PBS Gets Religion

By S. Brent Plate

So Mitt might put the axe to Big Bird. Which is a crying shame for so many reasons. For those of us interested in the religion-media connect, PBS just gave us another one. This week they posted “Is Doctor Who a Religion?” on their “Idea Channel,” launched last February. There’s plenty of non-sense floating around the internet showing religious connections to this and that and the other, most of it based on some sloppy notions of religion that most of my first-year college students can see beyond.

But check out this PBS video, which is slickly made (a bit fast-paced but that’s the trend), and contains many morsels of good info. Specifically, they use anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s now-classic definition of religion:

a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence {the video ends here, though Geertz’s definition continues: and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.

The video gives (quick) overviews of several religious traditions, not in pretense of defining them, but to challenge the standard conception of religion as meeting in a specific building and reading from a “very old important book about a powerful man in the sky” (graphics from the Simpsons and Monty Python nicely complement the point). The Geertz definition has come under criticism in the past few decades but it serves as a good reference point for ways to think about religion in a non-Protestant oriented way, and gets beyond the emphasis on God and bible that plague popular views of religion.

Doctor Who, the video suggests, might be thought of as a religion because of its cosmological accounts, the ways the Doctor transcends space and time, but also because of its fan base, the Whovians. The video even quotes from Emile Durkheim to discuss the socially binding elements.

In short, these aresome of the best approaches to pop culture and religion around. All from the minds of PBS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *