American Religion and Popular Culture in Theoretical Perspective

This course provides an introduction to critical issues in and approaches to the study of religion and popular culture in America. We will self-reflexively consider what counts as “religion” in America, why, according what criteria, how definitions of religion change over time, and who has the authority to decide what falls into this category and what is excluded. In thinking through these questions, students will be asked to problematize “high” versus “low” culture distinctions, definitional oppositions between “the sacred” and “the profane,” and theoretical divisions between what is labeled as “religious” and “secular.” Examining a series of case studies drawn from film, television, popular music, performance art, and consumer culture, we explore the ways in which various forms of popular culture not explicitly recognized as being “religious” arguably take on religious dimensions. Where do we “see” or do not “see” religion, and what cultural and aesthetic factors (including iconographic and mythic representations of “America”) might shape these perceptions? Finally, we consider the export of American religion and popular culture to a global audience and the broader cultural ramifications of this phenomenon.


This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

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