CANCELED-Profs & Pints Iowa City: Jesus Christ, TikTok Star

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Monday, May 20 2024 5:30 PM 7:30 PM CDT

This talk has been canceled in response to a seasonal drop in Iowa City's demand for Profs and Pints events. Efforts will be made to reschedule it in the fall or later in the upcoming academic year.

Profs and Pints Iowa City presents: “Jesus Christ, TikTok Star,” on the surprising ways in which social media is transforming the spread and practice of religion, with Brandon O. Dean, visiting assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa and scholar of the intersections between American religion and popular culture.

While scrolling through TikTok or Facebook Reels you just might stumble upon a computer-generated Jesus staring back at you. This Christ of the Uncanny Valley offers you blessings in exchange for likes, shares, and comments of “I believe!” Accompanying such promises of blessings are dire warnings: scroll past without engaging and you risk the eternal damnation of your soul.

It’s Christian evangelicalism as chain letter and it seems to work. One video titled “Welcome Jesus into Your Home” has amassed more than 3.5 million likes, 1.4 million shares, and 314 thousand comments on TikTok alone.

But what religious work is all this accomplishing? What do the millions of viewers achieve through interacting with a social media post? How does its theology of believe for rewards fit into larger contemporary Christian movements like prosperity gospel?

Hear such questions tackled by Professor Brandon Dean, who extensively studies how new medias like comic books, television, and TikTok have been harnessed to broadcast religious messages for a wide variety of motivations. (Think of the boom in televangelists and faith-healers after the advent of cable television.)

Now that we are amid the largest media revolution since the printing press, the emergence of a digital Jesus promising rewards for social-media engagement might seem like an easily mockable phenomenon. It could hold clues, however, to a possible future of American Christianity where belief transforms from a set of doctrines and creeds into the act of believing itself, shared across the internet for all to see. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus processing fees and 12 percent state and local sales tax. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)

Image: A screen capture of the popular “Welcome Jesus into Your Home” video.