Mary Anne Beavis says churches are increasingly using pop culture to present the faith.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Mary Anne Beavis says churches are increasingly using pop culture to present the faith.

February 9, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The landscape of religious studies has changed dramatically in recent decades due to the development of social media, says a Saskatchewan biblical scholar.

Mary Ann Beavis says in contemporary society the media is omnipresent and people increasingly conceptualize and live their religious lives via the media.

Especially in the 21st century religious leaders, teachers and academics have moved to use popular culture to convey their message, Beavis said in an interview following a lecture on the topic.

Many churches now use big screens, PowerPoints and videos during their worship services, she noted. At movie nights in churches the faithful discuss popular movies and talk about spirituality in relationship to the movie.

"Religious institutions and leaders and teachers are integrating pop culture more into the way they present spirituality," Beavis said. "At the same time, the creators of popular culture are continually integrating religious themes into their productions."

A professor in the department of religion and culture at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Beavis spoke about the relationship between religion and pop culture at Concordia University College in Edmonton Jan. 27.

SOCIAL MEDIA

In 2001 she founded The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, an online publication that offers an academic forum for publishing articles in this eld.

In one article in the journal, Beavis said the landscape of religious studies has changed dramatically from two decades ago due to the development of social media and online forms of religion.

Evidence of a paradigm shift in contemporary religious expression is visible in the proliferation of online blogs and devotional sites for digitally literate religiously faithful, she said.

"As a new trend in the world of popular culture and media studies, online religion may have signicant long-lasting impacts on how religion is communicated, studied, propagated, interpreted and polemicized in the 21st century," Beavis wrote.

"Digitally connected Roman Catholics can now send text messages to both the pope and to contemplative friars requesting their helpful prayers."

RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION

"These rapid developments involving online religion speak to the timely importance of religion and popular culture today because modes of religious expression are dynamic and changing."

Religion today is everywhere, not just in the Bible or in scholarly books, Beavis said in the interview. "It's all-pervasive (because) it resonates with people."

The Da Vinci Code book and movie served to get people interested in religion, Beavis said.

"What is significant from the standpoint of the Catholics or Christians is that there is this craving among Christians to see a human Jesus."

A MORE HUMAN JESUS

The notion that Jesus could be married and have children has greater appeal than the tendency to see him as a supernatural being disconnected from ordinary human affairs, she said.

Beavis urged caution when using pop culture to spread the Gospel message. "If you don't exercise critical thinking and critical acumen from your own faith tradition and from the academic perspective, you can badly misinterpret what's going on in popular culture and how it relates to your faith."