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AQA GCE Religious Studies AS Unit E Religion, Art and the Media Dr Debbie Herring Senior Tutor, Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield Specialist in Religion and.

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Presentation on theme: "AQA GCE Religious Studies AS Unit E Religion, Art and the Media Dr Debbie Herring Senior Tutor, Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield Specialist in Religion and."— Presentation transcript:

1 AQA GCE Religious Studies AS Unit E Religion, Art and the Media Dr Debbie Herring Senior Tutor, Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield Specialist in Religion and Culture PhD in Contextual Theology in Cyberspace

2 Guidance on use of the Internet All students, of whatever age, should be encouraged to use the internet safely in accordance with the school’s or college’s policy, and under guidance of what is considered appropriate for their age and ability. None of the sites mentioned in this presentation can guarantee that free, unsupervised access is free from risk.

3 Religion on the Internet the variety of material related to religion on the Internet; the opportunities and challenges of the Internet for religion and religious responses to them; virtual religion Religion on television (TV) televangelism, its nature and impact; the presentation of religious themes in popular broadcasting, e.g. ‘The Simpsons’; traditional religious broadcasting; the significance of religious broadcasting for religion AS Unit E, Topic 4 Cyber religion and TV religion

4 Why these topics are different In all other topics, the students have limited or no knowledge, and it is the task of the teacher to supply facts and knowledge in structured and organised ways In these topics, students have a lot of knowledge. It is the task of the teacher to help them organise, analyse and evaluate that knowledge

5 Religion on the Internet Content –the variety of material related to religion on the Internet; the opportunities and challenges of the Internet for religion and religious responses to them; virtual religion Issues arising –is the Internet an asset to religion? (Specification) –does it trivialise religion? (Specification) –relationship of virtual religion to real-life religion

6 From “One Possible Approach to Delivering the Specification” The Internet as a way of engaging in religious activity AND Virtual Religion

7 In the above document, it is suggested that you look at engaging in religion online, and virtual religion as two ways of considering the uses and effects of the internet. I’m going to briefly suggest ways into this by looking at some examples and exploring ways they can be used From “One Possible Approach to Delivering the Specification”

8 Challenger Memorial Service On 28 January 1986, the US space shuttle Challenger broke up 73 seconds after lift off, killing the seven crew on board. An early online community, Unison, held an online real-time memorial service on 29 January

9 From Two events in 1986 cemented the relationships that were forming between the individuals and the denominations that coexisted on Unison at that time. The first was the crash of the NASA spaceship, Challenger, on 28 January In response to the tragedy, Fred Dudden, owner of the Unison system, contacted Gordon Laird of UCHUG, and asked if there was some way to conduct an online memorial service for the Challenger crew, their families, and for all those who mourned the loss Challenger Memorial Service

10 Overnight, Gordon, and Unison staffer, Diana Campbell, organized an entire memorial service, led by four pastors of different denominations: Gordon, Jim Collie (PCUSA), Michael Henderson (United Methodist) and Curt Ackley (United Church of Christ). Most of the parts of the service were read-only notes, but there were several places in the service for people to post their own prayers, and their thoughts about the tragedy. The service ended with a "coffee hour“, conducted in the Speakeasy section of the system, where people could express their sadness about the explosion, and their thanks to those who created the memorial service. Reading the service today, it has lost none of its poignancy; one can only imagine the impact it had at the time of the crash Challenger Memorial Service

11 Challenger Memorial Service

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13 Church of Fools From May to September 2004, the Methodist Church and the online Christian community set up and ran the Church of Fools using a 3D online gaming environment with user- controlled avatars. You may not be familiar with this kind of thing, but you can be pretty sure the majority of students are!

14 St Pixels Some of the people who had been involved in the Church of Fools set up and migrated to St Pixels when Church of Fools closed. This is mainly text based interaction

15 Second Life Second Life is a 3D simulation environment where users create and personalise their own space, interact, and share public space in real time. It lists around 50 churches, several of which have significant numbers of members

16 ichurch Set up by the Anglican Diocese of Oxford as an online community and church

17 Other faiths The major world faiths have engaged with the possibilities of the internet in similar ways, though there are generally fewer spoof sites. I’m going to focus on Christianity, but the same exercise can be applied to any or all of the other faiths, e.g. Passover Seder and other Jewish festivals at online at Online Puja (Hinduism) at Guide to Salat (Islam) at Buddhist meditation online at Sikh Hukamnama at

18 Religion Online vs Virtual Religion The significant differences between looking at religious material online and virtual religion depends as much on the viewer / user as on the content

19 Content Some religions / churches exist ONLY online Some religions / churches are online offshoots of major denominations or movements Some religions / churches are part of the work and life of real-life church communities

20 User 1.Some people look at online religious sites 2.Some people interact with online religious sites 3.Some people engage in religious activity using religious sites Only the third can really be described as “Virtual Religion”

21 Issues around religion online and virtual religion Participationinteractivity which contributes to the whole-group experience, singing, praying Communitymany dimensions to community, not all of which can be done online Physical actions prayer movements, movement around the worship area. Text-based actions, avatar movements Presencepilgrimage, gathering, priesthood Props and consumables offerings, sacraments, candles, incense

22 Ninian Smart offers a taxonomy for evaluating religion. He suggests that religions have a number of “dimensions” all of which contribute to the whole experience of religious life. Some religions emphasise specific dimensions and downplay others. This is a useful tool for evaluating religious activity online (summary at Ninian Smart The World’s Religions

23 Seven “dimensions of religion” The Practical and Ritual Dimension The Experiential and Emotional Dimension The Narrative or Mythic Dimension The Doctrinal and Philosophical Dimension The Ethical and Legal Dimension The Social and Institutional Dimension The Material Dimension

24 Evaluating cyber-religion Various manifestations of cyber-religion can be evaluated using Smart’s dimensions. I suggest questions such as: How, if at all, does this site / experience deal with ritual / emotion / narrative, etc? One way of comparing virtual and real manifestations of religion is to use Smart. This can be done generically, or with reference to one specific religion or denomination / church

25 Religion on television (TV) Content –televangelism, its nature and impact; the presentation of religious themes in popular broadcasting, e.g. ‘The Simpsons’; traditional religious broadcasting; the significance of religious broadcasting for religion Issues arising –Is TV an asset to religion? –Televangelism: cult or religion? –Popular TV: does it trivialise religion?

26 Religious Themes in The Simpsons Series 8, episode 8 Hurricane Neddy First aired in the US on 29 December 1996 Springfield has been hit by a hurricane. We pick up the episode as Homer Simpson emerges from the house as the wind dies down

27 Actually… The house falls down, Ned goes mad and it takes a lot of therapy to restore his faith and sanity. But there’s enough in just 5 minutes of the episode to work with

28 Variety of themes Portrayal of religious people: members of the Flanders family, Revd Lovejoy. Questions about religious faith and practice: why do bad things happen to good people? Approaches to prayer (Marge and Ned) Christian living: Ned’s prayer is all about keeping rules Biblical interpretation: “I feel like Job”, “a tad melodramatic”, “Job was right-handed” Ethics: Responding to adversity Philosophy: The problem of evil, the nature of miracles

29 How are themes portrayed With humour Presented in such a way that the viewer can evaluate positively or negatively Even in episodes like this, it is not ‘about’ religion. It is ‘about’ the Simpsons and their friends, and religion is a taken-for- granted part of their lives

30 Promotes or undermines? Humorous, mass media, cartoon presentation makes this accessible to a very large constituency of all ages and abilities Takes the fact of religious belief and practice seriously Introduces serious religious themes

31 But… Shows key religious practices, such as prayer and the Bible being misused Portrays Christians as confused and / or hypocritical Does not allow for extended development of big questions

32 Extending the scope Using this analysis of The Simpsons, one way of moving forward is to watch other kinds of TV programme (US and UK sit-coms, soaps, drama, documentary, chat shows) to identify some of the same or similar themes and compare the treatment of them. It’s useful to try and include things that the students are likely to be familiar with – try Hollyoaks, Vicar of Dibley, as well as explicitly religious programmes such as Songs of Praise and things from The God Channel.

33 Interweaving both parts of the topic Smart’s dimensions of religion provides a useful analytical tool for TV as well as for internet religion Questions about portrayal, themes, ethics, etc. can be asked about both media in the same terms Open exploration of how far TV represents reality or virtuality may intrigue and challenge students

34 Remember… Students live in a culture where the distinctions between real and virtual are blurred, where there is a continuum encompassing –face-to-face reality –mobile phone conversations and texts –internet messaging –internet resources –TV, terrestrial, cable and satellite

35 So… …they are going to find these topics exciting, challenging and relevant to their lives If you can tap into that, this could be the best fun you ever have together in the classroom. Enjoy!

36 ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND PULISHERS Permission to reproduce all copyright material has been applied for. In some cases efforts to contact copyright-holders have been unsuccessful and AQA will be happy to rectify any omissions of acknowledgements in future papers if notified.


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