Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Star Trek and Religion

Thursday the 2nd:

Tomorrow is our final Film Response day, on two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager:

"Emanations," Season 1, Episode 8 (Netflix)
"Blink of An Eye," Season 6, Episode 12 (Netflix)

As Pearson described in our first ST reading, Voyager comes later in the Star Trek cannon, after Rodenberry's death.  As you watch, think about the show's attitude towards religion and how it has changed since the Original Series.

As always, come tomorrow with your Film Response paper (700 words) and notes from the episode.  No blog comments are required.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Wednesday the 1st:

Tomorrow is our third film response day, on the documentary Trekkies.  Take notes as you watch, and try to view the film with a religious studies scholar's eyes.  Look for the strange familiar, and don't be afraid to laugh. 

Bring your 700 + word paper to class tomorrow. For previous film responses I have encouraged free reign over any theme, scene, or character, but for Trekkies I'd like for you to focus specifically on the religiosity of this group.  Here are some optional questions, to get you thinking: Do any persons or practices strike you as particularly religious?  Are conventions pilgrimage sites?  What kind of worldview does Star Trek offer, and why does it appeal to these Trekkies?

No blog comments required.  I'm looking forward to hearing your responses!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Religious Fandom

Tuesday the 31st

For Tuesday we'll read about religious fandom, with two articles that will set us up for Trekkies.  They are:

Jindra, "Star Trek Fandom as a Religious Phenomenon" and

Porter, "To Boldly Go: Star Trek Convention Attendance as Pilgrimage"

The Jindra article may seem a bit dated since he's writing about the internet as a new phenomenon, but stick with it.  He has a lot of great data and some wonderful examples of the sheer scale of Star Trek Fandom. 

Have fun with the Porter and pay attention to how she applies Victor Turner's model of pilgrimage onto ST conventions.  If you are running out of time, skip Porter's last section, "Negotiating the Sacred" (260-267) but do read the conclusion afterwards.

Looking forward to your comments!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Star Trek and Post-Nationalism

Monday the 30th:

Lozanda, "Star Trekking in China," in Religion and Science Fiction
   In what might be the strongest essay in our textbook, Eriberto Lozanda compares science fiction in America and China.  His look at Chinese culture and sci-fi puts our own values into some relief, especially our assumptions about the future of the nation state.  Read this essay slowly- it will be worth your careful attention. 

"The Chase," TNG: Season 6, Episode 20 (Netflix)
   "The Chase" is Star Trek's origin story, explaining how it is that aliens across the universe all have human-like forms.  It plays into the ancient aliens hypothesis a bit, but also tells a morality tale about why human(oids) shouldn't let petty differences get between them.

RP4b Due
   If you didn't write a paper for Friday, this will be your very last response paper!  Here's the prompt:

What are "scientism" and "nationalism," and how do these themes tie into Chinese history, culture, and science fiction?  How does this compare to the American sci-fi we have explored so far?

Looking forward to your comments!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Star Trek and Secular Humanism

Friday the 27th:

Tomorrow begins our Star Trek unit, and we'll start with an overview of ST's depiction of religion.

Pearson, "From Thwarted Gods to Reclaimed Mystery?" in Star Trek and Sacred Ground
    Pearson offers a nice overview of religious themes in Star Trek, from the Original Series through Voyager.  Pay close attention to the views of Gene Roddenberry, but also take note of how religion changes from series to series.

Two Episodes
    We'll also discuss two episodes that offer similar critiques of religion, and illustrate the secular humanist values of Star Trek.  They are:

"The Apple," TOS: Season 2, Episode 5 (Netflix)

"Who Watches the Watchers," TNG: Season 3, Episode 4 (Netflix)*

RP4a Due
   You have the option to turn in a response paper tomorrow or on Monday.  Option A is on the following prompt:

What were Gene Roddenberry's views on religion and humanity when he started Star Trek, and how did ST's treatment of religion change over time?  Describe and compare the place of religion in two ST series, and tell me which of those two you find more interesting and why.

*Note: This week I'll refer to Star Trek series according to these canonical abbreviations:
TOS = The Original Series
TNG = The Next Generation
DS9 = Deep Space Nine
VOY = Voyager

Looking forward to your comments!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ancient Aliens

Thursday the 26th

Tomorrow is our second film response day!  Bring your 700 word responses on "The Evidence," Episode One of the first season of Ancient Aliens.  As before, take notes throughout the episode and mark down timestamps.  Treat the Ancient Alien hypothesis as we did Apocalypic AI- where do these ideas come from, and what assumptions do they make about religion and human identity? Here's a Netflix link to the episode.

Also, tomorrow Daniel will open with a summary of a recent New Yorker article about aliens in science fiction.  Here's a link if you're interested.

No comments required for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Wednesday the 25th:

Robertson, “Sorcerers and Supermen,” in Religion and Science Fiction
   Read this essay first, and pay close attention to Robertson's claims.  Do you think it is useful to think about superheroes as modern equivalents of mythological gods?  What about robots and aliens?

Thor (2011)
   Of all the recent superhero movies, Thor best illustrates Robertson's thesis, since it is literally about gods who descend to earth in the midst of an epic battle.  As you watch, take notes on key moments and important dialogue.  Pay attention to the way that "science" and "magic" are discussed throughout the film.  Be sure to bring your notes to class.  Thor is available on Netflix- here's the link.

*Note: if you are low on time, fast forward through the gratuitous and formulaic fight scenes.  They are awful.

Looking forward to your comments below!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Extras: Comic Con, Superheros, Futurama

Hey all,

Today we had a great, wide-ranging conversation, and I promised links to some of the topics that came up.  Here they are:

Here's the io9 wrap up of the best of Comic Con, including an in-depth look at the crossover video game/television series, Defiance

We also discussed the documentary Confessions of a Superhero, available here on Netflix.  The documentary focuses on wanna-be movie stars who dress up as superheros to make money on Hollywood Boulevard, but it ends up peering into the psychology of alternate identities.  This ties into Trekkie religion as well.

Robot religion also approached the question of robots-as-gods, which recalls an episode of Futurama that a few people have brought up in the last couple weeks.  It's an episode titled "Godfellas," and it's a fun way to spend 22 minutes.  Here's the Netflix link

Finally, our discussion of co-species evolution evoked Michael's memory of a great documentary, The Botany of Desire, based on an excellent book.  The documentary is also available on Netflix.

These extras are not required, but I thought I'd post them in case you wanted to revisit them later.  For those of you that choose to explore new sci-fi as one of your final exam papers, these may be some good leads.

Apocalyptic AI

Tuesday the 24th

Geraci, "Apocalyptic AI"
   Robert Geraci is the foremost scholar artificial intelligence and religion.  In this essay he analyzes how contemporary AI plays with typical apocalyptic themes.  Read this article first, since it offers an academic's overview of the AI movement.

Kurzweil, "And Bodies," The Age of Spiritual Machines
   In this chapter from his popular book, futurist Ray Kurzweil explores the future of human bodies and posits   a specifically religious part of the brain.  This text is a blend of scholarship, speculation, philosophy, and religion.  As you read it, think about how you are reacting to Kurzweil's ideas and writing style.

Two YouTube Videos

In this recent PBS News Hour interview, Kurzweil discusses the relationship between human bodies and machines.

This trailer is for an adaptation of Kurzweil's most recent book of predictions.  Note the mixed genres.

RP 3b due
   If you didn't write a paper for Monday, you can turn one in for Tuesday's class on the following prompt:

Summarize and analyze at least 2 of the similarities that Geraci draws between contemporary AI enthusiasts and Jewish and Christian apocalypticism.  What are some of the reasons for these similarities?  Do you think Kurzweil is a kind of religious figure?

Looking forward to your comments!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Robot Religion

For Monday the 23rd:

McGrath, “Robots, Rights, and Religion” in Religion and Science Fiction
   In this thorough and provocative essay, McGrath analyzes depictions of robots in sci-fi and explores the philosophical implications of robot consciousness.  As you read, note your own reactions to McGrath's ideas.  Do you think that we will face these philosophical problems in our future?

Asimov, "Reason"
   This short story comes from Asimov's sci-fi classic, I, Robot.  What does robo-religion look like in this story?

The Flaming Lips, "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" 
   This is the second track from The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles Pink Robots, and it tells the story of a robot gaining consciousness.  Listen to the song a few times, and take note of both the lyrics and the way that the music matches with 3000-21's "birth." 

RP3a due Monday
   Next week you have the option of writing a response paper for Monday on Robot Religion or for Tuesday on Apocalyptic AI.  Here's the prompt for Monday's readings:

Summarize, analyze, and evaluate two of McGrath's speculative treatments of android religion (Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism) in Part Two of his essay.  How does McGrath predict that each religion will relate to robotic practitioners? What are the strengths and weaknesses of his arguments?  Do you imagine that things will go differently?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Thursday the 19th: Hyperreality

Borges, "On Exactitude in Science"
   This very-short story is cited by dozens of scholars, perhaps because it is such a rich metaphor for the limits of scientific representation.  Borges is a wonderful writer, and if you like this you may consider reading more of him for your final paper.

This American Life, "Act One: National Tour," Simulated Worlds
    This 13 minute clip (from 5:36-16:45) offers a nice introduction to Eco's essay.  The whole episode is great, but this act offers some audio recordings from one of the museums that Eco visited, along with some insightful commentary by Ira Glass.

Umberto Eco, "Travels in Hyperreality"
   This essay is quite lengthy, but it is full of intriguing observations about the hyper-real in America.  Do your very best with it, and note two or three examples that you find particularly interesting.


Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulations"
    Attached at the end of the Eco PDF is a short excerpt from Baudrillard, an infamous post-modern philosopher who made hyperreality a popular concept.  For the philosophically-inclined, this offers deeper insights into the nature of the simulated.  Give the first paragraph a shot, but if you don't have a taste for it feel free to stop reading.

Looking forward to your comments!

Roadside Religion

Wednesday, July 18

Tomorrow we'll discuss roadside religion, by looking at the work of Tim Beal and some sci-fi shrines.

Beal, "Introduction," Roadside Religion
   Read this chapter carefully, and see if you are reminded of any passages from American Gods. Be sure to print it and bring it with you to class.

Two Short News Articles on Sci-Fi Roadside Shrines:

Finally, watch the video below.  It's a great interview with Tim Beal that includes a pilgrimage.

Looking forward to your comments!

Monday, July 16, 2012

American Gods

Reading for Tuesday, July 17

Gaiman, American Gods, 103-177
   For tomorrow read (or reread) 103-177, where we will see Gaiman explore sacred space and roadside religion.  In the meantime, I'll revise the syllabus to pare down the Gaiman and make room for an extra film day.

Looking forward to your comments below!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sacred Space

Monday, July 16

Next week we'll begin our unit on Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  For Monday we'll read a solid chunk of this novel, along with excerpts from Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane, a classic text in religious studies scholarship.

Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (excerpts)
   Read Eliade first, and give him some time.  Eliade was a comparative thinker, meaning that he gathered a large variety of accounts about indigenous religions and looked for commonalities.  His examples are often fun and interesting, and his conclusions are thought provoking.  His theory of sacred space also directly ties to Gaiman's text.

Gaiman, American Gods, 1-154
   This first chunk of American Gods may seem like a lot, but it is a fast and fun read.  A lot of strange characters will be introduced in these pages, but they're all coming back.  Gaiman doesn't waste any plot elements in this book.  

RP2 due Monday
   The second response paper is also due Monday, on the following prompt:

Describe Eliade's theory of "sacred space."  What are some characteristics of sacred space, and how is it made and maintained?  What is an "axis mundi?"

Looking forward to your comments below!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Planet of the Apes

Friday, July 13th: Planet of the Apes

Tomorrow is our first Film Response day, and it should be really fun.  The idea behind these assignmentsis that films are just as worthy of our critical analysis as texts, and so instead of a Response Paper on writing, we will have a Film Response on something we all watch.

The film for tomorrow is the original 1968 Planet of the Apes.  It's an excellent film that holds up surprisingly well.  Here's a Netflix link

As you watch, be sure to take notes with references to where you are in the movie (for example, "48:30- X crazy awesome thing happened!")  This will make writing your Film Response much easier, and it will give you something to reference in class. 

Film Response Assignment (from syllabus update):
     Bring a 400-700 word response to class based on the assigned film.  Each class member will read their response out loud, to be followed by a discussion of their observations and thoughts.  You are free to write on any elements you wish: it might be a scene, character, theme, dialogue, or anything else that you notice and find interesting.  Try to focus on some of the themes of the class, though this is not strictly necessary.  Film responses will be turned in and graded, so they should be typed and clearly written.

If you have trouble deciding what to focus on, you may consider writing about the relationship between religion and science in the film, the juxtaposition of apes and humans, or the "surprise" ending (so popular it's not even a surprise anymore).

No blog comments are required for Film Response days, but feel free of course.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Death of God

Readings for Thursday the 12th:

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, excerpts
    Nietzsche's "aphorisms" can be read in any order, so feel free to explore this selection from Book 3 of The Gay Science.  At minimum, read the following aphorisms: 125, 108-112, 115, 123-125.  (I recommend reading 125, the famous "Death of God" aphorism, twice, and it's a great way to bookend these provocative declarations.)
    Nietzsche is a difficult author, and it's best to read him slowly.  Today's readings are short, so give yourself plenty of time to digest Nietzsche's work.

Ballard, "The Drowned Giant" 
   SF author J. G. Ballard explore the death of a God literally in this short story.  As you read, pay attention to the "stages" of decay and transformation that occurs to this washed-up god.

RP1: Shadows of God
    Your first Response Paper is due tomorrow (see the syllabus or the update below for details).  Base it on the following prompt:

What do you interpret Nietzsche to mean by the "death of God"?  In aphorism 108 Nietzsche says that we still have to erase God's "shadows."  Based on subsequent aphorisms, what are some examples of shadows of God that still linger today?

Looking forward to your comments below!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science Playing God

Readings for Wednesday, July 11:

MacWilliams, "Science Playing God," in Religion in Science Fiction (80-94)
   In this essay MacWilliams analyzes two key texts- Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau- and shows how they helped to initiate the common theme of "Science Playing God."  Read this text carefully, and think about other media that you've read or watched that plays on this theme.   If you aren't familiar with the texts that MacWilliams discusses, consult Wikipedia.  How do we think of science differently today than during the 1800s?

Chiang, "Catching Crumbs From the Table"
   This short science fiction story was published in a scientific journal, of all places.  It imagines what an article in that journal might look like in the future, summarizing the history of scientific research and technology.  Pay close attention to how computers and machines are treated in this future society.

Fulda, "Godshift"
    Nancy Fulda is a contemporary writer whose short stories are just starting to win some important awards.  "Godshift" is a riff on the classic Science-Gone-Wild motif, but it uses contemporary physics as its setting.  Have fun with this story, and think about its theological implications. What is Fulda saying about God here?

Finally, we'll be reading Brown's "Answer" in class tomorrow.  No need to read it in advance, but bring your syllabus with you to class so you'll have it in front of you.

Comment below with responses to these three readings!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Updated Course Requirements

Updated Course Requirements:

Attendance/Participation: 25%
Attendance is required, and will be taken at the beginning of class. Absences are excused only if negotiated in advance or if there is a medical emergency.  You will get one freebie absence this semester.  Being late to class counts as only partial attendance.
         You will also be graded on both oral and mental participation.  Oral participation involves speaking in class, contributing to conversations, and actively listening to others.  Mental participation involves “being with it,” and actively paying attention to the rest of the class.  Laptops and cell phones are strictly disallowed; their use will result in a one-percentage-point drop from your grade each time.
            Your Attendance/Participation grade will also be based on whether you come prepared to class with the readings in hand, having read the assignments. 

Blog Comments: 10%.
            We will use this blog as a way to share thoughts and questions about the reading, post relevant links, and increase general communication outside of the classroom.  Each class day (with the exception of Film Response days) you will post a comment under the posts for that day's homework assignments. Posts could include comments about the readings, questions about the homework material, a link to something you’ve found online that relates to themes we covered in class, or a response to someone else’s post.  
          Posts are due by midnight each night and should be 2-5 sentences long.

Discussion Leadership: 10%. 
You will also serve as a discussion leader for the class twice this semester.  Discussion leaders facilitate conversation by steering dialogue, asking questions, and having quotes and ideas at the ready.  To prepare to be a discussion leader, read the homework carefully and highlight the most important passages, and read your fellow student's comments under the blog.  Prepare an outline for the discussion so that you can guide the class.  Discussion leaders will meet with me at 9:45 to go over their plan (I am also available earlier).

5 Short Response Papers: 25%.
5 Response Papers (RP’s) will be due over the course of the semester, on topics that will be announced in class and via email. Response papers should be 400-700 words in length and must be typed, 1.5-spaced and turned in at the beginning of class in hard copy.  Paper saving measures are encouraged. RP’s cannot be turned in late.  RP’s should be well edited and must include at least one direct citation of the assigned readings.

3 Film Responses: 15%.
On 3 class days you will be required to bring a 400-700 word response to class based on an assigned film or television episode.  Each class member will read their response out loud, with brief discussions between each reading.  You are free to write on any elements you wish: it might be a scene, character, theme, dialogue, or anything else that you notice and find interesting.  Try to focus on some of the themes of the class, though this is not strictly necessary.  Film responses will be turned in and graded, so they should be typed and clearly written.

Final Paper: 15%. 
In lieu of a final exam there will be a 1,000-1,500 word essay assignment due on the exam day.  A handout detailing the assignment will be distributed in advance.  Final papers must be turned in by 12:45 on Tuesday, August 7, submission details TBA.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Intro to Religion, Science, and Fiction

Welcome to the Religion in Science Fiction blog! I'll be posting readings here for the time being.

Homework for Tuesday, April 10:

McKee, The Gospel According to Science Fiction (excerpts)
    Read the introductory materials and the first 10 pages, then skim the rest and choose one summary to read carefully and discuss in class.

Weingrad, "Why There is No Jewish Narnia" 
    Don't get bogged down in the particulars of the books Weingrad is reviewing, try to get at the heart of his comparison between Christianity/Fantasy and Judaism/Science Fiction.

Shelly, History of Science Fiction
    Follow the link above and spend at least 10 minutes exploring.  Keep a wikipedia tab open and look around for interesting shifts and changes.  (If this doesn't render properly on your browser, Right Click + Save As and then open the file).

   Go over the readings for the next month and pick your top 3 choices for being a discussion leader.  Write them down and bring them to class.

    Leave a comment below about the readings.  Posts should be 2-5 sentences, and can include questions, comments about the readings, responses to specific quotes, or replies to other students' posts.  Comments should be posted by midnight tonight.  Be sure to include your name somewhere.