What is PopTheology?

Ryan: You’d think after blogging for six years we’d know, but it seems like new possibilities for this medium develop all the time. The basic scoop is that Pop Theology examines the intersections of pop culture, religion, theology, and spirituality. The site emerges from the progressive Christian perspective of its editors, but people of any religious affiliation, or none at all, are welcome to read, comment, and join the conversation.

Richard: “Conversation” is an important word here. You’ll find one of our favorite ways to review or discuss a current piece of popular culture is in the form of a dialogue between Ryan and me. We hope with the expanded audience and comments capacity of Patheos.com, we’ll be able to include more of our readers in that conversation. Most important, we consider religion to be in conversation with popular culture. This is where this site differs from many Christian engagements with popular culture. Usually, popular culture just ends up getting used as another vehicle for evangelism, where culture asks all the questions and Jesus and the Bible have all the answers. We think when you “dialogue” with someone, that means you leave yourself open to the possibility of change—even on something as important as your religious beliefs. Therefore, we’re open to the idea that popular culture may address issues of ultimate concern on an equal level, or at times even better than religious, theological, or biblical traditions.

Ryan: We believe that life is a journey, whether defined in religious terms or not, and that we are all on different stages of that journey. We also believe that God seeks to be present at these diverse stages, oftentimes waiting to be found. We are convinced that God exists in our popular culture to varying degrees, and that popular culture can act as a location of engagement, of insight, and even of challenge and critique of our religious assumptions. We find that different examples of pop culture media can be religious or spiritual or offer important theological insights even if they do not contain explicitly religious characters or tell a historically religious story. It is often the case that when a song, film, or television show seriously explores the human condition, theological questions can’t be far behind.

Richard: Our style is informed but informal. Both Ryan and I have taught about intersections between popular culture and religion at the graduate level. Sometimes we like to name-drop from our scholarship just to keep audiences of former students and academic colleagues on their toes. We’re trying to elevate the conversation about popular culture, without locking it in the ivory tower. You’ll find quite a few of the entries are about films—from contemporary blockbusters to silent classics, to foreign and documentary films. Other areas of coverage include: pop music, television, and books about culture and religion. We’re always open to more suggestions.

Ryan: Pop Theology is not necessarily a “review” site, although such critical engagement inevitably plays a role in what we do. At its best, Pop Theology provides a conversation that inspires readers to think beyond the screen or the page and to, as Clive Marsh notes in his book Cinema and Sentiment, “push the ‘more’ dimension of popular culture.” As such this site serves both individuals and faith communities that long to engage popular culture on a deeper level than simple entertainment.