Analysis of the media literacy theories and practices of the Pauline Centre for Media Studies and the Presbyterian Media Mission
The purpose of this dissertation is to reflect theologically upon and analyze the development of media literacy practices for the Christian church, through an analysis of the theories and the primary methods of the Pauline Centre for Media Studies (PCMS) and the Presbyterian Media Mission (PMM). Both PCMS, headquartered in Los Angeles, CA, and PMM, located in Pittsburgh, PA, are church groups (run with funding from the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church USA, respectively) aiming to increase the awareness of media messages in the lives of global citizens. Both groups educate churchgoers and employ the methods of media literacy, a critical pedagogical strategy for students learning about media products. Both groups teach interactive classes on media as a primary form of their media literacy activities, though they both also give seminars at conferences and have developed internet writing and activities to encourage media literacy. The aims of the classes are for students to develop their own practices for reflection upon and awareness of the role of media in human lives. Neither group is interested in developing an “anti-media” perspective, but rather, they distance themselves from the confrontational attitudes of the church towards the media, which have been prevalent in the past. I will try to detail how these groups came to espouse these views and how each group develops their own practices in light of these views. Understanding the relationship between media literacy and theology is no small task. Numerous theological issues emerge that bear scrutiny when trying to analyze these connections. There are issues of language and cross-cultural dialogue, hermeneutics, power relations, theological considerations of visual imagery, the tradition of reactions to visual media and art in Church history, Christian education, and theology of communication, to name a few immediate realms for reflection. This dissertation cannot successfully deal with every potential aspect of reflection that comes from a consideration of how Christians might develop practices to understand and navigate the mediated messages of their societies. However, to explore the activities of PCMS and PMM in this dissertation, I will touch upon varied areas of theological reflection. My aim, then, to focus such a broad spectrum of topics, is to describe how each of these groups understands their own work in the life of the Church. An accurate understanding of the activities of these groups, and how those activities might be considered theologically, will provide the basis for reflection in this dissertation. From this understanding, theological themes will emerge upon which I will offer some reflection. The aim of this reflection is to expose and begin to analyze the themes that need to be considered when constructing media literacy practices for Christian communities. In my study, I aim to offer one of the first analyses of media literacy practice in the North American Christian church. PCMS and PMM are two of the first groups in North America that focus on media literacy education from an ecclesial perspective. Both groups produce some media literacy materials in the forms of pamphlets and Internet resources. PCMS has published a book on media education and teens. However, literature on this form of practice for people of faith is still growing. Media, Culture, and Religion scholarship has made significant inroads in bringing together scholars from media, culture, religious studies, communications, and other disciplines to examine different aspects of the relationship between media and religion. Theology, however, is still being developed as a specific source for reflection (as opposed to religious studies or general considerations of religion in other humanities). Furthermore, while systematic theologians have considered the dynamics of human communication for theology (as I shall demonstrate briefly in this dissertation), the ways in which mediated communication is theologically analyzed are still being expanded. Therefore, a brief analysis of two groups whom have developed practices and strategies in a theological context will provide a basis for building connections between scholarship regarding popular media and theology. I will draw connections between theological literature and the approaches of PCMS and PMM to media literacy. I will show how media literacy practice emerges from the discussions of religion and media that are based on a specific understanding of “media culture.” I will challenge this understanding, and then argue that the media literacy practices of PCMS and PMM offer a way to reconsider “media culture.” I will also demonstrate, by the end of this study, how such an interaction leads to other important discussions, expanding the way in which media can be considered by ethicists, church leaders, educators, media literacy practitioners, theologians and other media and culture scholars.
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