular culture, popular culture in religion, popular culture as religion and religion and popular culture in dialogue (p. 10). According to Schofield-Clark, there is the problem of relativism, however. The reality is the religious community witnessed the flattening of religious symbols through popular culture (1999).  


Chidester (2005) argued that the wider integration of the elements of religion in popular culture was manifested not by the traditional sense of worship and relationship to supernatural power but by how people worship popular icons and practices. While he also discussed the importance of religion in popular cultural setting, there is no doubt, however, that religion was portrayed with less-than-sincere purposes. Provided that popular culture is now the mirror of a particular culture, Mazur and McCarthy (2001, p. 8) suggest that the popular culture industry, despite its exploitative nature, is successful if being responsive to the audience needs and desires is to be considered. A lesson to learn from this is that the complexity of the religious reality is what can be expected as 'mirrored' by the popular culture. The question now is: to what extent does popular culture depict 'reality' and the reality of religion per se? (Beal and Linafelt, 2006).


Whether the popular culture is after the instrumental faith is another question. The popular religion in itself, admittedly, has inherent paradoxes (Althauser, 1990). When these paradoxes are persistently showcased in the popular culture mediums, it could create confusion more specifically for the younger audiences. For instance, how TV shows and films equate spirituality and paranormal and/or the explicit manifestation of God is rather disturbing. But since the role of the church as the 'storehouse of spiritual values where character is built and good citizenship was developed' is now becoming blurry, these popular culture venues serve to be the most credible source next to the church (Hangen, 2002).





Althauser, R. P. (1990). Paradox in Popular Religion: the Limits of Instrumental Faith. Social Forces, 69(2), 585.


Beal, T. K. and Linafelt, T. (2006). Mel Gibson's Bible: Religion, Popular Culture, and the Passion of the Christ. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Chidester, D. (2005). Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Forbes, B. D. and Mahan, J. H. (2005). Religion and Popular Culture in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Hangen, T. J. (2002). Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press.


Mazur, E. M. and McCarthy, K. (2001). God in Details: American Religion in Popular Culture. Routledge.



Schofiled-Clark, S. (1999). Popular Culture: Replacing Religion for Toady's Teens?. The Bible in Transmission.

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