ADM’s 2017 Visiting Fellow – New York writer, critic and scholar Alissa Wilkinson – led hundreds of people through the labyrinth of pop culture during a week of events from 9–14 October 2017. Read on to find out more about these events, described by attendees as “stimulating, engaging, urgent and thoughtful” …
Hundreds of people came together to hear 2017 ADM Visiting Fellow Alissa Wilkinson share her expertise on the relationship between faith and culture during a series of events in October. Around 300 people attended events from 9–14 October, including the ADM Annual Public Lecture, with countless more reached through Alissa’s media appearances on The Drum, The Minefield on Radio National and in Eternity news. ADM was excited by the large amount of positive feedback we received from those who found Alissa’s insights into contemporary culture to be both insightful and challenging.
Alissa is a staff writer and critic at Vox, where she covers film, culture and, sometimes, religion. Alissa is also Associate Professor of English and Humanities at The King's College in New York City, where she teaches courses on criticism and cultural theory. Until September 2016, Alissa was the critic at large at Christianity Today and regularly contributed to a number of publications, including Rolling Stone, Vulture, RogerEbert.com, Pacific Standard, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Books & Culture. Her book, How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, and Politics at the End of the World, co-written with Robert Joustra, was published by Eerdmans in May 2016.
At the Annual Public Lecture on 12 October, Alissa tackled the topic ‘Why pop culture is obsessed with religion’, exploring the sudden re-emergence of religion as a prominent theme in film and television. She took the audience of 160 people on a tour through contemporary pop culture, uncovering the religious questions at the heart of movies and TV shows. The lecture, chaired by ADM Senior Research Fellow Alix Beeston, was thought-provoking and challenging. One attendee described it as “a unique chance to think about my faith and the wider culture”. Another noted how the event left them excited “to see deep Christian thought become more a part of our cultural landscape”.
The lecture was held at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, and Dean Kanishka Raffel had this to say on the topic: "Though the place of Christianity in Western culture is contested, it would be a very big mistake to conclude that questions of identity, meaning, transcendence, and even the afterlife have faded from popular interest or imagination. On the contrary, those unfamiliar with the contours of the Christian story, are surprisingly open to exploring those vistas, especially in the company of wise and compassionate guides.”
On 10 October, a crowd of 80 people gathered at ADM for a unique panel event. Alissa Wilkinson joined with other leading Christian thinkers and creatives for an in-depth conversation about re-imagining Christian public engagement. The panel included Michael Jensen (Rector, St Mark’s Darling Point), Scott Stephens (Editor, ABC Religion & Ethics) and Jenny Ihn (Artist). At the event, participants were also treated to a poetry reading by Lachlan Brown. One audience member commented: “It was an excellent attempt to bridge culture, as a first step to understanding how and where we find presently find ourselves … I thought the panel discussion was … superb.” Another attendee had this to say: “What a fantastic event! Stimulating, engaging, urgent, thoughtful. Hearing from a range of culture makers, commentators, critics was fantastic. A well-moderated panel which left my head spinning (in a good way).”
There were 25 happy participants at the inspiring Engage masterclass with Alissa at the ADM offices on 14 October on the topic: ‘How to write so anyone can read it’. Alissa also covered the process for pitching media pieces and offered a number of insider tips. ADM was proud to offer valuable professional development to all the women who attended, and we can’t wait to read their writing ‘in print’ soon. It was a brilliant opportunity for writers to chat and network with other women and to hear from an experienced writer like Alissa. One of the women described Alissa as “amazingly helpful – very practical and down to earth”.
Alissa also gave a public masterclass to 26 people based on her recent book with Rob Joustra, How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, and Politics at the End of the World (published by Eerdmans in May 2016). The masterclass helped attendees to get a sense of how popular culture’s current fascination with the apocalypse fits into the larger history of apocalyptic stories, and to gain a better understanding of Charles Taylor's framework for understanding our age and what it says to Christians about living faithfully today.
Alissa also found time to visit Abbotsleigh school and address Year 11 students on the topic of ‘Utopia, dystopia and the link with Christian faith’. The Q&A time went for over 90 minutes, with many engaging questions from the students.
Watch Alissa's public lecture below: