Category Archives: Lectures (Religion and Popular Culture)

This category contains the lecture material I presented in this course. While this course can be taught in many diverse ways- I wanted to share my syllaus and lecture material for this topic.


Georgia State University                                                          SPRING 2009


CRN:18608    section:005

Location: Classroom South 510

Instructor: Daley

Class times: Tues/Thurs 11:00-12:15

Office hours: Mon/Wed 1:30-2:30 pm, Tues/Thurs 9:30-10:30 am

Office: room #1147  11th floor of34 Peachtree Street 

Motto: “You don’t have to believe anything, but you must know everything.”

“Religion and Literature is a discipline that was developed at the Universityof Chicagoin the 1940’s and 1950’s. The desire of these scholars is to examine the problematic of religion in the modern world. We explore basic human questions, such as those of identity, community, ethical action, and spirituality and how those have been expressed in literature. The language of such an exploration is sometimes specifically Christian; sometimes it interprets Christian language in a new way; sometimes, it is in deep disagreement with Western tradition and seeks a new way, but often, the religious meanings are developing and hybrid, using a number of traditions in syncretic ways.”   -Dr. Carolyn Medine

 Description of course: We will examine how religious institutions, beliefs, and values have been presented in and challenged within novels. Readings include selected novels and short stories as well as theoretical work done by scholars working in the field of religion and literature. Topics will include the Enlightenment, religious and literary reactions to the Enlightenment, Colonialism and confinement literature, literal and theoretical pilgrimage and rite of passage, as well as, various cultural definitions of manhood.

Primary learning objectives:

By the end of this course, students will be well-versed in the Western tradition’s methods of construction of the “self,” be it through religious designation, cognition (Descartes), narration (autobiography), or via the “self/other” dichotomy.   

 Course requirements:

*Students are required to complete ALL assignments by the due date.*

*Students must come to class well-prepared to be actively engaged on the topic of the day. This requires students to read all materials assigned.*

*Students must bring their textbook and course copy packet with them to class each day.*

Section I- Religion and Science/ Gods and Monsters– Western religion is still reeling from the overwhelming effects of the 18th century Enlightenment. The Age of Reason brought with it not only advancements in philosophy, science, and medicine, it also shed light on many superstitions. Unfortunately, Religion also came under attack. Frankenstein asks fundamental questions about the advances of science and the ethical implications of these advancements. Dracula also addresses the clash between Old World superstition and The Age of Reason. Both novels navigate the borders between divinity and humanity, as well as bounds of monstrosity.

Section II- The Hero Journey and Rite of Passage – First, we will address rite of passage’s movement “underground,” from, solely, the realm of Religion spreading into multiple cultural expressions, such as Literature. Looking at the structure of rite of passage and the hero journey will assist us in recognizing these patterns in certain pieces of literature. Using Joseph Campbell’s monomyth concept, we will gain a richer insight into the ritual movement in The Alchemist.

The primary movement of a rite of passage, as illustrated by cultural anthropologist Victor Turner, is one from innocence, as initiate, to experience, as re-incorporated society member. The initiate moves from a state of innocence through a trial or trials, in which he or she is marked, and re-enters the community transformed. This ritual movement manifests itself in certain literary texts, such as the novel we will examine, To Kill a Mockingbird

 Section III- Manhood and Courage- What makes a man a man? Despite the obvious physical demarcations which separate male and female, cultures also assign certain personality traits, skills, and actions as “natural” for men and women. American culture is no different, often assigning courage as a masculine attribute. We will explore the relationship between manhood and courage in two remarkable novels, Montana 1948 and A Lesson Before Dying.

REQUIRED TEXTS- The following are the required texts for this course. It is your job to have them, read them, and BRING THEM TO CLASS, as we will be working with them each day. Books are located at the GSU bookstore… you can also find them online.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Signet Classics, 2000, 978-0-451-52771-4

Dracula by Bram Stoker, Bantam Classics, 1983, 0-0553-21271-0

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, HarperPerennial, 1998, 0-06-250218-2

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Warner Books, 1960, 0-446-31078-6

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson, Washington SquarePress, Pocket Books, 1993, 0-671-50703-6

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993, 0-679-45561-2

Course copy packet  from The Print Shop (you will need the CRN #)

Grading policy:

100 %= A+                 99-96%= A               90-95%= A-                 

86-89%= B+               83-85%= B                80-82%= B-

76-79%= C+               73-75%=C                 70-72%=C-

60-69%= D                 59% or below= F


Test 1: 25%

Test 2: 25%

Paper: 20%

Final exam: 30% (in-class essay exam)

 Papers: All papers written for this class must be typed, double-spaced, 12 point font, and between 5-7 pages in length. ALL SOURCES MUST BE DOCUMENTED and listed on a WORKS CITED PAGE at the end of your paper. Please use MLA documentation style.

 Attendance policy: Students should attend class regularly. You will not receive an attendance grade. However, a word of caution, there is a direct correlation between students who come to class and those who do well in this class.

 Make-up examination and late papers: Emergency cases only: Should a student miss an exam due to an emergency, they must provide official documentation explaining why they missed the exam: for example: a doctor’s note, a tow-truck slip, a note from another academic or government office. Make-up exams must be completed within 1 week of the original exam date. All make-up exams will be different from the original exam. One letter grade will automatically be deducted from all papers turned in late. Papers turned in more than one week late will not be accepted.

ONLINE: Summary:

ONLINE: Romanticism- a reaction to the Enlightenment-

ONLINE: Read the myth of Prometheus:

ONLINE: Read summary of Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Joseph Campbell- Hero Journey Diagram

Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth

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Filed under Lectures (Academic Study of Religion), Lectures (Myth and Rites of Passage), Lectures (Religion and Literature), Lectures (Religion and Popular Culture)

Introduction to Timothy Miller’s book, America’s Alternative Religions

I.Introduction to America’s Alternative Religions:

  A. American religion since late 1900s:1. diversification, 2. decentralization, 3. largest denominations losing #s, 4. world religions on the rise, 5. changes within largest traditional denominations  (i.e. charismatic movement)

  B. Purpose of this book, America’s Alternative Religions edited by Timothy Miller, $32.95 Paperback, Release Date: July 1995, ISBN10: 0-7914-2398-0, ISBN13: 978-0-7914-2398-1

    1. Introduction to various religions 

    2. give a sense of historical development of groups in question

    3. objective sketch

  C. Alternative terminology:

    1. sect= usually refers to a dissident group that has separated from another   (usually mainstream)

    2. cult= small, intense religious group whose ties to mainstream groups are  less pronounced, usually led by   a  single  charismatic leader

  (academics avoid these terms due to the words’ pejorative nature)

    3. other terms to use: marginal, nonmainstream, new religious movement

    4. alternative religions

  D. Mainstream and Alternative: Finding the Dividing Line

    1. center and margin

    2. Mainstream American Religions: usually described as Christian and Jewish

    The Catholic Church

    Protestant Denominations

    3 Nationally prominent movements in Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform)

    Eastern Orthodox Christianity

  3. Protestant groups: “all Christendom not encompassed by Catholicism   or Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

  prominent: Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Disciples of   Christ, Baptists, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ,   nondemoninational churches

  demonination= “a  religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and  practices” (

  Identifiable hallmark: tolerance… belief that these main denominations “are   all essentially legitimate expressions of the historic Christian faith.” (3)

  4. Mainstream Jewish groups: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and   Reconstructionist

  5. Catholicism: still largely a single organization, kept many dissidents at   bay excommunication) 

  6. Eastern Orthodox: composed of some dozens of independent historic   churches united by history and common cause

  7. “mainstream” term is historically and geographically located

  E. The Alternative Religions:

  Are there any clear markers to distinguish between the mainstream and alternative religions?


1. Leadership:  usually have educated, paid clergy              
2. Organization: usually highly structured                               
3. Size: mainstream religions are often the largest               
4. Membership: birthright, less demanding                             
5. Worship: orderly, calm, preplanned worship                    
6. Dedication to duty: usually once a week                             
 7. Social status: usually more connected to wealthy         
1. tend to have charismatic, lay leadership
2. tend to be less structured
3. tend to be smaller
4. emphasis on moral community
5. fervent spontaneous services
6. more substantial demands
7. usually appeal to poor and uneducated

**None of these 7 categorical markers are entirely or mainly accurate**

  F. The Alternative Scene:

  How many people are part of these alternative religions in America?

  G. Hostility toward alternative religions not new (5)

  H. Why do people join?

  Transformation: Victor Turner and others… “the initiate joining a new   religion or making other comparable life changes is in a state of liminality,   of transition”

  I. Totalism?

  “Most sustained example of ‘totalism’ in the Western world has been Catholic   monasticism…” obedience, voluntary poverty, sexual abstinence, lifetime  commitment

  J. The influence of these alternative religions?

   1965: The repeal of the Asian Exclusion Act:

 Used to limit immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe:

  “Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921, limiting entrants from each nation to 3 percent of that nationality’s presence in the U.S. population as recorded by the 1910 census. As a result, immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe dropped to less than one-quarter of pre-World War I levels. Even more restrictive was the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) that shaped American immigration policy until the 1960s.”

  “During congressional debate over the 1924 Act, Senator Ellison DuRant Smith of South Carolina drew on the racist theories of Madison Grant to argue that immigration restriction was the only way to preserve existing American resources.”

  Used to discourage Asian Indian immigrants from seeking citizenship: “In its decision in the case of U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), the Supreme Court deemed Asian Indians ineligible for citizenship because U.S. law allowed only free whites to become naturalized citizens. The court conceded that Indians were “Caucasians” and that anthropologists considered them to be of the same race as white Americans, but argued that “the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences.” The Thind decision also led to successful efforts to denaturalize some who had previously become citizens. This represented a particular threat in California, where a 1913 law prohibited aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning or leasing land.”

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