American Jesus

I have not said much about my move to the Brooks School, but that is coming. I wanted to share a course I am organizing to teach as part of the school’s winter term period. It will be a one month in-depth elective course entitled, American Jesus. It is still rough; and in truth, I do not know if I will be teaching it or not. I am still in transition. According to my department chair and the academic dean, I will teach two sections of Modern World History, a section of AP World History, and a section of AP US History. I am a few years removed from teaching a world course, but I am looking forward to reuniting with my syllabus for this course. In truth, it should be a pretty smooth transition here. I will teach a grand total of 40 students throughout these 4 sections.

For many of you who follow my blog, you are pretty much aware of my research and academic writings. Thus, a course that allows students to delve into topics about race, religion, gender, and popular culture seems about normal. Students will find it challenging yet very interesting as we discuss what I call the Jesus question. I recently submitted an essay entitled the Resurrection which juxtaposes race, gangs, and artist such as Tupac to Jesus Christ. I argued a bit of a historical lens linking black suffering under the auspices of slavery and Jim Crow to the modern-day black plight in my essay. It is set to be published this fall. This course on American Jesus looks at the historical, but it is also anthropological and far broader than on matters of race.

Course Description:

The notion of Jesus Christ has been a transformative one over the course of history. This course looks to explore Americans sense of Jesus Christ as promulgated through the lens of American traditionalism, popular culture, music, and academic focus. TV shows such as Family Guy, South Park, and other documentaries aim to encapsulate various views of what Jesus looks like, and who he is to many people. The course will not only explore such TV shows as noted in the aforementioned, but it will also delve into the complexity of race, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, students will examine Americans fascinations with hip-hop artist, such as the late rapper Tupac Shukar who too identified his rhythmic sounds and lyrics to that of Jesus. Artist, such as Tupac, inculcated a sense of lyrical spirit as a representation of black urban suffering. Furthermore, this course will delve into the literature of American religious historians Edward Blum and Paul Harvey whose work, The Color Christ asks the question: How can the Son of God be both a representative of white supremacy and that of racial reconciliation by the 1960s? Students will have the opportunity to read this work as well as Steven Prothero’s American Jesus. Time will also be spent discussing the religious pursuits of popular figures such as Kenye West, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Billy Graham, as well as Presidents such as George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama’s sense of American politics and religiosity. Students will enjoy the viewing and analysis of documentaries that question the reality of Jesus Christ.




11 thoughts on “American Jesus

  1. Sounds like a great class! I wish I could sit in. Do you intend to tie in the representation of Jesus to a national narrative creation (i.e. American) or is it idealogical (i.e. Civil Rights) or perhaps economic (i.e. Capitalism), or some combination of all? Personally, for the 20th century I think looking at the Capitalist Christ (sounds like a weird cereal) explains so much about American foreign and domestic policy.

    • Kyle: it is both; I do not see how to avoid such. The idea for the course started with Prothero’s book, a work that you would greatly enjoy. Civil Rights and Weber’s Protestant work ethic are strong components in grasping the religious zeal toward faith both some, and the sense of disdain expressed by others. Your last sentence is one I am considering, but might be difficult with the limited amount of time.

    • Ed — I am excited to make your book a feature of this course; I have been outlining such a course for some time. If it does workout, I would love it if you could Skype in as a guest.

  2. Glad to see you up here. Its an interesting approach. I remember reading Roland Bainton’s “Behold the Christ” a few years ago. It is a book on church art history and it sat on my shelf 30 years before I looked at it. He was my wife’s grandfather, but I was more interested in church history than religious art. But one slow spring day during my office hours I read it and was fascinated. In each period of church history, he discussed how current events, wars, social movements, disease outbreaks and other things changed the way an entire generation depicted Jesus. Now I had known this, but I had never sat through and read an exposition from the 1st to 20th century before. His conclusion I found to be revealing. He said that Jesus is a mannequin that every generation and every culture dresses up in a way they find appealing. I felt ambushed by this conclusion, but I should have expected it. And its certainly what I see today. When you teach the course, don’t leave out “Buddy Christ” from Dogma!

  3. John DeFelice — I am already planning a trip up your way man. The 2oth anniversary of the closing of Loring is in Oct. We have been talking about it for years. I am now looking up “Behold the Christ. I have a great interest in the depiction of Christ by way of art or whatever. It is interesting how the depiction of Christ, particularly in terms of race, has changed over time. Do you know Paul at the University of Vermont? He has done some great work regarding Jesus and sexuality.

  4. Good luck! In every class there is always a chance that there will be one student who is absolutely sure that everything you say is absolutely wrong. The closer you approach Jesus the higher that chance approaches one. Good luck and all the best. May your luck be equally proportioned to your preparation.

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