Date of Award

5-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design

Advisor

Dr. Andrew C. Billings

Committee Member

Dr. Stephanie Barczewski

Committee Member

Dr. Cynthia Haynes

Committee Member

Dr. M. Thomas Inge

Abstract

This dissertation is an exploration of various theoretical and cultural issues surrounding depictions of religion and spirituality in mainstream entertainment media properties. Such portrayals cultivate particular cultural norms that dictate the conditions of public and private discourse on religion, and in this study, these issues are approached through a mixed-method study guided by the Peanuts franchise. The Peanuts franchise is a provocatively rich launching point for analysis of dominant media cultures, given its colossal success in the secular mainstream entertainment industry and its explicit references to and even affirmations of Christian theology. Throughout the study, the references to religion manifested across the various Peanuts media are tracked, catalogued, and analyzed – i.e., across the 75 television titles, global product merchandise, Charles Schulz's biographic history, and of course the nearly 18,000 Peanuts comic strips Schulz drew over a 50 year career. Based on theoretical foundations of cultivation theory, narrativity, and public sphere theory, a hybrid approach of social-scientific content analysis, rhetorical analysis, and historical archive research is employed (including original interview data from Schulz’s family and friends). The study demonstrates that while many entertainment media properties tend to reflect and reinforce a cultural public/private split in secularity/religion, rich opportunities for nuanced portrayals of religious belief and action are possible within a mainstream title.

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