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Watching TV Religiously

Television and Theology in Dialogue

series: Engaging Culture

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The reach and influence of television cannot be overstated. Since its inception, TV has captured the cultural imagination. Outside of work and sleep, it is now the primary preoccupation of most Americans. Individuals consume upwards of five hours of TV daily, even more when taking into account viewing done online and on mobile devices. TV is so ingrained in the fabric of everyday life that it can't help but function as one of the primary means through which we make sense of our lives and the world.

Watching TV Religiously shows that television--as a technology, a narrative art form, a commodity, and a portal for our ritual lives--confronts viewers theologically. Whether its content is explicitly spiritual or not, TV routinely invites (and sometimes demands) theological reflection. In a time when television is reshaping contemporary life in unexpected ways, this book articulates something of the presence and activity of God in the golden age of TV and forges an appropriate response to an ever-changing cultural form. It constructs a theology of television that allows for both celebration and critique, helping Christians more fully understand and appreciate the power and meaning of TV. A supplemental website provides additional resources, conversations, and close readings of TV programs.

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About the Series
The Engaging Culture series is designed to help Christians respond with theological discernment to our contemporary culture. Each volume explores particular cultural expressions, seeking to discover God's presence in the world and to involve readers in sympathetic dialogue and active discipleship.

Introduction: Turning Us On
1. The Pilot Episode: What Is TV?
2. Becoming TV Literate: Formal Analysis
3. Becoming TV Literate: Process and Practice
4. The Telos of TV
5. A Very Brief History of the Church and TV
6. Channeling Theology: TV and God's Wider Presence
7. Ethics: Is There Anything Good on TV?
Conclusion: The Season Finale: To Be Continued
Appendix: Theology from TV
Glossary of TV Terms


"A brilliant and timely analysis of our daily devotion to our favorite TV shows. In celebrating and critiquing beloved series like Lost, Glee, The Office, Friends, and House of Cards, Callaway and Batali invite us to rediscover the episodic structure of biblical stories about Joseph, David, Ruth, Daniel, and Mary Magdalene. Watching TV Religiously offers a rare peek inside the writers' room, tracing how series are created and constructed. This comprehensive and insightful book challenges us to channel our passion for television back toward meaningful interaction with each other."

Craig Detweiler, professor of communication and director of the Institute for Entertainment, Media, and Culture; Pepperdine University

"A very timely book as TV reasserts its prominence. The specific tools for understanding and creating dialogue with the mainstream culture are compelling to those of us who want to theologically engage the culture. I love the analysis and insight."

Ralph Winter, producer, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and several Star Trek films

"While it may be called the small screen, television has an influence that is oversized. Every five years, it seems, a new collection of TV shows frame the 'new normal' in a way that enables an entire society to reimagine itself. For that reason, we need judicious, charitable guides to help us navigate what is arguably the dominant storytelling medium of early twenty-first-century culture. In Callaway (a professional theologian) and Batali (a professional TV writer) we have just that."

W. David O. Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Callaway and Batali have begun a crucial conversation between theology and television that is essential if Christians hope to be relevant participants in the marketplace of modern culture. Their savvy and critical discussion needs to be carried into universities, seminaries, and sanctuaries across the nation."

David McFadzean, founder and principal, Wind Dancer Films

The Authors

  1. Kutter Callaway
    Jonathan Stoner

    Kutter Callaway

    Kutter Callaway (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is associate professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author or coauthor of five books, including Deep Focus: Film and Theology in Dialogue.

    Continue reading about Kutter Callaway

  2. Dean Batali

    Dean Batali

    Dean Batali is an experienced TV head writer for popular shows with over twenty years of experience in the industry. He is a regular speaker and teacher at film festivals, at media conferences, and in college classrooms.

    Continue reading about Dean Batali


"[This book is] an exciting read as we learn the tools of analysis and interpretation; to develop a way to critique and to enjoy the shows; and to form a theological mind in an often irreligious and irreverent world. . . . I highly recommend this book as a tool to educate and equip believers to engage with the world of TV."

Conrade Yap,

Panorama of a Book Saint blog