Video Clips

Blog April 2007

Yesterday I started on the religion and music module, with an in-class concert with Peter Kearney. Peter is an Australian singer-songwriter living in Carlow, who specialises in faith inspired songs. This is the third time we've had him in school with the Transition Year classes. For a double class he sang and played guitar, and it was the most relaxing class of the week. All I had to do was sit at the back of the class and enjoy! Peter also tells the stories behind the songs, which suits perfectly what I'm trying to do in this module - to highlight the religious themes in music and to raise awareness of the issues relating to the different contexts in which music and religion meet creatively. This year Peter also brought a handout which divided his songs into different categories which helped to show the diversity of possibilities in this area - e.g. songs for liturgies, songs inspired by scripture, songs about social issues, songs for meditation. Peter has also written a musical about the life of St Francis of Assisi, Good Morning Good People! which he will perform with flute player Roma Dix in St Michael's Church Gorey, Co. Wexford on Thursday May 31st at 7.30 pm. Go along for some aesthetic nourishment! For more information on Peter's work see his website

Just before the holidays I did a class on religious themes in animated TV drama, bringing the drama module to an end. I had previously given as homework an assignment to write about religious themes in a drama of the students' choice, and some wrote about The Simpsons, South Park or Family Guy.
After discussing some of these we concentrated on The Simpsons, and the students were very quick to come up with examples from a wide variety of episodes - chiefly the one where Homer invents his own religion, the time when Bart sells his soul, the episode where Flanders is portrayed as the Devil (one of the Halloween specials). The general consensus seemed to be that The Simpsons wasn't disrespectful to religion as such, but was just a laugh, not to be taken too seriously. Of course some critics do take it seriously, some finding fault, some finding it disrespectful, but then some say it's one of the main shows on TV that feature religion regularly, and while fun may be made of the foibles of some believers and clergy, there is never an attack on religion as such, and the show can be quite positive at times - e.g. the negative consequences of Bart selling his soul, Marge getting her children and husband to church every Sunday. Click here for an article that discusses these issues. Personally I enjoy the show, and would be inclined towards the positive interpretation, but I can also see that children may just see it as knocking religion, and may miss the subtleties. There are obvious problems with Flanders or Rev Lovejoy being seeing as the typical "religious" people. In class I used clips from the episode where Homer invents his own religion that makes no demands on him (could be seen as a send up of a la carte Christians). God appears in this one so it's also useful for classes on images of God. I also used a clip from the Halloween episode where Homer sells his soul for a doughnut. The students weren't familiar with it but I also used a clip from God The Devil and Bob, an animated series from a few years ago. A rather genial God challenges a fault ridden Bob to put things right in the world, while a suave devil tries to derail his efforts. It caused lots of controversy in the USA where it was eventually pulled off the airways, while BBC and RTE showed the full series. It had a Catholic religious adviser, (the late Fr Ellwood Keiser, who produced the imaginative Insight videos that are still used in some schools), and is very positive towards God and humanity. I really like it and used a clip from an episode where Bob's wife nearly looses her soul to materialism and gambling. It is quite raunchy in spots, so care has to be taken in school use.
I'm conscious that using programmes like The Simpsons in RE class could be seen as dumbing down the religion class, as being overly trendy, but in small doses, especially in the context of a course on religion in the arts, I think it's useful to tease out certain religious themes in a fun way, hopefully encouraging the students to be more critically aware of the media culture they are immersed in. It's an opportunity to highlight the good will in so many programmes, and on the other hand to draw attention to negative religious stereotypes.