Faith-Based Media Literacy Education, History
ROSE PACATTE, Pauline Center for Media Studies, USA
At the beginning of the 21st century the Center for Media Literacy (CML, www. medialit.org) in Los Angeles, CA, described the discipline of media literacy education (MLE) as an educational imperative as well as a contemporary approach to education. The CML expanded on its earlier widely accepted definition of media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms” which provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms – from print to video to the Internet (“What is Media Literacy,” n.d.). Media Literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.
In general differing faith traditions use these definitions as a premise for MLE. Shared theologies of communication and incarnation provide an entry point through which to consider entertainment and information media. These can often be uncom- fortable topics for believers who are more at home “using” media to share, explain, and defend their beliefs and values. To include critical discernment of media messages and the culture they create, their role and influence in culture and society, to find God in media stories, are some of the key elements of what motivates faith communities to practice MLE in faith formation.
The content of traditional or legacy entertainment media has long since been deemed problematic in the United States and other countries from a religious, moral per- spective. The strong teaching authority of Christian churches in particular, whether Protestant and Bible-based or Catholic with its centralized teaching authority on faith and morals, has led to movements that censor media productions such as the National Legion of Decency in the United States. Originally founded by concerned Catholics in late 1933, with Protestants and Jews invited to sign on as well, the Church was prepared to take on what Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, speaking at the National Conference of Catholic Charities in New York on the authority of Pope Pius XI, denounced as “the incalculable influence for evil” exerted by the motion pictures. “Catholics are called by God, the Pope, the bishops, and the priests to a united front and vigorous campaign for the purification of the cinema, which has become a deadly menace to morals” (Doherty, 2007, p. 57). In 1933 a pledge against viewing immoral films was devised and taken yearly by the faithful in Catholic churches in the United States but with diminishing interest after World War II.
Despite the growing positive view of communication media and technology since the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council (Eilers, 2011) and the World Association for Christian Communication, representing many Protestant denominations (Fore, 1990), the lingering vestiges of the theological traditions of Puritanism are a challenge to the consideration of media in a positive way. Pacatte (2007) takes this view a step fur- ther. She agrees that Puritanism for Protestants and Jansenism for Catholics continue to influence how faith communities form their views of media technology, stories and messages, and the entertainment they provide in countries like the United States and Canada. These attitudes can create a paradox. Conflicted audiences form negative judg- ments based on the content of entertainment and neglect the context of the stories media tell, while still partaking of them.
According to Tinker (2010) who compares the theories and practices of the Catholic-led Pauline Center for Media Studies (PCMS) in Los Angeles and the Presby- terian Media Mission (PMM) in Pittsburg, PA, understanding the relationship between media literacy and theology is no small task due to differing theological views of visual imagery, art in Church history, hermeneutics, language, and cross-cultural differences, to name a few. However, for both the PCMS and the PMM the primary understanding from which a consideration of media emerges is the relationship between the church and the “world,” and its mission to the world. Hailer and Pacatte (2007) call MLE in faith formation “media mindfulness” because by anchoring media in the MLE universe, it is possible to mine its insights, its skill-building pedagogy, its theory and praxis, and integrate them into various ministries, especially education. This can happen when considering or teaching about media and values, virtue, spirituality, theology, Catholic social teaching, morality, intentional living, prayer, and worship.
In 2012 Stephanie Iaquinto and John Keeler wrote a history of the “subdiscipline” of MLE in faith communities in which they explore the challenges that MLE presents to religious educators in the United States and, to a limited extent, Canada. One of these is that of presenting fixed doctrine in a culture with fluid narratives. They refer to the work of Mary Hess, PhD, who asserts that MLE in the religious education context requires a pedagogical shift from a linear to a dialogic approach. They note, too, that there are positive signs amidst resistance stemming from differing theologies, visuals, and moral- ity that can place the media in the basement of faith-based inquiry. They conclude that faith communities must be willing to engage in thoughtful discourse about media that is informed by both grace and humility. If that happens perhaps faith-based media literacy won’t be relegated to the basement. Perhaps, instead, it will be to the dining room where engaging conversations take place and where community is renewed.
Pacatte (2005), a Catholic Christian, takes her cues from the theology of Jesuits Karl Rahner and John Staudenmeier: to love the world the way it is. This is a theology of incarnation approach to life and culture integrating faith and everyday reality. She para- phrases John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the culture to condemn it, but that the culture, through Christ, might be redeemed.” Step one in the catechist’s quest to articulate a media spirituality that is critical and affirming is to fall in love with the world, the culture, today not that ofa century ago. It is noteworthy that academia shows signs of research and reflection on MLE in faith communities. Tinker (2010), a Presbyterian, and De Azevedo (2015), a Catholic, wrote their graduate dissertations on MLE within their theological faith traditions.
Ecumenical and inter-religious media literacy education
The National Telemedia Council based in Madison, WI, founded for educators and par- ents, has promoted a media-wise, literate, global society since 1953. They take a positive, non-judgmental attitude and embrace a philosophy that values reflective judgment and cooperation rather than confrontation with the media industry. Representatives from several churches have been part of the educational organization since the beginning and continue to participate.
There is a significant sharing of ideas, resources, and activities among the churches, both Catholic and Protestant. The inter-religious dimension exists as well, through critical media awareness programs at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. Islam is organized differently than Christian churches and Judaism because with mosques it all depends on the place. Muslim efforts in MLE, while not directly related to any definition, share common themes. They take the form of advocacy and teaching the wider culture and audiences about Islam and its representation in media. Examples of this are the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, active in the entertainment industry since 1988, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations whose focus is to be a leading advocate for justice and understanding.
Since 1929 the inter-religious organization Religious Communicators Council (RCC) has promoted faith perspectives in public discourse and has recognized MLE efforts through its awards program. The RCC is highly diverse with members who are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Scientologists, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Bahá’í. What unites all of these groups is a common dedication to fostering mutual respect for differences among people through communication, media, and education.
The Catholic Church, Catholics, and media literacy education
While two popes wrote about motion pictures, radio, and television in the first half of the 20th century it was the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) held between 1962 and 1965, and its decree “Inter Mirifica” (“among the marvelous things”) in 1963 that revealed a shift in how the official Catholic Church on a global level morphed from the consideration of communications media as a predominantly moral problem to an opportunity for good. In addition to using media for evangelization, the document recognized the powerful influence of the media in the modern world, and addressed media discernment, awareness, parental involvement, news, and the right to informa- tion, and called for Catholic schools to teach students about the media. This document established an annual commemoration of communications media and since 1966 the pope has issued a statement for World Communication Day. “Inter Mirifica” was only an introduction to the media world, however. It called for a follow-up document that would expand the theological, pastoral, and educational dimensions of communications.
Thus “Communio et Progressio” (“pastoral instruction on the means of social com- munication”) was issued in 1971 and laid out a theological and pastoral premise for communications and media (Pontifical Commission on Social Communication, 1971). It marked a milestone in the development of Church teaching and its relation to the modern world through communications, though its influence has depended on local implementation. In addition, at least 12 Vatican and papal documents on aspects of the means of social communication have been issued as well. Most notable among them is “Aetatis Novae” (“the dawn of a new era”) issued in 1992 that specifically called for MLE. This same document reiterated a theme that can be traced back to the otherwise negative papal document on movies “Vigilanti Cura” (“on motion pictures”), that the Church believes that the media are “gifts of God” and therefore worthy of our attention. Pope (now St.) John Paul II’s final document published before his death in 2005 was The Rapid Development to commemorate, belatedly, the 40th anniversary of “Inter Mir- ifica.” The pope wanted to make sure that people understood the import of the “global village” created by media and the opportunities media provide, especially the Internet. In two places he called for education in the responsible and critical use of media.
Pierre Babin and Crec-Avex
One of the great Catholic thinkers, writers, and teachers about religious meaning in global information and entertainment communications was Fr. Pierre Babin,
O.M.I. (1925–1912) of Lyon, France. Inspired by “Inter Mirifica” and influenced by the Catholic-convert, media theorist, and communication philosopher Marshall McLuhan, he started a non-accredited school, Crec-Avex (the Center for Research and Education in Communication) in 1971 in Lyon to train faith leaders in a new way to communicate faith in the age of media. He called it the “the symbolic way” that required understanding the languages of the media and their messages (Babin, 1991) in order then to create media and discover media’s spiritual dimensions. Hundreds of Catholics, Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, mostly from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, trained at the center over a 30-year period. A critical methodology was not explicit but implied.
John J. Pungente, SJ, the Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture; the Jesuit Communication Project
In the 1980s a Canadian Jesuit priest and film educator, John J. Pungente, was assigned to the newly formed Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture (CSCC) in London, England. One of the main interests of the center was in promoting research into media education. The CSCC created a program, “Adapting Jesuit Education to the Human and Spiritual Needs of the Information Society” because the Jesuits in sec- ondary schools worldwide were in the process of renewing curricula. After sending out a survey, Pungente traveled from March to November 1984, covering 53 000 miles to 62 cities in 29 countries and interviewed over 170 teachers, students, media professionals, principals, headmasters, and parents to collect information about existing programs, curricula, and courses aimed at equipping students in Jesuit secondary schools with the critical tools needed to live in a media-rich culture (Pungente, 1985). He based his research on Masterman’s (1982) premise for media education as a discipline that accepts that the media are pervasive and significant elements of our society, that they influence our perceptions in fundamental ways that need to be understood, and that they are worthy of close investigation.
The resulting report, “Media Education and The Jesuit Secondary School” (Pun- gente, 1985), was sent to the Jesuit Curia in Rome and to all the schools Pungente visited. It answered three questions: (i) What is the status of media education in Jesuit secondary schools around the world? (ii) What is the status of media education in other secondary schools? And (iii) What must be done to encourage media education in Jesuit secondary schools? While the data revealed that some schools taught or integrated MLE in the curriculum, most of the schools taught classes in specific media fields such as film, computer studies, popular music, and analysis of television. The concept of comprehensive critical media education, or MLE, was new to many. Pungente responded to the results with a primer and resource, Getting Started on Media Education (1985), that subsequently was sent to 400 Jesuit secondary schools around the world. Just how many schools have begun and sustained MLE since then, or if existing programs are related to Pungente’s research, is not known with precision. However, the Jesuit Seattle Preparatory School has been teaching MLE since the early 1990s and Loyola University Baltimore, USA, also a Jesuit institution, has been teaching a graduate course in MLE to serving teachers since 2006. In March 2019, a new Media Literacy Curriculum on Media Literacy and Social Justice was launched, reflecting Catholic and Jesuit commitment to education and social justice.
In 1984, following his visit to Jesuit schools, Pungente founded the Jesuit Commu- nication Project in Toronto to promote media literacy across Canada. He coauthored Media Literacy, a resource guide for the Ontario Ministry of Education in 1989, and other books and DVDs on MLE as well as on film and spirituality. He has also hosted two media literacy informed television series on cinema. Since 1985 Pungente has served as the executive secretary of the Ontario-based Association for Media Literacy and worked on the organization of the first and second North American Media Edu- cation conferences. In 1992 he was one of the founders of the Canadian Association for Media Education Organizations (CAMEO) and currently serves as its president.
The Jesuit-founded academic journal Communication Research Trends published by the CSCC, first in London then Santa Clara University in California, USA, has promoted research in communication and human values, social justice, theology, and media edu- cation since 1979. Paul Soukup, SJ, now heads the CSCC and edits the journal that as recently as 2013 published two issues on MLE.
Sister Elizabeth Thoman, HM, and the Center for Media Literacy
As a teacher in a Catholic high school in the 1970s Humility of Mary Sister Elizabeth Thoman realized that media played a dominant role in creating popular culture that influenced her students. She left teaching to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Southern California (USC) in search of a critical approach to media in education that would lead to the development of a skill set for teachers and students to interact with a mediated world. Thoman began publishing Media&Values through her Center for Media & Values in Los Angeles, CA, that became the Center for Media Literacy in 1989.
Though Media & Values was directed to all educators it often carried articles of interest to faith communities. Thoman’s work and accomplishments in media literacy education over four decades brought media awareness to the attention of thousands of Catholic schools in the United States and beyond. In 1993, The Center for Media & Values, the National Catholic Educational Association, with the support of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Catholic Communications Campaign (CCC), produced a curriculum kit, Catholic Connections to Media Literacy, for Catholic schools. The video and guide booklet came packaged in a large oyster shell case that was sent gratis to every Catholic school in the US that together served over 7.5 million students at the time. It was the first formal attempt to integrate media literacy within the US Catholic school curricula and trainers from the CML traveled to Catholic schools across the US to prepare teachers. Thoman’s work in MLE belongs in the annals of educational history. Her influence on MLE within and without the faith community in the United States and beyond is extensive and continues to bear fruit.
Today CML president Tessa Jolls consults with public and private educational entities around the world and its robust website on MLE is an extensive resource available to all.
Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, the University of Dayton and Pastoral Communications
The Catholic University of Dayton’s Institute of Pastoral Initiatives, directed by Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, DMin, included MLE in their summer Pastoral Com- munications and Ministry Institute (PCMI) for 10 years, 1990–2000, and bestowed certificates in MLE on dozens of catechists. Pierre Babin was often a member of the summer faculty as was long-time media educator Mary Byrne Hoffman who published a book with the Paulist Press in 2011 on media literacy and catechesis. Zukowski was also a consultant to the Vatican’s Council on Social Communication and was a coauthor of the 1992 document “Aetatis Novae” that highlighted MLE for all Catholics. She also assisted in founding and continues to teach at the Caribbean School of Catholic Communication in Trinidad and Tobago where MLE is a core subject in the training of catechists and communicators. MLE is also a course that is offered by the university’s online Virtual Learning Community of Faith Formation (VLCFF) that has hundreds of adult learners from about 45 dioceses in the USA, Canada, and Australia.
Roberto Giannatelli, SDB, and the Salesians
The Salesians of Don Bosco is an Italian-based international order of priests and broth- ers that has been doing significant MLE resource publishing since the 1980s in the US, India, and Italy. In the US the community published Access Guides to Youth Min- istry: Media and Culture in the 1990s and Peter Gonsalves, a Salesian from India, wrote Exercises on Media Education in 1995 in which he lays down for Indian educators the key critical, discerning principles of MLE with almost 100 activities.
Perhaps the most prominent Salesian priest involved in media education in Italy was Professor Roberto Giannatelli (1932–2012). With a doctorate in pedagogy, he founded the Faculty of Communication at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome where he served as rector from 1983 to 1989. He was president of the university’s Institute of Social Communication Sciences from 1989 to 1995 when he became interested in MLE. Although he began to teach the subject in the communication department, the course was moved to the school of education. He was pivotal to the development of MLE in Italy and in 1996 cofounded MED, the Italian Association for Media Education. The Italian term for MLE, “Educomunicazione” (“Educomunicación” in Spanish and “Educomu- nicação” in Portuguese), seems to have come from Giannatelli and his colleagues as the term not only includes the concept of communication but simplifies what is otherwise a cumbersome translation.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) created a 5-year program from 2000 to 2004 called Renewing the Mind of the Media. Like the Legion of Decency of old, it was pledged-based—for all ages, and all media, not just movies—but its educational goals were not clear. In 2013 the campaign created a Faith and Safety website and in 2014 Social Media Guidelines that also lacked a MLE dimension. However, the CCC’s 1999 Family Guide for Using Media (USCCB, 1999) integrates MLE concepts and principles and is still online. This is also true of the USCCB’s National Directory for Catechesis (2005.) Taking its cues from the Vatican’s General Directory for Catechesis (1997) and adapting communications media and technology suggestions to parish and Catholic school faith formation programs in the United States, a section (Chapter 10, para. 69) is devoted to communi- cations technology and catechesis. While the term MLE is not used in this section, the core concepts and principles of MLE are firmly implied. In fact, these are integrated throughout the entire volume. Five basic faith-based principles regarding all forms of media emerge: (i) become media-literate; (ii) use media in the classroom; (iii) create media; (iv) make media the subject of catechesis; (v) advocate for pro-social media.
The Daughters of St. Paul: The Pauline Institute of Communication in Asia and the Pauline Center for Media Studies, USA
The Daughters of St. Paul—Pauline Sisters—are an institute of Catholic religious women founded in Italy in 1915 and are now located in 52 countries worldwide. Their express ministry is to use the media (initially print) to communicate the Word of God. The Second Vatican Council mandated that every institute of nuns, priests, and brothers was required to rewrite their rules or constitutions that govern them, replacing statutes derived from Canon Law with articles that authentically reflected the founding principles of the institute. The Daughters of St. Paul renewal journey lasted from 1969 to 1983; the first evidence of MLE exists in the Documents of their Special Chapter (1971). Their new rule (1984) draws from these and contains articles that specifically encourage MLE as a part of ministry to instruct the audience on how to discern critically the messages from all current forms of media and new technologies. Learning to be media aware and literate is called for within the initial training stages of new members yet after 30 years its inclusion in the curriculum is only now being formalized with some degree of standardization.
The first Pauline sister to begin MLE was Sr. Lucina Sarmiento (1933–1995) who pioneered MLE activities in the Philippines in the early 1970s. Together with repre- sentatives from 10 Catholic schools in Metro Manila, they organized the Philippine Association of Media Educators (PAME) under the National (Catholic) Office of Mass Media. In 1988, Sr. Lucina proposed to make MLE a regular mission activity of the Pauline sisters in the Philippines. The proposal was approved and included a long-range plan to systematize the training of MLE for sisters and pastoral workers.
In keeping with the plan, Sr. Consolata Manding earned a doctorate from the University of the Philippines in 2002 with a dissertation on Media Literacy Education Among Pastoral Workers in the Philippines: Towards Building a Model Media Literacy Curriculum. Sr. Clothilde de las Llagas earned a Master’s degree in media literacy at the Appalachian State University, North Carolina, USA, in 2002 with the thesis Communication and Media Education: A Curriculum Plan for Pauline’s Communication Center in Metro Manila. In 2010 she wrote the A–Z Guide for Looking at Media: A Beginner’s Companion to Media Literacy.
Manding organized the Pauline Institute of Communication in Asia (PICA) in May 2002 that offers a MLE graduate program primarily intended for pastoral workers. The module-based program received government accreditation in 2005.
In addition to the graduate program, PICA also offers a MLE certificate and orga- nizes MLE seminars to various groups: students, teachers, parents, pastoral workers in the dioceses and parishes, schools, religious institutions, and organizations.
Catholic educators and catechists in the Philippines who teach or integrate MLE into their curricula do so on their own initiative as Catholic schools are organized by diocese rather than a central educational authority, which is the reality in the Catholic world in general.
Public and private colleges that offer Bachelor of Science in mass communication degrees formed an association called the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE) in the late 1980s. Members teach communication subjects and are learning how to integrate MLE in their respective courses.
The Philippine Department of Education 2016 curricula for primary and secondary levels include media information literacy. Training seminars are organized by respec- tive private and public schools to integrate media information literacy across the curriculum. Despite the efforts to arrive at a common understanding and praxis, groups and schools define, interpret, and exercise MLE differently and this remains a challenge in both faith-based and public education.
The United States
Pauline sister Rose Pacatte of the USA/Toronto region of the institute first learned about MLE at a Catholic communications conference in Portland, OR, in 1990. Elizabeth Thoman presented on her work with Faith & Values magazine to an eager audience. Following this, Rose participated in the MLE conference held in Guelph, Ontario, and another Catholic communicator meeting in St. Louis, MO, in 1991. There she heard Thoman again speak about media literacy as well as Pierre Babin and determined to pursue a graduate degree in MLE. At the recommendation of John Pungente, SJ, Rose applied to the Institute of Education at the University of London where the first graduate degree in the subject ever was offered. She earned a Master of Arts in education in media studies and defended her dissertation on integrating MLE within initial formation (training) programs of women’s religious communities of the Catholic Church (Pacatte, 1995).
That same year she returned to the US and founded the Pauline Center for Media Studies (PCMS, bemediamindful.org) in Boston and moved it to Culver City, CA, in 2002. The mission statement of the PCMS is: “To develop and encourage media mind- fulness (MLE in faith communities) within the context of culture, education and faith formation.” The methodology is one of theological reflection through access, reflec- tion, analysis, evaluation, action, and dialogue about media productions and culture. In 2006, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Office for Religious Edu- cation and Office for Secondary Education, she developed a 60-hour advanced cer- tificate in media literacy program for teachers, clergy, parents, and catechists. Other dioceses recognize the certificate as a catechist specialization and so far more than 120 people from six US states, Canada, Italy, and Singapore have earned the certificate, including 25 of the Pauline sisters from four countries. Since 1995 Pacatte has trav- eled to numerous dioceses in countries around the world to teach about MLE. In 2015 she trained 30 African sisters from eight countries at the Pauline center in Nairobi, Kenya. Sr. Nancy Usselmann, MA in theology with a specialization in popular culture, became the director of the PCMS in 2016. In her graduate thesis Usselmann integrates MLE into the idea of becoming cultural mystics in a world permeated with media mes- sages.
Sister Gretchen Hailer, RSHM, became involved in MLE in the 1970s and was an early trainer for Television Awareness Training (TAT), developed by the Protestant Media Action Research Center. She wrote Believing in a Media Culture in 1995 for St. Mary’s Press which is owned and operated by the Christian Brothers. She devised the “Media Literacy Wheel” (Figure 1) as a mindful way to question media from a Catholic Christian faith perspective. In 2007 she teamed up with Sr. Rose Pacatte to write Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith and Media, also for St. Mary’s Press, and in 2010 they wrote Our Media World: Teaching Kids K-8 about Faith and Media for Pauline Books & Media. The methodology for all books is critical inquiry through the lens of faith and values, as well as theological reflection, by engaging in media and the popular culture they create.
Figure 1 The Media Literacy Wheel. Source: Hailer & Pacatte (2007).
In the 2000s two more Daughters of St. Paul earned graduate degrees in media edu- cation, Sr. Hosea M. Rupprecht at Webster University in St. Louis and Sr. Helena Burns at Appalachian State University. In 2011 Rupprecht authored How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy rooted in MLE.
In 2016 the Daughters of St. Paul in the United States/Toronto region of the insti- tute fully institutionalized MLE within its mission as evidenced by the specialization of more sisters in communication and MLE, dedication of resources to the PCMS, and the development of the community’s website to include the PCMS, including a speaker’s bureau, as one of four visual pillars of the community’s life and ministry. New members receive some media literacy training but it is not yet part of the initial curriculum.
In other countries
Since 2000 the Daughters of St. Paul in South Africa, England, Singapore, and India either give presentations on MLE or have sponsored Pacatte and others to give seminars on MLE in faith formation at their centers. In 2011, Sr. Noeline Razanatseheno in Mada- gascar, upon completion of her degree in communications, wrote Ny haino aman-jery: Tontolo vaovao,a book about MLE in Malagasy.
SIGNIS: The International Catholic Organization for Communication
Transcending these decades of the Catholic Church’s media and media education activities are the activities of two lay-run Catholic media organizations, OCIC (the International Catholic Organization for Cinema) and Unda (the International Catholic Association for Radio and Television; Unda is Latin for “wave”). Both were founded in Brussels, Belgium, in 1928 by laymen who wanted to integrate their faith and professional lives. Eventually representatives from bishops’ conferences worldwide became members. Their activities included producing media, promoting use of radio in mission lands, film criticism, and the recognition of accomplishments in cinema and television by participation in Catholic and ecumenical juries at international festivals. Media literacy education or something close to it was evident in the organizations’ work from the 1950s. Unda’s magazine Educommunication (1989–2001) was dedicated to media awareness. When the two groups merged into SIGNIS in 2001 (www.signis. net) the goal was to use media and communication for peace. A media literacy education desk was established at the headquarters and online to help young people especially to acquire an active attitude, a critical distance, and the freedom to make informed judgments about the media.
SIGNIS members have participated in several gatherings of the World Summit on Media and Children through panels and workshops on media literacy as carried out in Catholic schools, parish catechesis programs, and spirituality programs such as film retreats. Following the summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2007, SIGNIS members from Argentina, Belgium, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, the USA, and Italy formed the SIGNIS Media Education Project. While SIGNIS members want to join together to use resources more effectively to give a coherent response to the pervasive national and global media, the project aims to bring together worldwide experiences and achievements in this field. To accomplish this SIGNIS wants to build a world network of media educators and/or media education organizations, something that, as yet, does not exist.
Media literacy education, as outlined in Catholic Church documents, the World Day of Communication messages, the educational departments, and Catholic communities around the world, is a work in progress. Media literacy education, or media mindful- ness, offer new ways to increase the relevance of the Catholic Church’s work of evange- lization by bridging faith and life that is influenced by information and entertainment media and the culture they create.
Protestant Churches, Protestants, and media literacy education
In the 1970s mainline communications professionals working in their church com- munication offices grew concerned at the influence of television on the communities and joined together to form the Media Action Research Center (MARC). Members included Stuart Hoover, PhD, a media education consultant to the Church of the Brethren, Ben Logan of United Methodist Communications, and Carolyn Lindekugel of the Lutheran Church of America. Their ecumenical efforts led to the development of the Television Awareness Training (TAT) program, a 10-part adult education course with goals to inform, discuss, and prompt positive action in churches and communities. In addition to Hoover, Logan, and Lindekugel authors included George Gerbner, Bob Keeshan (“Captain Kangaroo”), Aimee Dorr, Nicholas Johnson, Elizabeth Thoman, and Judge David Bazelon. TAT was the first comprehensive course about television published in the United States and hundreds of Protestant and Catholic religious educators were certified as “TAT trainers.” Its popularity lasted well into the 1980s.
The Presbyterian Media Mission and the Electronic Great Awakening
The Presbyterian Media Mission (PMM) developed from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) of 1980 that called for local churches to become involved in media ministry. This was in the era of the televangelists and the PCUSA did not find itself reflected in the politically charged “moral major- ity” of the Christian right or televangelism. At the PCUSA’s general assembly in 1989–1990 the PMM was officially recognized as part of the Church’s mission and focused on developing a media ministry outreach to launch people on their faith journey through media. Although a MLE curriculum was a goal of the PMM it was never forthcoming. The MLE work of the PMM is now tailored to the needs of individual churches upon request. This can take the form of presentations that guide churchgoers to theologize their relationship to the media so that media become less threatening. This allows them to live Christian spirituality and to find God and the good that are in media that can result in becoming co-creators of media as well.
In his history of the PMM, Andrew Tinker (2010) writes that the Electronic Great Awakening (EGA) media literacy project emerged from the PMM and is under its aegis. Its name is a nod to the evangelical great awakening that swept the USA and Great Britain in the 1700s. The EGA was started in the early 1990s to teach Christians to think critically about media in a faith-based way. Beth Merry was an early national coordinator for the EGA. When she first heard about media literacy at a PMM board meeting Merry remembers it being a eureka moment that combined her interests in religion, faith-based critical thinking, and communications. The specific purpose of the EGA is for Christians to become faith-empowered critics in a wired world. Tinker makes a distinction between the PMM that encourages individual reflection, even while not excluding other methods, and the dialogic MLE method- ology used by the PCMS. Tinker also notes that theological tensions exist between the PCUSA’s theology of Reformed Calvinism with its divide between the Church and the world, something Pacatte (2007) addresses as the influence of Puritanism and Jansenism as challenges to the comfort level of Christians with entertainment media.
As a member of the PMM, John Seibert developed “Principles of Media Literacy for People of Faith” for members of the PCUSA bringing together themes that are impor- tant not only to Christians but to other faith groups. In particular he notes human dignity, the common God, and the goodness of creation, themes that De Azevedo (2015) more recently explored in her doctoral dissertation on the link between Catholic social teaching and MLE. The PMM themes are:
- Human beings are created in the image of God.
- Artistic expression, like creative imagination, is a gift given by God.
- The pursuit of the common good is the fundamental principle for the good of societies.
- The power of the gift and act of the creative imagination and expression is rooted in human freedom.
- The value of the human person is independent of material possessions or social status.
- The whole world, and all that is in it, is the arena for God’s activity.
These principles demonstrate the integration of incarnational theology and also com- mon ground for Presbyterians and Christians in general to engage in MLE as a mean- ingful response to the influence of media in the faith lives of believers.
The Mormon Church
Brigham Young University of the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints teaches MLE in its theater and arts department. Dr. Benjamin J. Thevenin, a media scholar and researcher who is Mormon, studied under Stewart Hoover and his doctoral dissertation was on critical media literacy in action, uniting theory, practice, and politics in MLE. He spoke on a panel about Mormon media literacy at the 2013 National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE, https://namle.net) con- ference in Torrance, CA. Thevenin also serves as an associate editor of the Journal for Media Literacy and is a member of the NAMLE board.
William F. Fore, PhD
William Fore is ordained in the United Methodist Church and contributed significantly to religious television programming beginning in 1953 and played a notable role in the founding of public television and radio. After serving as the chairperson on the advi- sory council of the National Organizations of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from 1972 to 1975 he served as the chairperson of the World Council for Christian Communications from 1982 to 1988. After this he published Mythmakers: Gospel, Cul- ture and the Media which became a staple textbook for Protestants and Catholics alike in bridging mediated culture and faith. The University of Dayton’s VLCFF used it for several years starting in 2000 as the basis of its online courses “Media and Values” and “Introduction to Media Literacy” for catechist formation.
Teresa Blythe is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ who became inter- ested in both media literacy and spiritual direction in the early 1990s while at seminary. After several years as a faith-based media educator she has moved into spiritual direc- tion full time. She believes that media literacy is a spiritual issue and the key practices of media literacy are, in fact, spiritual practices.
Shared meanings and collaboration
The first national MLE organization in the US, the Partnership for Media Education (PME) began in 1997. From it came the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) in 2008. MLE in faith-formation has always been part of the conferences sponsored by these groups and representatives from various faith com- munities have been and are welcome as active contributors to the proceedings and presenters. An example of this is the 2013 panel organized for the NAMLE conference and facilitated by Rose Pacatte, “Believing is Seeing—Religious Approaches to Media Literacy Education,” which included representatives from Mormon, Protestant, Catholic, Islam, and Jewish faith communities or learning centers.
The history of the development of faith-based MLE shows how it emerged from dif- ferent spaces to cross boundaries and unite educators from the public, secular, and religious spheres. There is a norm of respect and inclusivity that pertains to all of the organizations and persons named in this essay that demonstrates how MLE can be a common denominator for pro-social citizenship, co-existence, understanding, and collaboration in a mediated global village that is increasingly conflicted, diverse, yet connected.
SEE ALSO: Media Literacy in Canada
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Rose Pacatte, FSP, MEd in media studies, DMin, is a Catholic sister and the founding director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA. She has been work- ing in media literacy education for more than 25 years and speaks on faith-based media literacy nationally and internationally, most recently in the United Arab Emirates. Rose has authored or coauthored eight books and is a coauthor of two award-winning books on media literacy in faith formation. Lights, Camera, Faith: The Beatitudes and Deadly Sins” is due out in 2019. She is a film critic for St. Anthony Messenger and the film and television contributor to the National Catholic Reporter. In 2007 she received the Jesse McCanse Award for individual contributions to media literacy from the National Telemedia Council and the Dan Kane Award for religious communications from the University of Dayton in 2015. Rose received a Doctor of Ministry in pastoral commu- nications in 2018 and received the Mother Theresa prize in spirituality and community service from the Graduate Theological Institute. She serves on the board of the SIG- NIS Communicator Forum and is a past president of Catholics in Media Associates in Los Angeles.
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