As Above, So Below: Religion in December

Religious nonfiction falls into two broad categories - devotional and religious studies. Devotional works are meant to help an individual or group grow closer to the sacred heart of their religious faith. Religious studies, on the other hand, are the academic study of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions. The two are not, of course, mutually exclusive - many people find greater understanding of and faith in devotional practices that incorporate academic religious study, and others are drawn to religious study of their own and other faiths because of their devotional studies.

December's Main Read is brought to you courtesy of Castiel, the Angel of Thursdays, who has long had an interest in the intersection of religion and popular culture. (Just...don't ask him about the pizza man.) Check it out:

Understanding Religion and Popular Culture
Welcome to the exciting and rapidly evolving field of study known as Religion and Popular Culture! This relatively new academic area is emerging as an important subset of two larger subject areas known as Religious Studies and Cultural Studies, and is represented by a growing number of courses found in institutions of higher education. A cursory glance at colleges, universities, seminaries, theology schools, and other graduate schools reveals a plethora of courses that reflect, to various degrees, the subject matter of this field. These include, but are not limited to, such things as: Religion and Media Studies, Religion/Theology and Film, Religion and Literature, Ethics in Pop Culture and Entertainment, Religion in Contemporary America, Religion and Politics, Communication Studies, and of course, Religion and Popular Culture.

How is religion reflected in popular culture, and how does popular culture influence religion? Whether we're discussing Luke's spiritual growth away from violence as a Jedi in Star Wars, global climate change denial as an outgrowth of a religion of consumption, or the religious symbolism of food in The Lord of the Rings, we can see plenty of ways that religion and popular culture intersect with and impact each other. Understanding Religion and Popular Culture is a collection of works by experts in the field that serves as an introductory text for those interested in the topic, with handy summaries, definitions, and recommended further readings at the end of each chapter. While it is an introductory text and therefore quite accessible to newcomers to religious studies, it can also be enlightening for those who are familiar with that field. Very highly recommended for those who need to understand more about this important topic - which would be most, and probably all, of us.


Castiel also brings us this month's Quick Read. I reminded him that December is supposed to be nonfiction; he was very confused. He insists these sorts of conversations with Christ happen all the time, and perhaps we need to listen closer:

Coffee with Jesus
Coffee with Jesus was born out of my frustration with the heated political climate in my country. The ownership of the "Christian" thing to do, or the "Christian" way to vote, was being claimed by people and politicians from both ends of the political spectrum.

In Coffee with Jesus, David Wilkie presents a series of comic strips introducing us to characters perhaps too much like ourselves, who interact with a Jesus we might not recognize. Gently thought provoking, this Jesus does not expect instant perfection but gradually leads his followers along the way - while enjoying a good cup of coffee. While I may not agree with everything Wilkie puts in Jesus's mouth (I've yet to find anyone I agree with on everything), each short strip gives you plenty to ponder, and could be an interesting conversation starter for Christian study groups. Recommended for people who take their Christianity seriously - but not humorlessly. It's also recommended for those who read Understanding Religion and Popular Culture - here's a great opportunity to use what you learned!

If you'd like to know more about religious studies and popular culture, or want recommendations for other areas of religious studies (or devotional material), let me know, and I'll ask Castiel for angelic advice.

That's it for December and for our year of reading recommendations from the Readers Advisory Committee! Next year, we'll be doing something a little different - keep an eye out for that. Happy reading!

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