This week we’re all about food, the thing we need to live and be happy. We engage with the Netflix series Ugly Delicious, and talk about how food is a site for cultural exchange and religious ritual (and shame, and conflict). We interview Roger Nam, Dean of Portland Seminary, about food in the Hebrew Bible, his culinary adventures, and his experience growing up eating Korean food in an immigrant family. Brian spuriously claims to have invented things; Leah breaks her foot running after a bag of Cheetos. In the Kitsch Corner, we examine the Daniel Plan/Fast/Diet and the prosperity gospel.
We’re talking about teaching—the movies, the cliches, the fails, Dangerous Minds and Dead Poets Society. Leah and Brian share their classroom fails (and joys), specific and general, and discuss the role of education in religious settings. In the studio, we welcome a university “Teacher of the Year,” art professor Tim Timmerman, to talk about creativity, learning to handle criticism, technology, and lapsing into an Irish accent during lectures. The Kitsch Corner features a look at contemporary guru culture…thanks, Gwyneth.
We’ve chosen two of the wildly popular Hallmark Channel Christmas romance movies and watched them with a keen eye for messages about the holidays and love. Spoiler alert: ladies, quit your jobs—and start dating a ghost. Leah and Brian divulge shocking details about meeting and courting their spouses. We then invite two extremely special surprise guests (!!) into the studio to talk about dual career marriages, Christmas, and romantic comedies. In the Kitsch Corner, we take a look back at the now-relevant-again-because-it-was-renounced-by-its-author book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
This week we attempt to watch Ken Burns’ epic ten-part Vietnam documentary, and allow ourselves to get extremely depressed at the futility of war while asking: Is there some sense in which we need war? Are Americans, in particular, fond of the notion of “holy war”? Can there ever be a purely “secular war”? Is America headed for another Civil War? We interview Dr. James Byrd, professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt Divinity School, on the religious imagery of battle and America’s holy war tradition. In the Kitsch Corner, we vainly attempt to lighten the mood by analyzing a poster that advertises a Rapture-themed paintball game.
We’re talking about conspiracies: is the world only what it seems to be on the surface, or is there some theory about what is really happening beneath it all, behind the scenes? Are Americans particularly into conspiracy theories, or do we just think we’re the best at everything? We talk about the documentary “The Trump Prophecy,” as well as ancient conspiracies, the book of Revelation, QAnon, Plato, aliens, and whether toucans, as a species, are a hoax. Is there something at the heart of religious belief that is “conspiratorial,” fundamentally? We interview psychologist Dr. Michael Wood at the University of Winchester in the UK about who has the best conspiracy theories and why people believe in them at all. And in the Kitsch Corner: We elevate the human spirit and aural imagination with a song about how a certain president is the leopard king prophesied in the book of Revelation.
We're back with the first of the Season Two episodes! Why are all of those HGTV shows so alluring? What do they communicate about the mythology of home buying, the ritual of TV watching, and our deepest desires about fertility and space? Can attractive people be funny? Is anything really real? We're talking about all of this, somehow. And interviewing a home-buyer featured on a real House Hunters episode. And introducing a new segment we're calling "The Kitsch Corner."
The next set of Weird Religions episodes is coming soon! Starting next week, on Tuesdays, we’ll be releasing an episode per week through Christmas. Merry Christmas already!
Behold: 8 minutes of material that didn't quite rise to the level of a coherent episode! We talk about a very weird religious artifact: a flyer advertising a themed paintball contest, based on the idea of the rapture...
A special extra shot of Weird Religion as an add-on to Season One: Brian & Leah take on the Rose City Comic Con, reflecting on the victory of geek culture, interviewing artists like Midnight Furies author Jessica Herron, Junior Braves of the Apocalypse authors Greg Smith and Michael Tanner, and more. We also seek out the dark underbelly of the comic-con circuit—WILL WE FIND IT?!
Behold: 37 minutes of meandering material that didn't quite rise to the level of a coherent episode! Classic Brian and Leah! The joke of avocado toast! Brian and Leah disagree! Mormons and Bob Jones University and change and revelation! Ridiculing the state of Wisconsin and the IHOP>IHOB name change and Gwyneth Paltrow!
This episode considers the life and spiritual vision of the Rev. Carlton Pearson, subject of a popular This American Life episode as well as the recent Netflix bio-pic Come Sunday. When Rev. Pearson hears God reveal to him a potentially heretical view by way of a special revelation—universal salvation (everyone goes to heaven, and there is no hell)—he risks losing his congregation and jeopardizing his spot as a rising Christian star. How would people know whether God revealed new information by revelation? Along the way we talk about racial division in church, the pros and cons of revelation as a mode of spiritual discourse, and the reasonability of hell.
We’re climbing the mountain in this final episode for season one of the podcast! Why do people climb mountains? What do mountains mean, spiritually? We explore aspects of these questions through the film Meru, documenting three adventurers who attempt to climb a never-before-summited peak in the Himalayas. Brian reveals deep emotional problems, and Leah doubles down on her reluctance to ever climb a mountain while yet promising on tape to climb Mount St. Helens. We’ll glance at some research about why people risk their lives to stand on a snowy peak (see also some newer research here), the rise and fall of a small mountain town, and the legend of Wy’east (Mount Hood).
This episode introduces listeners to the little-known documentary Audience of One. We hear the story of Richard Gazowsky, Pentecostal pastor and amateur filmmaker, who, after watching his first movie at the age of 40, believes God has given him a vision to create the biggest and best film ever made (!?). Along the way we talk about aesthetics in American Pentecostal-Charismatic movements, Christian appropriations of the Shofar, finger streamers and tambourines, Charles Finney and the New Measures, Hamlet and the Lion King, the devil and Pentecostal rockers, Jesus Camp, Rocky IV, and Troll dolls (BURN THEM).
In this episode, we watch King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters, a film documenting the surprisingly engrossing contest over who will be the reigning champion of the 80s classic video game, Donkey Kong. Will it be the self-aggrandizing favorite, restaurateur and hot sauce salesman Billy Mitchell? Or down-on-his luck, everyman challenger Steve Weibe? Come for the epic sports drama. Stay for discussions of David & Goliath and other ancient epics, cheating, virtuosity, masculinity and gender construction in the gaming world, misogyny and the alt-right, and whether or not video games count as religion in this “secular age.”
In this episode, we discuss The Heretic, a documentary about the life and ministry of former megachurch evangelical pastor Rob Bell. We introduce listeners to the (often misunderstood!) subcultures of conservative and progressive American evangelicalism. Along the way, we talk about American revivalism, evangelicalism, the liberal-fundamentalist controversy and its fallout, epic culture wars (and Twitter battles) within middle-class white evangelicalism (from Harry Fosdick vs. Billy Sunday to Rob Bell vs. John Piper), heresy, orthodoxy, universalism, higher criticism and the Bible, and the Westboro Baptists.
In this episode we consider the women in the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s stunning dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (season one only!). Does The Handmaid’s Tale TV series present, religion, race, and gender cynically, or help us understand anything about our lives today? Leah and Brian imagine life in the other gender role; Leah wonders what it would be like to have a traditional wife, and Brian regales the audience with stories of being a stay-at-home dad while writing his dissertation.
In this episode, we talk about Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the new documentary about the legendary creator and star of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rev. Fred Rogers. Along the way, we talk about Mr. Rogers’ vision of neighborly love, character formation, and TV ethics (for adults as well as kids!), catharsis in ancient theater and 21st century film, screen time (and parenting guilt!!), William Penn, Quentin Tarantino, Phineas & Ferb, Peep and the Big Wide World, and how Mr. Rogers inspires us to be better teachers.
In this episode, we talk about Wild Wild Country, the new documentary from Netflix about enthusiastic enlightenment-seekers who built a commune called Rajneeshpuram in the rugged Central Oregon desert and, during their brief time there, clashed with the residents of the rural town of Antelope. We also explore American religious innovations, the problem with the label of “cult,” “deprivation theory” in apocalyptic biblical communities and in the U.S.A., how racism shapes public understandings of new religious movements, the Jesus Movement, LSD, Never Nudes, the mysterious Rajneesh/Osho and his right-hand woman Ma Anand Sheela, and more.