ReligionProf Podcast Episode 12 with Matthew Brake

ReligionProf Podcast Episode 12 with Matthew Brake November 21, 2018


Matt Brake and I geek out about pop culture in this episode of the ReligionProf Podcast. Matt is the series editor for the new book series that Lexington and Fortress have launched, focused on the intersection of theology and popular culture. Last week on the podcast the focus was religious studies and Star Wars. This time it’s theology and popular culture. But the two (theology and religious studies, I mean) are not always as far apart as might first appear. The new series I mention is focused on “theology” in the broadest sense, and in the sense that it is often used in Europe, as including the study of religion using secular tools and methods, as well as formulating a viewpoint as an insider to a tradition. In Europe the gulf is less wide since most countries and most universities have some religious connection, and it is with what Americans would call a Mainline denomination, which among other things means one that embraces the application of historical and other secular methods to the study of their tradition and its scriptures.

Of related interest, see recent ASOR articles on topics such as Ancient Near Eastern “comics” and dragons in the Bible. See too the article in The Conversation about how speculative fiction transitioned from denigrated to respected genre.

See too this review of ΘeoCon, which both Matt and I attended:

Review – ΘeoCon: Where Theology and Popular Culture Meet

Also of interest, Stephen Garner has been sharing a series of blog posts on his favorite Childhood Science Fiction. Here is what he has shared thus far:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8.1
Part 8.2

He also blogged about “Celluloid Spiders,” inspired by a recent as well as a much older episode of Doctor Who, as well as childhood memories of science fiction themed ice cream. Science fiction intersects with everything!

See also Ross Murray’s article on Lutheran theology in The Good Place.

Let me also mention the article by Jack Fennell about Irish science fiction, which offered these helpful perspectives on the genre:

Sci-fi is different from horror and fantasy in the way it presents itself as being consonant with history as we know it. When we watch Star Trek, for example, we see lots of things that are simply impossible according to the laws of physics as we understand them today – an object with mass just cannot travel faster than the speed of light. However, the series gets over that hump by setting the stories hundreds of years into the future: time marches on, history keeps going, and it is implied that eventually, someone will invent a work-around. Thus, sci-fi “pretends to be history” and if we follow historians’ lead in describing history as the study of causes, then this encompasses not just causality but probability. It doesn’t have to take place centuries into the future, as long as it presents its weirdness as being “natural” rather than supernatural. Whatever you’re looking at, there is some kind of logic at work behind it…

One of my favourite tools for teaching sci-fi is a hypothetical “time phone” with which one could communicate with someone living in the 1920s. What meaning would a receiver in, say, 1928 infer from the sentence, “John shuffled his iPod and listened to the Rolling Stones”? To someone without our frame of reference, the first image to spring to mind might be pure nonsense – a young man calmly listening to an avalanche while shaking a pea-pod full of eyeballs – but given enough time, we can assume that the listener would be able to work out that the Rolling Stones are a band, and that an iPod is a device for listening to music. This is what the esteemed science fiction critic Darko Suvin called “cognitive estrangement”: the reader understands that there is a coherent context behind it all, waiting to be deciphered. Thus, every science fiction story is also a detective story, to an extent.

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  • John MacDonald

    I loved the discussion of all the new “works in the works!” I must admit, it is on my bucket list to get an article published in some venue one day. I think it would be a real accomplishment and testimony to a life well lived to publish an academic article and be able to share it with friends and family and cherish as a keepsake. On my online diary/web log I’ve been (among other things) blogging my way through Derrida’s 1964/65 lecture course on Heidegger, which I hope to be able to eventually turn into an essay and submit to a Derrida journal. I have my fingers crossed!