Friday, October 21, 2016

Teaching with TV: Religion & Public Life according to Battlestar Galactica

What should a society do when faced with terror attacks? What should citizens do when the future of their government is uncertain? And what role should religion play in all of this?

These are tough and timely questions that should be asked and discussed in the classroom. Many educators are (understandably) nervous about facilitating theses kinds of discussions because any time an instructor takes on a controversial topic, s/he assumes a good deal of risk. Science fiction is a great vehicle for teaching controversial subjects like the role of religion in the body politic because it allows students to enter into a story and debate important issues in a non-threatening way; the society that they are discussing is far, far away from their own religious or political experiences. 

If you want to generate some fantastic discussion about whether or not religious values do/can/should influence society from heads of state to the average person, I recommend Battlestar Galactica (2004).
The premise of BSG is this: sometime in the not-too-distant future, humans create robotic technology (cylons) that develop consciousness and rebel against their creators. For years, humans and cylons war and eventually come to a truce. BSG begins when cylons break their longstanding peace and destroy the many planets on which humans live (12 to be exact). The only humans who remain are a rag-tag group of space ships led by a rickety old relic from the past war, the Battlestar Galactica.

How will humanity survive? How will it thrive? And will religion play a part in humanity's salvation? These questions (and many more) are at the heart of the series. As the last remnant of humanity flees from their enemies and searches desperately for a new home, socio-political and religious divisions abound. Wealthy people from the planet Tauron clash with the impoverished, oppressed planet of Sagittaron. Humans from the planet Gemenon cling devoutly to their polytheistic scriptures and prophecies about the future of humanity; politicians from the capital planet of Caprica are not so sure that the gods have anything to do with humanity's destruction or its future. And of course all of the humans have to wrestle with what it means to have human rights (and how those ought to be protected) if there is little to nothing distinguishing cylons from their creators.

The more detailed conversations students have about the intricacies of this sci-fi world, the more real-world connections they are able to make in their own contexts. Plus, it's a ton of fun. I dare you not to root for Starbuck, Apollo, & Co. So say we all!

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