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Constructing God: From Ancient Text to Contemporary Film: FYS 175-01

Constructing God: From Ancient Text to Contemporary Film -- FYS 175-01, Spring 2015; (Dr. Michael O'Keeffe)


The course guide is a companion to the First Year Seminar 175-01, Spring 2015. It offers resources and research tips that focus on the content and the assignments of the course.

Course Description

“Constructions of God: From Ancient Text to Contemporary Film” explores the connections, tensions and conflict between what the best of contemporary Christian theology has to say about God, including how most theologians would view biblical stories involving God, and what others have to say, especially the message conveyed in popular American culture.  To help us explore and understand this connections between stories, theology and popular culture, the class is focused on three biblical stories which are pivotal in the Christian experience and understanding of God and often play a central role in the way Americans define God:

1)  The stories of Creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel and the Flood, which are found in the Book of Genesis, chapters 1-9;

2)  The story of Moses, beginning with his birth, then his exile, then his return to Egypt to confront the Pharaoh.  Our examination with the destruction of the Egyptians and the liberation of Moses and the people after crossing the Red sea.  We will concentrate on Exodus, Chapters 1-16.13, 17, 31:18-32. 

3)  The story of Jesus as reflected in the four canonical Gospels. 

In each case we will move from the biblical stories themselves to explore how these stories have been interpreted by others, both those operating within a Christian understanding of God and those without such a perspective, and how these stories have shaped the way many Americans consider God.  Since the aim of the course is to place the scholarly claims of the Christian tradition over against the popular constructions of God conveyed in countless ways, we will spend a bit of time with the way Hollywood selects, shapes, and re-presents the image of God in these three sets of stories.

Final Essay Assignment

The Final Essay (worth 10% of your final grade) will ask you to consider an image of God reflected in popular culture that you have selected for consideration (film, song, art, literature). 

Two issues are primary:

1) what does the image of God you selected says about God, especially God’s involvement/interaction with “our” world;

2) how would you critique the understanding of God conveyed by the image you selected, especially in ways that contemporary scholarship on God and our extensive study of God-images during the semester. 

Conceptions of God



Recommended Article

Peters, Ted. “Models of God.” Philosophia 35.3-4 (2007) : 273-288.

"Constructing an explanatorily adequate concept or mental model of God is like building a house. We need construction materials. We need to put them together in a reasonable way. Once we have erected the house, then we need to step back, look at it, and consider whether we will paint it a different color or put on an addition.

What are the construction materials? First, the foundation is laid with biblical symbols, and perhaps insights from the Christian tradition. Second, our conceptual house needs many windows open to the mystery of transcendence. God is mysterious. Even when God confronts us with revelation we are left with an unfathomable mystery. Yet, build we must.
Although it is difficult to rank in importance various passages within Scripture, we cannot begin thinking about God without reminding ourselves of what happened to Moses when confronted by the mystery of the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai. This is a moment of revelation; and it provides us with both primary symbolic discourse as well as a window open to transcendent mystery".

Guide author Ursula Zyzik/Fall 2015

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