Religion and Popular Culture

The major objection to the orthodox Marxist analysis of culture and religion is not that it is wrong, but that it is too narrow, rigid and dogmatic. It views popular culture and religion only as instruments of domination, vehicles of pacification. It sees only their negative and repressive elements … [and] refuses to acknowledge the positive, liberating aspects of popular culture and religion, and their potential for fostering structural social change.

Cornel West, Prophecy Deliverance!

Religion and Popular Culture in America, Third Edition by Bruce David Forbes, Jeffrey H. Mahan

In this course, we explore the interactions between religion and popular culture  within a modern mass-mediated culture. The constructions of popular culture (mass-market storytelling, sports, music, etc.) and the activity of the audience (fandom and other forms of participation) are examined as forms of meaning-making and cultural interpretation which may incorporate, challenge, change or replace traditional religion and its practices . One immediate example will be the ways that popular culture explores the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police and the resulting widespread national protests.

Jeffrey Mahan

Contacting the Instructor : Emailing me at or messaging me through Canvas are the best way to reach me outside of class. I try to respond within 24 hours, though I don't usually respond over the weekend. I am happy to make an appointment to meet in Zoom, or by phone. JHM


Forbes, Bruce David and Jeffrey H. Mahan, Eds. Religion and Popular Culture in America: Third Edition. Berkley: University of California Press, 2017. (Please note that we will read and discuss essays not included in earlier editions.)

(Choose one of the following:

Sophia Rose Arjana, Veiled Superheros: Islam, Feminism and Popular Culture, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019. (Examines Muslim female superheroes such as Ms Marvel and the 99 to explore the realities of Muslim life from an anti-colonial, feminist perspective.) Group presentation, Thurs, Oct 8.

Or, Klassen, Chris, Religion and Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2014.  (Popular culture and its interactions with religion as cultural evidence.  Explores how attention to race, class, and gender and attention to dominant and subcultures can help understand popular images of religion.) Group presentation Tues, Oct 13. 

Or, Juan M. Floyd-Thomas, Stacey M. Floyd Thomas, and Mark G. Toulouse, The Altars Where We Worship: The Religious Significance of Popular Culture, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016. Group presentation, Wed, Oct 14. (Examines the religious dimensions of six specific aspects of American culture—body and sex, big business, entertainment, politics, sports, and science and technology—that function as "altars" where Americans gather to worship and produce meaning for their lives. )

All these books are available from Amazon or other sources. Please be sure to order in plenty of time.  

Religion and Popular Culture in America and your one supplemental book are the only books you need to buy. There are other articles or book chapters assigned. For them, pdf docs have been posted in the week that we will discuss the reading. 

Course outline
Assignments, Due Dates, and Grades


Aichele, George and Richard Walsh, eds., Screening Scripture: Intertextual Connections between Scripture. Trinity Press, 2002.

Baugh, Lloyd, Imagining the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1997.

Clark, Terry Ray and Dan W. Clanton, Jr., eds., Understanding Religion and Popular Culture, London: Routledge, 2012. 

Dyson, Michael Eric, Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Evans, Christopher Hodge and William R. Herzog, The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion and American Culture. Presbyterian Publishing Corp, 2002.

Flesher, Paul V., and Robert Torry, Film & Religion, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007.

Forshey, Gerald, American Religious and Biblical Spectaculars, Westport: Praeger, 1992.

Frykholm, Amy Johnson, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Garrett, Greg, Entertaining Judgement: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, New York, Oxford University Press, 2015.

Goethals, Gregor, The Electronic Golden Calf. Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1990.

Jewett, Robert, Saint Paul at the Movies. Louisville: Westminister/John Known Press, 1993.

Johnson, Robert K., Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.

Klassen, Chris, Religion and Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Lyden, John C., Film as Religion: Myths, Morals and Rituals, NY: New York University Press, 2003.

MacDannell, Colleen, Material Christianity (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1995.

Mazur, Eric Michael and Kate McCarthy, God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Miller, Vincent J., Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, New York: Continum, 2009.

Morgan, David, Visual Piety. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 

Morgan, David, (2007) The Lure of Images: A history of religion and visual media in America. New York: Routledge.

Nachbar, Jack & Kevin Lause, eds. Popular Culture: An Introductory Text. Bowling Green, The Popular Press, 1992.

Pinn, Anthony B. Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

Pinsky, Mark I. The Gospel According to the Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Mitchell, Jolyon and S. Brent Plate, The Religion and Film Reader. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Romanowski, William D., Eyes Wide Open: Looking For God in Popular Culture. Grand Rapids: Brazos Books, 2001.

Sample, Tex, White Soul: Country Music, the Church and Working Americans. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.

Schultze, Quentin J., Redeeming Television. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1992.

Scott, Bernard Brandon, Hollywood Dreams & Biblical Stories. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.

Wagner, Rachel, Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality, London: Routledge, 2012.

Ward, Pete, Gods Behaving Badly: Media, Religion and Celebrity Culture, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012. 

Weisenfeld, Judith, Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929 – 1949. Berkley: University of California Press, 2007.



Late Work:  Late work will be down graded and will not receive a grade in the A range.  Please contact the instructor in advance of the due date if circumstances suggest you cannot submit on time. 

Incomplete Policy: Students who believe their situation justifies it may apply for an incomplete following the process outlined in the Masters Student Handbook.

Notification of Academic Integrity Standards: (from the Iliff Master’s Student Handbook) Academic integrity lies at the foundation of academic progress. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, acts of fraud and deception on an examination or class assignment, acts of forgery or unauthorized alteration of any official academic record or document and attempt to gain credit for work that one has plagiarized from the work of another person. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in this course or any other at Iliff School of Theology and there are serious consequences to students who engage in it. For more information on these and other rules regarding academic progress at Iliff consult the Master’s Student Handbook available on My Iliff.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):  Iliff engages in a collaborative effort with students with disabilities to reasonably accommodate student needs.  Students are encouraged to contact their assigned advisor to initiate the process of requesting accommodations.  The advising center can be contacted at or by phone at 303-765-1146.


Technology Issues : If you need assistance with Canvas email, contact or call them at 303-909-9321. Please leave a message and the staff will get back to you as soon as possible. They are typically available 8:30AM - 7:00ish in the Mountain Time Zone.

Sep 16, 2020WedIntroductionsdue by 05:59AM
Sep 16, 2020WedInstructor remarks, What is popular culture and what does popular culture have to do with religion?due by 05:59AM
Sep 17, 2020ThuDiscussion of Forbes, (RPCA) "Introduction:Finding Religion in Unexpected Places"due by 05:59AM
Sep 19, 2020SatReturn to, and extend, the discussiondue by 05:59AM
Sep 23, 2020WedDiscussion, Chidester (RPCA) "The Church of Baseball, The Fetish of Coca-Cola, and the Potlatch of Rock-an-Roll"due by 05:59AM
Sep 24, 2020ThuInstructor remarks, The Social Function of Popular Culturedue by 05:59AM
Sep 24, 2020ThuChoose your Additional Readingdue by 05:59AM
Sep 25, 2020FriZoom Sessiondue by 05:59AM
Sep 26, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Sep 30, 2020WedReading and Discussion of Mahan, "Celluloid Savior"due by 05:59AM
Oct 01, 2020ThuPost your Research and Application Proposaldue by 05:59AM
Oct 02, 2020FriReading and Discussion, Morgan, "Reading the Face of Jesus"due by 05:59AM
Oct 03, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Oct 07, 2020WedReading and Discussion, Hulsether "Like a Sermon" due by 05:59AM
Oct 08, 2020ThuReading and Discussion, hooks, "Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister"due by 05:59AM
Oct 09, 2020FriDiscussion, Types and Stereotypes due by 05:59AM
Oct 10, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Oct 14, 2020WedDiscussion, (RPCA) Section Intro, Religion in Popular Culture and Iwamura, "The Oriental Monk"due by 05:59AM
Oct 15, 2020ThuDiscuss (RPCA) Arjana, "Monstrous Muslims"due by 05:59AM
Oct 15, 2020ThuZoom Sessiondue by 04:30PM
Oct 17, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Oct 21, 2020WedSupplemental Reading Presentation and Discussion, Altars Where we Worship, Presentation 1due by 05:59AM
Oct 22, 2020ThuSupplemental Reading Presentation and Discussion, Altars Where we Worship, Presentation 2due by 05:59AM
Oct 23, 2020FriSupplemental Reading Presentation and Discussion, Religion and Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approachdue by 05:59AM
Oct 24, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Oct 28, 2020WedRead and discuss, (RPCA) Intro, Popular Culture in Religion, (RPCA) Peterson and Echchaibi, “Mipsterz: Hip, American, and Muslim” due by 05:59AM
Oct 30, 2020FriDiscussion: Covid 19/Social Media/Religious Practicedue by 05:59AM
Oct 31, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 05:59AM
Nov 07, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Nov 12, 2020ThuRead and discuss: (RPCA) Brehm and Rees, "Mirror, Mirror on Ourselves: Disney as a Site of Religio-Cultural Dialogue"due by 06:59AM
Nov 13, 2020FriZoom Session due by 05:30AM
Nov 13, 2020FriPost your Research Paperdue by 06:59AM
Nov 14, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Nov 18, 2020WedDiscussion, Forbes, "Christmas is Like a Snowball"due by 06:59AM
Nov 20, 2020FriPost your Application Projectdue by 06:59AM
Nov 21, 2020SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM