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🔫 What We Can Learn from Stormtroopers

C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels
Greetings, Friends. 
One of the things I’ve been wanting to do is a little show and tell with for you about a class I ran during our “three-week” class here at the college (our three week semesters are meant to be more intensive, more experiential as we are in class 3 hours everyday during that time).
The class was titled “Religion and New Media.” This was a new class for me that I developed over the winter and deals with two of my favorite topics. One of my main areas of study and interest is participatory culture and fandom and comparing their communities to religious ones.
My question for you today is what are you a fan of? And what can we religious folks learn from fans?
Finally, I have two announcements about upcoming things I’m doing at the bottom of the newsletter I hope you read.
Thanks for reading, 
Wess Daniels
Haw River Watershed (Greensboro, NC)

Image from https://4nite.site/skins/imperial-stormtrooper
Image from https://4nite.site/skins/imperial-stormtrooper
Article: What We Can Learn from Stormtroopers
Each year Guilford College, where I work, has a three-week semester and then a twelve in the fall and that order is reversed in the spring. Though many have mixed feelings about it, I tend to enjoy the structure because I treat it as three-week experimental and experiential course. To me, it is a bit of a playground for things I wouldn’t necessarily want to do over a 12 week-long semester. The classes I have taught during these three-week sessions were designed specifically for this format and so far we’ve had a blast with lots of ways to interact, field trips, guests, and different types of projects, etc.
For my Religion and New Media class this spring it was no different.
First, a key principle I knew I wanted to cover was “participatory culture.” I wanted to cover this both as a topic but also as I wanted to see if I could take my participatory pedagogy to a new level so that students could truly enter into the subject. (For those of you not familiar with it, my first book deals with participatory culture and what Quakers can learn from it for renewal and social change).
What is Participatory Culture?
Participatory culture is a culture that arises as people shift from being “consumers” to “producers;” it signals a time when people become creators of the content they want to consumer often in ways that are both creative and form new communities.
People participate in the creation of content in New Media at least three ways: influencing the content that larger media companies make (consider the TV Show Arrested development going off the air and fans rallying to get another season made); participating in the fandom of their favorite fan objects (“cosplay”, writing fan fiction, sharing commentary and debating interpretations over social media, making fan interpretations of what has happened - what really happened to Eddie from Stranger Things? - mashing up various fandoms, joining in community oriented events like gatherings, online forums, discord servers, etc.).
Here’s how I tried to embody this within the class:
  • I used Coda.io to create a participatory syllabus. This syllabus was online and had all the basic pieces already written out (course description, outcomes, academic integrity policy), but then there were other parts that the students built together during the semester. This included their assignments, their final project, and their presentations (they had three classes that they were responsible for the content of the class that day).
All other parts of the syllabus were highly interactive as well:
  • class wiki that was added to during the class
  • daily class schedule that had all the things we’d be talking about, readings, and even a “homemade Twitter-like app” for students to share updates and learnings complete with “Quaker sparkles” for likes. :)
  • media page that included PDFs, links to videos, audio, etc. Easily added to and linked to from other parts of the syllabus, making all the media in the class easily organized and quickly available.
  • Having the very bones of the class be participatory in this way not only made the class really interesting and engaging (students said, I’ve never done anything like this before), it also helped to embody that participatory culture at the heart of a lot of New Media.
  • Take a look around the syllabus and see for yourself how we used it.
For those interested in this - I am leading a webinar tomorrow (Tuesday, August 2 at 1pm on how I build the syllabus using Coda). RSVP here: https://bit.ly/3IZWD7d
Religion in New Media
Second, we explored the connections around Religion in New Media.
We categorized religion and new media in one of three ways:
Direct references to religion within New Media (for example the ways in which a church or other faith community might uses websites, social media to “spread the word,” or a show like Fleabag (highlight recommended) having a main character that is a Catholic priest and portrays that role in a meaningful way);
Indirect references to religion is understood as “secular expressions of religious-like themes, topics, morality, ethics, etc…The Apple TV show Ted Lasso is one of the examples [of] a show that deals with themes like this but is not religious.”
And finally, Ritualistic forms of religion in New Media:
“Under the ritualistic form New Media  is not just the message, it becomes the practice, the liturgy, the tool, or extension of the self and community. There is a blurring of lines between the technology and humanity. Apps on our phones and computers now come with their own “communities,” discord servers, Twitter accounts, different levels of “supporters” who pay for the services.”
The mass-adoption of Zoom during the pandemic that became an overlay onto groups that allowed for community to continue to exist is perhaps another example.
This also reminds of me something Quaker Minister Peggy Morrison once told me when talking about how her meeting, Freedom Friends Church, engaged with New Media: she said, “[If I was forced to choose], I’d rather have a website than a meeting house.”
So What Can We Learn from Stormtroopers?
Third, fandom is a key link between New Media communities and religious communities. We spent a good amount of time talking about fans in the class because understanding that fans are a kind of religious subject of their fan objects. Here I am using “religious” in a broad sense rooted in a definition I first encountered from Wes Howard-Brook’s “Come Out of People” (see the class wiki here):
Religio - the root of “religion” means the attitudes, beliefs, and/or practices that bind individuals together as a ‘people.’ Ex. Sports, Broadway, Birthday Parties. Academia, Zodiac Signs.
Fan objects today - whether that is a show like Stranger Things, folks in Stormtrooper cosplay (a mashup of “costume-play”, a beloved sports team, a book series like Harry Potter, or a favorite note-taking app like Notion, Obsidian, or Roam - can function like religio, that is, they work to bind people together through shared beliefs, practices, attitudes, and communities.
Seeing this does a couple of things.
First, it helps us see that we humans are prone to religio whether it is a one of the major religious traditions or more secular expressions. We all want belonging. We all want meaning. And we all create these things according to our own experiences and things we like.
When we talked about religio in this way it is much easier to become more empathetic towards religion in the narrower sense. We see that we have lots of religios in our lives.
Second, perhaps those of us within more traditional religious spaces can ask what can we learn from fan communities about strengthening emotional investment, building community, and creating more participatory environments in our communities.
A person who goes to the trouble to find and make or buy a stormtrooper costume, travel across the country to a Comic-con where they dress up and role play in their costume with others dressed up as their favorite characters may see funny to some - but looking a little deeper, how is this different that what we religious folks do with our religious clothing, conferences, favorite speakers on this and that topic, etc?
And yet, folks who participate in these fan cultures know their fan texts deeply, they are emotionally invested in their fandoms, they join in communities with others who feel similarly, they pour money and time and resources in to their belonging. All while so many of us in our respective religious communities struggle could only dream of this depth of love and investment that fans show to their fan objects.
What if instead of dismissing fandoms we looked at these communities as having things for religious communities to reflect and learn from?
For those interested, I’ve written more extensively on participatory culture and fandom in my book, “A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in a Participatory Culture.”
Queries:
  1. What things would you say you’re a fan of?
  2. What can you learn from your involvement, love, connection, around your fan objects that could shed light on things that could strengthen our faith communities?
  3. What are fans doing in areas you’re aware of that could offer important lessons to religious communities you’re apart of?
Announcements
Portland Visit This Week - August 7, 2022
This weekend I will be in Portland, Oregon speaking at Reedwood Friends Church Sunday, August 7 at the 9:30 Meeting for Worship and the 11:00 Forum. If you’re nearby, join us I would love to see you.
Coda Webinar
Interested in knowing more about how to use Coda for building collaborative docs like the one I did for my three-week course? Coda invited me to lead a webinar on building my syllabus tomorrow August 2 at 1pm EST.
Coda
We’re really excited for our upcoming webinar on 8/2 with @cwdaniels to talk with us about Coda in the classroom.
Wess will chat all things syllabi, collaboration, and knowledge bases in docs to empower and connect students.

RSVP today: https://t.co/msSwo1xAjj https://t.co/xuT6kEdpR2
Links of Interest
Opinion | Coping With Despair - The New York Times
Podcast #821: Routines Are Overrated | The Art of Manliness
How And Why To Keep A “Commonplace Book” | Thought Catalog
A Final Thought
☕️ Thank you for Supporting This Newsletter
Thanks for reading this week. If you liked the newsletter give it a thumbs up below and feel free to leave a comment. If you loved it, share it with a friend and see if you can make a new fan! :)
-Wess
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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels @cwdaniels

Old and New (Spiritual) Technologies For Life Today in the Face of Empire. Renewal and change in the hopes of mobilizing communities for love & liberation.

Wess Daniels
Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

🔆 More info: https://gatheringinlight.com

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