From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural / Edition 1

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Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Left Behind series are but the latest manifestations of American teenagers' long-standing fascination with the supernatural and the paranormal. In this groundbreaking book, Lynn Schofield Clark explores the implications of this fascination for contemporary religious and spiritual practices. Relying on stories gleaned from more than 250 in-depth interviews with teens and their families, Clark seeks to discover what today's teens really believe and why. She finds that as adherence to formal religious bodies declines, interest in alternative spiritualities as well as belief in "superstition" grow accordingly. Ironically, she argues, fundamentalist Christian alarmism about the forces of evil has also fed belief in a wider array of supernatural entities. Resisting the claim that the media "brainwash" teens, Clark argues that today's popular stories of demons, hell, and the afterlife actually have their roots in America's religious heritage. She considers why some young people are nervous about supernatural stories in the media, while others comfortably and often unselfconsciously blur the boundaries between those stories of the realm beyond that belong to traditional religion and those offered by the entertainment media. At a time of increased religious pluralism and declining participation in formal religious institutions, Clark says, we must completely reexamine what young people mean -- and what they may believe -- when they identify themselves as "spiritual" or "religious." Offering provocative insights into how the entertainment media shape contemporary religious ideas and practices, From Angels to Aliens paints a surprising -- and perhaps alarming -- portrait of the spiritual state of America's youth.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What Wade Clark Roof did for understanding Baby Boomer spirituality with A Generation of Seekers, Clark does with this insightful, well-written ethnographic introduction to the spiritual lives of a new generation. Clark relies heavily on interviews and first-person reports from teens, then attempts to understand what they are saying through the lens of larger demographic and sociological trends. Many teens (by which Clark means those roughly between the ages of 11 and 21) privilege personal experience over institutional authority and consider themselves spiritual but not necessarily religious. Their spirituality is eclectic and often non-traditional, as they blend elements from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition with new interest in mysticism, Eastern religions and the occult. Clark, a professor at the University of Colorado's School of Journalism, is very attuned to the significance of media in teens' lives, and offers fascinating explorations into what television programs like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have to say about religion. Most interestingly, Clark also pays attention to the resurgence of "the dark side of evangelicalism," discussing the rise of popular interest in the apocalypse. One later chapter explores the ways some baby boomer parents "intentionally approach the media" and use it to discuss spiritual issues with their children. Clark's writing is engaging and fast-paced, and readers who aren't put off by the book's reliance on social theorists like Bourdieu and Gramsci will find this a surprisingly accessible book. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Evangelical Christian preachers say that the media have always taught immorality and that now they are teaching witchcraft, superstition, and Satanism. Is this all true? A former television producer and marketer, Clark (journalism, Univ. of Chicago) hopes to persuade us that it is not. Admittedly, while flipping through the TV channels or browsing the movie marquees you see Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Harry Potter, The Fellowship of the Ring, Left Behind, and much more. But, the author argues, the obsessions on parade here are identical to those of Evangelical Christianity, which has long shown interest in such topics in its own literature and preachings. In this objective ethnological study, complete with a formal methodology, Clark obtains the reactions of teens themselves and categorizes them as traditionalists, mystics, seekers, experimenters, and resisters to find out just what influence the media have on teenagers. She concludes that teenagers today display the same deep religiosity and curiosity about religion that have always characterized Americans. We have no cause for alarm. Intelligently written, this study will interest both scholars and casual readers. For all libraries.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Goes a long way towards putting religion and spirituality in a context with media interpretation and communicative practice.. the writing weaves popular culture, theory, and the stories of the teens in a way that is engaging and accessible to those experienced in the field, as well as to students."-- Journal of Communication

"What Wade Clark Roof did for understanding Baby Boomer spirituality with A Generation of Seekers, Clark does with this insightful, well-written... introduction to the spiritual lives of a new generation...engaging and fast-paced."--Publishers Weekly

"Intelligently written, this study will interest both scholars and casual readers"--Library Journal

"...provides a number of intriguing insights into teen spirituality and a solid understanding of the central role of religion in American culture"--The Washington Post Book World

"Working at the interstices of adolescence, spirituality, and the media, Lynn Schofield Clark finds, among other things, that popular interest in the supernatural can be attributed to the resurgence of evangelicalism in recent decades. It is a most provocative thesis, and From Angels to Aliens makes for a fascinating book.--Randall Balmer, author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America

"A truly unique book, From Angels to Aliens uses solid empirical evidence to spin out an engaging story about adolescence and media culture, with an ironic twist about traditional evangelicalism unintentionally promoting a broad cultural fascination with the supernatural and the occult." --Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Director of the National Study of Youth and Religion

"In this subtle and focused study Lynn Schofield Clark addresses one of the most significant linkages in contemporary social experience--religion, mass media, and the youth audiences addressed by both. The connecting point is the fluid notion of 'the supernatural.' Clark shows just how complex these topics come to be in any attempt to understand how 'teens' work to define their own beliefs in a world flooded with images and symbols yet still structured by categories such as the family, economic conditions, and peer groups. This book is valuable for sociologists of religion, media studies scholars, and students of 'youth culture.' Even more important, it should direct the attention of these groups to topics too often neglected or dismissed as trivial."--Horace Newcomb, Lambdin Kay Distinguished Professor for the Peabodys, Director of the Peabody Awards Program

"This is an important study for two reasons, one, it helps us to better understand the world of the supernatural as seen through the eyes of teenagers, and two, it sheds new insight on the crucial role of the media in the formation of supernatural beliefs-even on the part of those who resist media influence. Highly recommended for general readers, and not just for academics who study religion and the media." --Wade Clark Roof, J.F. Rowny Professor of Religion and Society, University of California at Santa Barbara

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195300239
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/27/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynn Schofield Clark is Assistant Research Professor at the University of Colorado's School of Journalism and Mass Communication and co-editor of Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media: Explorations in Media, Religion, and Culture (2002). A former television producer and marketing professional, Clark has provided volunteer leadership with young people for more than fifteen years. She currently teaches critical/cultural studies approaches to media, and is Director of the Teens and the New Media @ Home Project.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I The Supernatural Today: Why the Fascination?
Introduction: From Angels to Aliens 3
1 Angels, Aliens, and the Dark Side of Evangelicalism 24
2 Touched by a Vampire Named Angel: The Supernatural in Contemporary Teen Popular Culture 46
Pt. II Ethnographic Stories: Teens and their Approaches to Media, Religion, and Supernatural Beliefs
3 The Resisters: Loving Supernatural Legends and Hating Organized Religion 77
4 The Mystical Teens: Blurring the Boundaries between Religious and Fictional Legends 95
5 The Experimenters: Appreciating Both Religion and the Legends of the Supernatural 117
6 The Traditionalists: Affirming the Boundary between Religion and the Media 139
7 The Intrigued Teens (and the Issue of Angels): Wishing to Separate Religion and Legend, but Having Difficulty Doing So 158
Pt. III Contexts and Conclusions
8 Baby Boomers and Their Millennial Kids: Parental Intentions Regarding the Media, Religion, and Beliefs in the Supernatural 183
9 Religion, Class, and Politics: Discussing Aliens and Angels in the Family and in Society 204
10 Conclusion: The Dark Side of Evangelicalism and the Religion of the Possible 224
App. A Comments on Methodology 237
App. B Sample Information 247
Notes 249
Index 285
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