This American Life is my favorite NPR show. Since I am currently in a lull (no more writing or editing the dissertation just waiting for the defense), I find myself listening to the show more and more often via podcast and audiobook. So, I thought I would promote my favorite episodes on religion, people figuring out religion, and the American religious landscape. (The podcast is free to listen to from the website.) These could also be excerpted quite well for classes. I have started using some of This American Life's podcasts for my gender and religion class, and I will incorporate them into my Religion in the U.S. class for Spring 2009.
How does the Devil work? We hear stories from five different people who say they found themselves inexplicably doing something random and bad, something which made no sense to them at all. Host Ira Glass explains why this might be, cadging a bit from C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. (This episode discusses Hell House and the Amish rite of rumspringa).
At a time when House Majority Leader Tom Delay calls for enacting a "Biblical world view" in government, when Christians are asserting their ideals in the selection of judges, in public school science classes and elsewhere, This American Life spends an hour trying to remember why anyone liked the separation of church and state in the first place. (A fascinating look at advocates for a "Christian" amendment to the Constitution, perspectives on the "wall of separation," and an interview with Isaac Kramnick, the co-author of The Godless Constitution.)
Carlton Pearson's church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the reverend. He didn't have an affair. He didn't embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse: He stopped believing in Hell.
A Muslim woman persuades her husband that their family would be happier if they left the West Bank and moved to America. They do, and things are good...until September 11. After that, the elementary school their daughter goes to begins using a textbook that says Muslims want to kill Christians. This and other stories of what happens when Muslims and non-Muslims try to communicate, and misfire.