THEOREL 101G The Bible in Popular Culture

THEOREL 101G | Open schedule | Semester Two 2020 | City Campus


Why is Jesus always played by white actors in Jesus movies? Why is the Bible so popular in contemporary advertising? Who is the new messiah – Harry Potter or LeBron James? Does Beyonce think she's the Virgin Mary? Why are filmmakers so obsessed with the end of the world? What do Winston Peters and Donald Trump know about the Bible? And why should we care?

This course introduces you to the various ways that biblical themes, images and characters have an enduring presence and influence within contemporary popular culture. By learning to analyse religious and biblical references found in music, film, TV, art, advertising and the media, you will discover that, even in today’s increasingly secular world, the Bible continues to both influence and be influenced by our cultural, political, and religious landscapes.

Learning outcomes

After finishing the course, you should:

  • Be familiar with the basic theories of analysing popular culture and be able to apply these to cultural texts, including those encountered in class.
  • Be able to explain how the Bible influences popular culture and how popular culture influences interpretations of the biblical texts.
  • Be familiar with the ways in which the Bible functions as a cultural resource (or "prop") in a wide variety of contemporary contexts and cultures, including political debates, social media engagement, and social discourses of gender, sexuality, race and class.
  • Be able to identify some significant Biblical themes and characters as they appear in popular culture texts, including film, music, art, advertising and television.
  • Demonstrate the ability to research and write a short, well-written essay on a theme from the course that captures your imagination.

Topics covered

  • Introducing the study of religion in popular culture
  • The Bible: studying the Bible as a cultural text and commodity
  • Swords, sandals, Philistines and floods: how are biblical sories retold on screen? 
  • Gender, sexuality and the (queer) Bible: how does the Bible shape cultural perceptions of gender and sexuality? And how might we read the Bible "queerly" to look at gender and sexuality in different lights?  
  • The messiah, or "supersaviour", in the Bible and popular culture; including "popular messiahs" such as Harry Potter, Kendrick Lamarr, Beyonce and LeBron James.
  • Biblical violence in popular culture: is the Bible a violent book? What forms of violence does it contain? And does it have the potential to inspire contemporary forms of violence, including gender violence, racism, homophobia and transphobia?  
  • The Bible in contemporary politics and the media: how is the Bible used and misued in contemporary politics? Why do politicians quote the bible, or insist that it is their "favourite book"? We consider the continuing political power of this ancient text. 
  • The Jesus industry: Jesus as a cultural commodity in film, art, advertising and music. 
  • Good and evil - God and Satan in the Bible and pop culture.
  • The Bible and selling power - has the Bible become a cultural commodity? And why are biblical themes so popular in advertising?  


Online tutorial discussions (15%)
Essay proposal (10%)
Essay (25%)
Two-hour examination (50%)

Student feedback

"The lecturer’s passion and approach to the material were beyond inspiring and really helped me grasp the information…This should be taken by every student."

"I loved this paper and would thoroughly recommend it. It has made me want to take THEOREL as a minor in my BA. My expectations were high but this paper surpassed all of them. A great lecturer who presented fascinating course material in an interesting way."

"One of the most enthusiastic and approachable lecturers I’ve ever had. It was always very clear what we’d be learning about and what was expected of us – this was very valuable."

"As someone who’s (almost) never picked up a Bible, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed this course…This will definitely be helpful for my degree.”

"This course was amazing! I loved it! It was so thought-provoking, enjoyable, and an interesting experience".

"This was the best course I have ever done, and if I wasn’t in my last semester I would definitely have switched to a THEOREL major."

"This was an excellent General Education course that I would highly recommend."

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